History of the Townsville Orchid Society

It all began one evening early in June 1947, at Stan Brock's house in North Ward, when he and four fellow orchid enthusiasts decided to convene a meeting to form an orchid society in Townsville. This meeting, minuted as an "Inaugural Meeting", was held at Willmetts' Chambers, Flinders Street, on 20 June 1947, with twenty-two persons in attendance.

Mr.P.K. Searle, acting as Secretary, opened the meeting by calling for nominations from the floor for Chairman. Mr.R.P. Kirke was elected and took the chair. It was then resolved that a society known as the "Townsville Orchid Society" be formed. It was further resolved that the acting Chairman and Secretary remain in office until the next meeting and that annual subscriptions be 10 shillings (now $1.00) for city members and 7/6d (now $0.75) for country members. A committee was elected to draw up rules for presentation at the next meeting.

The next meeting, minuted as "the first General Meeting", was held on 2 July 1947, set a subscription of 5 shillings ($0.50) for juniors, adopted a set of rules and held an election of officers with results as follows:-

Patron - Dr.John Breinl; President - Mr.R.P. Kirke; Secretary/Treasurer - Mr.P.K. Searle; Vice Presidents - Mr.C. Freeman, Mr.S. Brock and Mr.S. Short; Technical Adviser - Mr.S. Brock and Committee Members - Mrs.I. Nott, Mr.J. Sim, Mr.P. Bretherton, Mr.C.W. Dette, Mr.P. Johnstone and Mr.K. Kennedy.

The tabling of plants and their appraisal by the Technical Advisor commenced at this meeting. Plants tabled were Cadetia hispidia, Dendrobium d'albertisii, Spathoglottis plicata and Vanda lamellata var. boxallii.

The second General Meeting was held on 25 July 1947 and Phalaenopsis rosenstromii was adopted as the emblem of the Society. This orchid featured on the first and subsequent letterheads, and, later on badges, and is still the Society's esteemed symbol.

In the early years the infrastructure of the Society was put together. As funds became available items such as a typewriter, duplicator, projector, library cabinet and the like, were purchased.

The first Annual General Meeting was held on 27 August 1948. The Annual Report for the year ending 30 June 1948 showed a membership increase from 22 to 49. The sentiments expressed in the conclusion of the report are worth repeating:-

"Members have been given the opportunity of acquiring plants, of meeting in friendly discussion over exhibited plants and of gathering knowledge from our more experienced members who have been extremely generous with guidance and advice. Let us look forward to a continuance of this good fellowship arising from a common interest in beautiful flowers and unusual plants."

The activities of the T.O.S. revolved around the general meeting, where benching of plants were the subject of the Technical Advisor's eye for the evening. Supplementary activities at the meetings included lectures, demonstrations, slide shows, plant sales and raffles. Subscriptions to journals were taken out at an early stage and these formed the nucleus of a library to which books were added as finances permitted. A colour slide library was established also. Publication of a monthly "Bulletin" (a newsletter) was undertaken promptly and continues to the present day.

A prime concern of the founding members was the purchase of plants and accessories. A buying scheme was introduced to facilitate the bulk purchase of plants, pots, peat and so on, and to co-ordinate plant purchase from overseas. As well, a plant exchange scheme between members was initiated.

The Society's first show was held on 24 September 1948 at the A.W.U Hall in Denham Street. It was decided to make it an annual event and it is now believed to be the oldest regular spring orchid show in Australia. The Spring Show grew rapidly until it became a gala event on Townsville's social calendar. For a number of years the T.O.S. Spring Show was the occasion for a new dress and perhaps shoes and a handbag, or even a new hat! - somewhat like the old style agricultural shows. As befitting the oldest continuing horticultural society in Townsville, the T.O.S. has a long record of co-operation with various institutions and charities and has always been ready to assist by the provision of an exhibit or by a donation from the proceeds of a show.

Notably, our current Patron, Phyllis Merritt joined the Society on 25 March 1955 and is our longest serving current member and Ted Boon, our current President, was the first junior member of the Society, having joined on 23 April 1955.

As more and more T.O.S. members became experienced growers demand grew for the provision of plant judging facilities in the district. When the Queensland Orchid Society introduced The Affiliated Societies Secretariat late in 1964, it appointed Mr. P.K. Searle (a foundation member of T.O.S.) as its secretary. His recommendation, by circular letter, that all societies form study groups for prospective judges, with the ultimate aim of forming regional judging panels, was taken up by T.O.S. who appointed Georgina Ridge as Liaison Officer of the T.O.S. Study Group. At its meeting on 19 February 1965 a circular explaining the T.O.S. action was drafted and sent to all orchid groups in the north.

The enthusiastic response climaxed in the Tropical Queensland Orchid Study Group Conference being held from 12 to 14 June 1965 - the first regional orchid conference to be held in Australia. From this conference came a meeting of delegates from orchid societies in tropical Queensland, held in Townsville on 31 July 1965, at which the body was officially formed under the title Tropical Queensland Orchid Council (or T.Q.O.C.) and office bearers were elected. The T.Q.O.C. Conference has been held on the Queens Birthday weekend ever since with the venue rotating among the constituent societies.

On Christmas Eve 1971, disaster struck Townsville in the shape of cyclone Althea. In the midst of great damage to buildings, orchid houses and plant collections suffered greatly. T.O.S. members turned to renewing or repairing their shade houses and repotting the sorry remains of their plants and proceeded to start to rebuild their collections.

Since the first Australian Orchid Conference held in Brisbane in 1967, The Australian Orchid Council has awarded a conference to a state capital city every second year. In a break from this tradition, Townsville was asked to stage the 8th Australian Orchid Conference in 1983, thus being the first provincial city to be so honoured. In what may well have been the T.O.S.'s finest hour, a vast company of orchid personalities descended on Townsville to enjoy a conference, which many still declare was the best ever.

In 1984, Autumn Shows (which had been abandoned for a number of years) recommenced. Shows by then were held at The Townsville City Council chambers in Walker Street. In the late 1980's winter shows were introduced so that paphiopedilums and Australian native orchids, which flowered at that time of the year, could be displayed.

In 1985 T.O.S. became the first orchid society in Australia to purchase its own premises. Over the years the T.O.S. had held its meetings in many and varied locations throughout the city. In 1978 the Society settled on meeting in Souths Junior Rugby League hall which had been built in 1978 in Pioneer Park in Kirwan. In 1984 that hall was put up for sale. The T.O.S. made an offer that was accepted, the special lease was transferred and the hall renamed The Townsville Orchid Society Hall. On 26 April 1985 T.O.S. held its first meeting in its own hall. It is worth noting that the Society's loan taken over a period of 8 years was repaid in just 18 months. The Society would not have been able to undertake such a purchase except for the astuteness of those responsible for the success of the 8th Australian Orchid Conference. The Society became incorporated in December 1985 and the abbreviation "Inc." was added to its name.

In 1998, T.O.S.Inc. hosted the 6th Asian Pacific Orchid Conference, which was also very successful with profits covering the cost of an extension to the Society's hall. Only one other A.P.O.C. has been held in Australia, that being in Adelaide in 1989. The Townsville conference brought to the city over 200 southern and international orchid enthusiasts.

Since then Pioneer Park became the nucleus of The Thuringowa Riverway project and the hall was demolished to make way for the development. The last meeting was held on 27 August 2004. The Society met in temporary premises in Bamford Lane provided by Thuringowa City Council (since amalgamated into the Townsville City Council) until June 2005. During this time negotiations were in place with Thuringowa City Council with respect to compensation, the allocation of land and finally the construction of a new building.

Due to delays and escalating costs all the Society's reserve funds were used and a small loan was taken out. This loan was repaid in a matter of months. Subsequently the Society lodged several successful applications for funding assistance through various Government and Community entities which have covered the costs of items such as kitchen appliances, computer equipment, chairs and solar panels. The new hall at Joe Kirwan Park, Charles Street, Kirwan was officially opened on 17 July 2005, with our inaugural patron Dr. John Breinl officiating.

The hall has since been extended at the rear and air conditioned with both these improvements being totally funded by the Society. A very recent joint venture with the Townsville City Council has seen the ground surrounding the hall irrigated.  No doubt other challenges will rise in the future.

After 12 years wait, the Townsville City Council finally accessed funding to seal the car parking area, which is Council land shared by the Townsville Orchid Society, Commercials Hockey Club and Bouncers Basketball Club as well as many others who use the park and basketball courts. The car parking area was fully sealed in October 2017.

In June 2017, in conjunction with our 70th anniversary on 20th June 2017, T.O.S. Inc. hosted the last annual Tropical Queensland Orchid Council (or T.Q.O.C.) conference, with future T.Q.O.C. conferences to be hosted only every 2 years.   A successful conference was held, with record prize money approaching $15,000.00 (heavily subsidized by TOS), 14 National and International lecturers and 29 National and International vendors.

T.O.S. Inc. would like to acknowledge the dedication of the late Wally Nicholson who, some years ago, conceived the idea of hosting the 2017 T.Q.O.C. conference in conjunction with the Townsville Orchid Society’s 70th anniversary.  Wally joined the TOS in 1982 and has since served as President for 15 years and Secretary for 5 years.  Wally was awarded Life Membership in 2005.  Sadly, he passed away in December 2016, just 6 months prior to the conference.

Much of the material presented here is taken from an article presented by Len Lawler for the Society's 50th anniversary and supplemented with current information as at June 2017.