"As a child during the Second World War, Peter Cundall grew beetroot, carrots, cabbages and onions on the small amount of soil covering his family’s backyard air-raid shelter. All anyone needs, believes Peter, is a little bit of fertile soil, or a few pots of it, because healthy soil means healthy plants. If you eat healthy plants, you get healthy people.
Near the end of the War, Peter joined the British Army’s Parachute Regiment. While stationed in Austria, a beautiful girl called Angela enticed the nineteen-year-old Peter across the border into Yugoslavia. Angela disappeared and Peter found himself arrested by Marshall Tito’s forces. He was sentenced without trial to four years’ imprisonment for espionage. Pressure from the British government led to his release after he had served six months in solitary confinement. (Peter jokes with journalists that, for him, solitary confinement was not the punishment it appears: for the first time in his life he had a room he didn’t have to share.)
After the War, Peter immigrated to Australia. Enlisting in the Australian Army in 1950, he chose a non-combat role as a librarian. Immediately posted to Korea with the Australian 3rd Battalion, Peter saw action there as a machine gunner.
Peter might have recalled Winston Churchill’s 21 March 1943 broadcast on the BBC, ‘Difficulties mastered are opportunities won’. During his 18 months based in Japan, as well as doing his duty, Peter took the opportunity to study Japanese garden design.
After he had been living in Tasmania for some time Peter was awarded a Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship. In 1974 he travelled to the United Kingdom, Africa and the United States to observe organic gardening, landscape methods, and children’s playground design. He also explored the idea of presenting gardening programs on the recently invented colour television. He thought that colour TV would be ideal for demonstrating the processes involved in making a garden.
Peter presented the program, ‘Gardening Australia’, on ABC TV for more than 30 years and he broadcast a gardening program on Saturday morning radio in Tasmania for many years. He also wrote articles, columns and books. Peter was responsible for the first gardening book printed on washable plastic paper so that it could be used outdoors and even left there, to survive rain, sprinklers and mud, and simply be hosed off and be as good as new!"
Excerpt from Inspiring Australians written by Penny Hanley (2015)
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