By Judy Horton OAM MAIH, Images/ Stuart Pittendrigh and Judy Horton
At the AIH NSW Christmas party in December 2021 I had the privilege of sitting next to Stuart Pittendrigh. While we were eating dinner I asked Stuart about the progress of his magnum opus, the Barangaroo Reserve on Sydney’s foreshore. This led to Stuart generously offering to give me a tour of the now six-year-old landscape and we spent a pleasant morning walking the site, with me marvelling at the growth and establishment of the landscape.
On the way back I asked Stuart about his life story and this led me to thinking it would be a great opportunity to share this with AIH members so we could appreciate the great legacy this man has bequeathed to us all and to the city of Sydney.
Stuart Pittendrigh FAIH RH Fellow of the Institute.
Stuart was almost the eldest of four children. Why ‘almost’? He has a twin sister who was born half an hour before him. ‘And she never lets me forget it,’ he laughs. They spent their early years in Wattle Flat near Bathurst where his father worked as a coachmaker and signwriter for Cobb & Co. When it came time for high school education, the family moved to Sydney and Stuart enrolled at North Newtown High School. As typical of the time Stuart left school at 15, started work straight away and undertook an apprenticeship in Fitting, Machining and Welding.
But much of the groundwork was laid for his future career by his father, who fostered an interest in art and nature by regularly taking each individual child on day trips to visit art galleries, parks and Sydney bushland. With this continual exposure to art and nature, Stuart describes his as a ‘privileged background’.
Stuart flourished during his four-year apprenticeship and in 1958 was encouraged by his employer to study for a Diploma of Mechanical Engineering. His job expanded, with a large part of his role providing job estimations for clients all over the country. This gave him huge exposure to many different manufacturing operations (in the days when Australia had such things).
He married Jan in 1963, bought land, built a house, acquired a mortgage and had two children. During these busy years he became very interested in plants and gardening. Having observed Stuart’s growing horticultural enthusiasm, Gordon Morling and Ralph Groves, owners of Five Dock Nurseries, offered him a job. Jan agreed to support his change of career on condition that they always kept £1000 in the bank. Neither has ever regretted this decision.
Five Dock gave Stuart experience in virtually all aspects of horticulture: wholesale, retail, growing plants and landscape construction (at the time Five Dock was the largest landscaper in Sydney). With his plant knowledge, artistic flair and drawing skills Stuart became more and more involved in landscape design. After he left Five Dock in 1971 he formed Stuart Pittendrigh & Associates Landscape Design (later Landscape Architects) and Horticultural Consultants and practised successfully for 17 years. During these years at Five Dock and in his own business he was continually learning. He achieved qualifications in horticulture, arboriculture, landscape design and landscape architecture.
In 1988 Stuart accepted an appointment as Managing Director of Landscan – Landscape Architecture, then became a founding director of PSB (Pittendrigh, Shinkfield and Bruce). He retired in 2008 but remained a consultant to the practice. He maintains friendly relationships with both Jon Shinkfield and Angus Bruce.
After retirement Stuart found himself still much in demand as a horticulturist, arboriculturist and landscape design expert. He lectured and mentored horticultural students and was called on to advise in many court cases. And then, in 2010, came Barangaroo.
Stuart assessing the health of a Fig Tree (Ficus Rubignosa) close to the waterfront. Image/ Stuart Pittendrigh, Judy Horton.
In six years the Barangaroo landscape has become well established. Image/ Stuart Pittendrigh, Judy Horton
Barangaroo Reserve, named after the Cammeraygal woman who lived in the area at the time of white settlement, is a massive transformation of a disused shipping terminal and industrial site that fronts Sydney Harbour on the western edge of the CBD. When the Barangaroo Delivery Authority accepted the tender of US-based Peter Walker & Partners and leading Australian landscape architects Johnson Pilton Walker to design the reserve, Stuart was engaged to advise on the selection, planting and maintenance of the 75,000 plants required for the site. He took Peter Walker and his team on trips to Muogamarra Reserve and Bobbin Head north of Sydney and other natural sites where they could see – and be astonished by – the amazing diversity of the flora associations that existed in Sydney in 1788.
Since the reserve opened in 2015 Stuart has been retained to conduct monthly horticultural assessments on the plants throughout the entire Barangaroo Precinct and report back to Infrastructure NSW. His contract has just been renewed for another year so he will be continuing his regular visits and solving the small number of problems. He has been delighted with the way the plants are flourishing.
As we walked and talked, I began to learn more of this remarkable man’s take on life and landscape. Here are a few of the gems I remember:
Stuart was the AIH Horticulturist of the Year in 2015 and had AIH fellowship conferred in 2018. His other awards, affiliations and recognitions are too numerous to list here. He has been a longtime supporter of AIH and we are honoured to have him in our association.
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