Peter Cundall/Conservationist


Peter Cundall was born into an impoverished home, “the poorest of the poor”, in Manchester on 1 April 1927, as the second of six children. Two of his brothers died when he was young. His father was an alcoholic and battered his mother. This put Peter off alcohol forever. He was sent to a Catholic school, but never believed the dogma he was taught. His Head Teacher called him a “steady lad who tries hard”. Peter left school at age 12, but still had a love for knowledge, books and reading. Initially he worked as a milk boy and a tram conductor, and then towards the end of World War II, he joined the British Army’s Parachute Regiment where he was stationed in various countries in post-war Europe including France, Australia, Germany Italy, Yugoslavia, the Middle East, Egypt and the British Mandate for Palestine. During his travels he developed an interested in plants and visited many private and public gardens and parks in order to add to his knowledge of plants and landscaping practices covering a wide range of climatic conditions. He was also stationed at a liberated Concentration Camp and has said that the things he saw and heard had a deep impact on him.

In 1946, Peter was stationed in southeast Austria at Sankt Paul im Lavanttal where he was guarding captured Nazi Waffen-SS troops. During this posting he was enticed across the border into Yugoslavia by a beautiful girl named Angela, and was arrested by Marshal Tito’s’s forces after she disappeared. He was sentenced (without trial) to four years imprisonment for espionage, but was released into Trieste, Italy after six months in solitary confinement in a prison in Ljubljana, after pressure from the British government led to his release.

Eager to hasten his emigration to Australia, Peter enlisted in the Australian Army in 1950, believing that he was enlisting for a non-combat role as a librarian. However, he was immediately posted to Korea with the Australian 3rd Battalion, and once again saw action overseas as a machine gunner during the Korean War. During a year and a half based in Japan he studied Japanese garden design and rock garden construction. He also gained access to many famous gardens and bonsai nurseries and regularly went to observe new gardens being created in Hiroshima, which was being rebuilt after the atomic bomb in 1945.

Peter was a Federal Senate candidate for Tasmania for the Communist Party of Australia in th 1961 federal election, and he claims to have recorded the lowest number of votes in a parliamentary election (he did not even vote for himself). He also supports many left wing political and environmental groups by speaking at rallies and events. He calls himself an ardent pacifist and is a keen environmentalist. He was the Chairman of the Tasmanian Wilderness Society during the battle to stop the building of the Franklin Dam and has been an ongoing campaigner against the construction of Gunns’ pulp mill in the Tamar Valley. In 2003 Peter also marched, with thousands of other Australians, in protest against Australia’s involvement in the Iraq war. On 19 November 2009, he was arrested by police after refusing to obey requests to move from Tasmanian state parliament’s front steps. He was protesting against the Gunns’ Bell Bay Pulp Mill. On 3 February 2010, he pleaded not guilty to the charge of refusing to obey a police order to move away from Parliament House. After the court session, he accused Gunns and the politicians who approved the pulp mill of corruption. He was found guilty without conviction and was fined about AUS $47 in court costs on 11 February 2011. Despite the fine, he vowed to “continue to peacefully protest against Gunns’ proposed Tasmanian pulp mill”.

Peter Cundall is a self-described atheist, and states that God and religion “never made sense. I regarded it as another fairy story,” he says. He has also said that all religious experiences are illusions and if “religion is on the right, and atheism is on the left, I am on the far left.”