The Hall family has turned a cactus garden in country Victoria into an unusual tourist attraction.

Story Terri Cowley   Photos Neil Newitt

There aren’t too many Australians who can say they grew up in a cactus garden, but John Hall can. Despite copping a backside full of prickles, the 29 year old is still there, working in the family business that has grown to become the biggest collection of cacti in the Southern Hemisphere, in the small town of Strathmerton, northern Victoria. “This was my backyard,” says John, standing among four hectares of weird and wonderful plants that evoke scenes of tequila-sipping in Mexico or perhaps the Wild West deserts. “I can remember jumping over the fence and falling into the cactus.” 

In 1986, the area was a peach orchard. John’s parents Jim and Julie bought the surrounding 60 hectares for vegetable farming, ripped out the trees and started planting cacti. Jim, 64, traces a love of gardening back to an ancestor who was a head gardener at one of the big estates in England. His grandfather was also a nursery man and had 12 hectares at Box Hill in Melbourne, and his father entered and won garden competitions and always grew cacti. 

“I was told in the early years I was crazy,” Jim says. Jim had his own collection of cacti and he bought 3000 plants from a deceased estate in South Australia. Since then he’s continued to add to the garden, both by buying plants and growing and breeding his own varieties. “What I love about them is that they change, and the ‘sculpture’ gets bigger,” Jim says. “I like the randomness of them. They are very adaptable.”

This story excerpt is from Issue #117

Outback Magazine: February/March 2018