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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

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Peter Joseph Cundall (1927–2021)

by Harriet Veitch

Peter Cundall, by Jennifer Green, 1973

Peter Cundall, by Jennifer Green, 1973

National Library of Australia, 51284191

Every week Peter Cundall would say, “Now look ...” on ABC TV’s Gardening Australia and people did look. Hundreds of thousands of people fell a little bit in love with this chirpy, purposeful man as he told them how to raise their vegies, prune their trees (he liked to call it “liberating” the plant) and how their compost should grow.

The ABC circulated a statement on Sunday afternoon confirming the death of the much-loved gardening guru following a short illness.

“Peter Cundall passed away peacefully after a short illness, surrounded by his family,” the statement said. “Peter’s privacy, and the privacy of his family, is to be respected during this very sad time. Peter’s family does not wish to be contacted.

“While he was loved by many, as per Peter’s wishes, there will be a private cremation and no memorial services will be held.”

According to the ABC, Cundall’s family requested no photo be used with the announcement of his death.

Cundall’s fans ranged from small children who liked to see someone who was allowed to get dirty in the garden to what he affectionately called his “geriatric groupies”. They watched him on television, flocked to his standing-room-only public talks, bought his books and went in droves to see the organic vegetable patches he established in Hobart’s Royal Botanical Gardens to show how easy it was to feed a family.

He told them about how important it was to eat fresh food and how gardening could keep them fit and healthy, all with a twinkling eye and a cheery smile, like everyone’s perfect granddad.

When he was away from gardening, which wasn’t very often, he spoke out for environmental causes and for raising children properly. He was interested in politics and once stood for the Senate in Tasmania for the Communist Party, in 1961, although always claimed he held the record for the fewest number of votes recorded, and was a committed pacifist.

Cundall came originally from a life a long way from his Australian home in Tasmania; the dark and damp streets of Manchester, England. He was born on April 1, 1927, was the second of six children in a family that didn’t have a home, just rented rooms until they got a council flat, and two of his siblings died of malnutrition. His father was seldom in work, drank what money there was and beat his mother.

When Cundall was four, his mother gave him some peas that he planted and was amazed that they actually came up. Later, just before the war, he noticed that the soil dug up as air-raid shelters were put in was good and dark – so he put it to good use and grew vegetables.

At 12 he left school and “ran wild” for a few years. Then at 16 got a job as a tram conductor, which he credited with teaching him how to perform in front of people. He loved classical music, too, and went to concerts as often as he could afford.

He was conscripted just as the war was ending and sent to Austria, where he had to look after people who had been in concentration camps and guard camp guards, which started his strong anti-war beliefs.

Then one day he accidentally ended up on the wrong side of the Yugoslav border, where he was captured and spent six months in solitary confinement, accused of spying, before being released. True to his habit of looking on the bright side of life, Cundall said that solitary confinement had the advantage of being the first time in his life he had ever had a bedroom to himself and that he kept busy by listening to Mozart in his head.

Back in England, he saw a small ad in a newspaper for volunteers for the Australian Army. As he liked to tell it, he applied for a job as a librarian at Bondi and ended up as an infantryman in Korea but when he was demobbed he was in Launceston so he stayed and set up a small gardening business.

One of his clients was the manager at the local radio station and asked Cundall to do some talkback one day about gardening. The switchboard lit up like a Christmas tree and he was invited back. This led to a small television program before the news on Friday nights, which eventually went national as Gardening Australia in 1990, although an ABC official from Sydney told Cundall his accent was too “working class” for him to be the main presenter. Cundall liked to note in later years that he was still there and the official wasn’t.

He quickly became so famous that he had to stop gardening naked as he had done for years at home because it was easier than getting clothes dirty and having to waste time washing them. People started to hunt him down and he thought they would be “disappointed” by what they saw.

On the other hand, fame gave him the chance to talk about things he thought should be in the public arena, such as conservation, saving the environment and stopping the destruction of forests, particularly in his beloved Tasmania.

As well as Gardening Australia he continued to make radio programs and also wrote gardening columns. He loved having computers (he had more than one) and being able to read newspapers from around the world in his study at home.

In 1980 he married his second wife, Tina, and they had a son to go with his four sons from his first marriage and Tina’s one son from hers. In an interview in 2006 he said about his family life: “My father was a figure not to be loved but almost feared, so I’ve always tried to behave in the opposite way.”

When he turned 80, worrying only that his “man-boobs” were growing “little double chins”, Gardening Australia celebrated with a program dedicated to him. Interviews were published all over the country and Australia finally discovered that his least favourite gardening job was mowing the lawn and that he thought that the most underrated plant was a plum tree in blossom in late winter.

And that, as he always said, is “Your bloomin’ lot”.

Original publication

Additional Resources

Citation details

Harriet Veitch, 'Cundall, Peter Joseph (1927–2021)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 17 June 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Peter Cundall, by Jennifer Green, 1973

Peter Cundall, by Jennifer Green, 1973

National Library of Australia, 51284191

Life Summary [details]


1 April, 1927
Manchester, England


5 December, 2021 (aged 94)
Tasmania, Australia

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