I once asked Andi how he would describe a plant. David Callighan.
“A plant is something green that gets into your heart and soul. It is impossible to cleanse it from the body. With a slow incurable addiction of which there is no known cure. You do not have to be a botanist, a road scholar or an educated person to succumb to the unlimited beauty, simplicity and never ending variety that holds us mere mortals transfixed in their strangling grip for eternity.”
He then added “Remember a Plant starts with a “Pee” and ends in “Tea” in other words it is the planets lungs, the filtration system of all that is bad and turns it into good. Good food, good beverages, flavourings, clothes, building materials, timber, plastics, paper, medicine, antibiotics, body care products, pleasure, energy, Tea and still some people feel free to abuse, grafite and senselessly kill them at every opportunity since civilization began.”
“Andi will always be remembered by those who followed his love and dream of a better place surrounded by nothing more than living greenery. This quote entrenched in me that Andi’s love was not for money but the addiction to botany since he was a child.” David Callaghan Korora.
“For a self taught botanist Andi has a remarkable knowledge and holds his own in conversations with the best Professors in Botany at the Chong Qing University and probaly world wide especially in the field of Australian nomenclature. He holds back in conversation listens, obsorbs like a sponge and then asks pertinent questions of the professors and students alike. It is little wonder these emminent scientists and students all call him Professor Andi, iccluding myself.” Doctor Bob Snader.
Andrew is presently working as an advisor to one of China’s largest health oil producing companies in China, assisting their transition from chemically reliant plants to organic certification equal to the French, German, Australian and New Zealand Standards.
He has assisted several small villages in turning their backs on chemical reliant plants to producing organic and value adding produce at the farm gate delivering to the farmers, greater profits, better living standards and a healthy way of living. These crops include peanuts to muslei bars in Hubei and the utilization of a local weed “Calandula” to grow them for natural food colouring products in Yunan. This later expanded to include other crops like beetroot.
He has a strong realization of rural hardships and understands the need for farmers to again become less reliant on unprofitable outsourcing and purchasing multinational chemicals at great expense to value adding and cooperative village management, production, logistics and sales of the final produce. Running the farms in a village as a local business where every villager is a part owner of the business. This has allowed those farmers who followed his lead to return to sustainable growth with higher profits in a field that is slowly dying.
But let’s return to the beginning July the first 1951.
Andrew Mellis was born in Sydney, Australia, into a working-class family. His mother was an usherette while his father, was in the Signal Corp. of the Royal Australian Navy. After leaving the navy he worked on the Victorian Railways followed by the petroleum industry as a boiler operator. Andrew had two younger sisters.
Andrew was never interested in school and as a result never achieved a high standard for a lad who had a 124 I.Q. Instead he was fidgety and restless yearning for physical activities and solitude in nature. Sport and flowers dominated long hikes into the swampy woodlands that surrounded his home at Seaford in Victoria. He found the physical pressure on the Australian football field playing with such greats as Leigh Mathews who was a class mate of his at Bonbeach State High School or talking to and probably annoying Mr. Edward Whitten; Teddy also known as Mr. Football, at his Seaford office.
Andrew found solitude in the marshes; now known as the Seaford wetlands, adjacent to his parent’s home at 6 harold street. The outer Melbourne suburb’s foreshore from Carrum to Frankston where the tea trees, (Leptospermum lavigatum) thrived, the Eucalyptus forests beyond Wells road and the closed and open woodlands at the end of Park Street provided the breeding grounds and research for the young amateur botanist who was keen on birds at the time. He was able to navigate large areas of bush without ever getting lost and would disappear for 5 to 10 hours at a time even at the young age of six. When asked where he had been? He would answer down to the old Eucalyptus camaludensis then to the Angophora costata before trekking to Phragmites australis. The Latin and Greek names were natural and something he picked up without having to study.
He preferred to work on the fruit trees and bees in his parent’s backyard and even worked his own little patch of vegetables growing peas and strawberries.
Years later his eldest daughter Kylie-Lea politely corrected her second grade teacher when the teacher said, “Students this is a bottle brush.” Kylie-Lea innocently remarked excuse me Miss but that is Callistemon viminalis. In the end the teacher asked Kylie-Lea, Kylie what is this? Her answer like her fathers was serious with passion “That Miss is Banksia serrata and it’s not native to this area.”
When the family moved to Manly an eastern Brisbane suburb Andrew began working on a vegetable farm where the art of growing was again rekindled never to abate.
In 1971 as an electrical apprentice who was desperate to own land and get out of the trade despite being an honours student. He met his wife Gail Joanne White and between them saved enough money to buy one and a quarter acres of land at Capalaba where they started there first nursery, “Melaeuca Gardens Nursery.” At this time, Andrew worked as an electrician during the week as well as serving on the local Redlands Shire Council taking interest in people’s welfare and the environment. His weekends were taken up with the nursery chores and propagating. They soon outgrew the property and bought land at Redland Bay where their fern nursery “ Fern Growers of Australia” became a household name in ferns and Australia’s largest fern nursery.
Andrew was never afraid to try something new and this led to him developing the first organic nursery probably anywhere in the world. His commitment to organics and a healthy life was paramount. The turning point in his dedication came when growing strawberries as a cash crop while setting up the fern nursery. While growing the strawberries during a season of unusual humid weather he had fungal problems. The standard control was Zineb a rather harmless product of Zinc Oxide or Magnesium and Zinc together used as a spray once a week. The problem was the withholding period was 3 days and the picking period was every second day. When he enquired through the Agricultural Department how to overcome this 24 hour time difference in safety, he was told “Do not worry about it Zineb is harmless and no one else worries about it.” Zineb, maybe harmless but what about the accumulating rates in the soils and body? What about other chemicals, more dangerous chemicals, were the same replies given? This was extraordinary and for a man of high moral standings. This shocked Andrew into never using chemicals again and to find a new method of farming and growing.
His successes in organics saw him survive where other farmers succumbed led to his daughter Julie-Anne saying in a posh, jesting manner “Andrew Mellis farmer and nurseryman extraordinaire,” to which Andrew replied “I am a lazy farmer but I am smart enough to entice nature do most the hard work for me while I reap the profits.”
Soon Andrew wanted something more challenging and they moved to Nana Glen where they started what became Australia’s largest organic mandarin and lemon orchard. The land was poor; but all they could afford the weather was too cold and other citrus orchardists had already succumbed to the elements of farming in the district. Andrew’s belief in organics proved to be the way. In the meantime as the orchard developed he worked as a volunteer under notable Botanist Alexender Floyde Order of Australia in collecting seed and other flora for the Australian Herbarium based at the Coffs Harbour Botanic Gardens. Here he met John Wriggly a notable writer, Murry Fagg a noted botanical photographer of native plants and John Lane another noted Botanist.
After reading Professor King’s book “Farmers of Forty Centuries,” he decided to locate a farm that King spoke about. He was fascinated that farmers were able to produce good quantities of excellent quality produce from a given area of land and that nothing had changed in the past 120 years since King had documented his figures. In 1996 he spread his wings and visited China on a self funded fact finding mission to rediscover what King had discovered one hundred and twenty years before. If the self funded study of organic agriculture learning experience were to be successful Andrew knew he had to find an Yizu minority tribe high in the Mountains of Yunan or Sichuan Province. He found farms in central Yunan. Later that year he returned and lived with the Yizu learning and living the simple life for the next 6 months. His fascination led to him travelling backwards and forward all the time. This travelling and absenteeism eventually placed strain upon his marriage.
He separates from his wife Gail but never forgets her. He often reminisced that he had separated from the really great women in his life but was torn between the 3, his love of flora, love of an environmental alternative way that would help farmers and save the earth from what he saw as its demise – organics and his love of Gail to pursue organics and the interests of the environment. A decision he later often pondered, whether he could really change anything in this world which seemed to be hell bent on self devastation.
It was his Son in Law David Nyssen who urged him to write a book on the local flora of Australia. Much later he remarried, a Chinese lady Liu Ying, who also fell in love with Australia’s diverse wildflowers. They moved to The Pinnacles outside Grafton. Liu Ying urged Andrew to meet the challenge mooted by David. Grafton offered little in the way of job security so they moved to China to work and write in 2007.
Now as a part time English teacher he could concentrate on the task at hand. In 2009 he was awarded Sichuan Provinces Excellent Foreign Teacher of the Year Award which is awarded to foreign teachers with outstanding service and results in teaching usually English to Chinese students. The following year he reached what he considered his pinnacle in teaching when he tutored 10 students in the rural district from Luxian at number 2 middle School for the CCTV English speaking Championships. Of a population of 120,000,000 in Sichuan the 10 chosen students all moved through the eliminations to reach the quarter finals and semi finals, reaching the final 120 before moving onto the final 60 before some were eliminated. No country school had ever achieved this result before. Unfortunately as Andrew put it, “I have learnt so much but am unable to contribute any further because by Chinese Law I had reached 60, the Chinese age of retirement.”
His forced retirement meant he could devote himself tirelessly to the book on Australia’s floral and the protection of the land surrounding the Fortis Creek Nature Reserve. This was the period where the book really gained momentum with the need to secure the land becomes paramount. he began writing 16 hours a day 7 days a week in a bid to complete his dream. The commitment to have the council commit itself to a new, a great, a magnificent Memorial Botanic Gardens that would serve the dual purpose as a National Park and Floral reserve partly funded by memorial gardens was forever in his mind to finish the book quickly without jeopardizing quality. At the start of 2013 the efforts of researching, photographing and writing 16 hours a day, 7 days a week started to take its toll. He loses 10 kilograms and is forced to consider the hours he is working. He again ventured into part time teaching to relieve the pressure with a few students he had sparked up a friendship with.
As it were he did go better in 2014 than what he achieved in 2009 and 2010. One female student a second year university student reached the top 10 in China in the university category which included masters and doctorate students. Also in 2014 an 11 year boy named Nick who he took a particular liking to finished 3rd in all of China in the grade 7 category. Grandfather Andi as the locals called him, referring to his paternal approach to students and long white beard had proven that he could make a difference. This now spurred him to his goal to do his bit in converting the derogating planet to a sustainable planet.
This is Andrew’s first book, it will be his last and it will never be completed even if 1,000,000 pages could be written and 1,000,000 photographs could be taken. It is a never ending commitment of dedication and love for Australia’s flora.
He told his wife Gail after an attempt to first write a book in 1976 about Australian plants failed, “I will never write a theory, or write for the sake of writing, but if it is to save Australia’s unique and beautiful flora from man’s short comings then I will do it.” 30 years later that need to save Australia’s unique and beautiful flora from man’s greedy short comings was seen as becoming overwhelmingly desperate and this is the result after a further 8 years of writing an average of 90 hours a week and 8 years of photographing.
The one important thing he learnt from writing and studying Australia’s flora in China was just how his mentor Theophrastus felt 2500 years before him. The need for knowledge with no one there to help or turn to made it a greater challenge. Isolation in China challenged every aspect of his knowledge and character, from language, culture learning to use of the camera, learning to write, what students, gardeners, retirees and photographers wanted to know. How to simplify a text, how to study the plants as a whole, down to the intricate parts that made each and every plant beautifully individualistic with life and how to appreciate the subtle differences.
The glossary and descriptive understanding of every specie eventuated from understanding and wanting the simplicity to understand, collecting of thousands of samples from Australian native plants like, Melaleuca viminalis, Nelumbo nucifera or related plant species also found within China like Carex species, Cyperus species, Curculigo sp. then comparing photographs from his private collection and from the web, resulted in new methods of scientific observation using the camera, light, angles and magnification not used before in Botany by an author. Careful observation and methodology was soon created and adapted. With better equipment, present knowledge in affective observations, the new observation methods coupled with better transport and the computer, he was able to complete in 9 years what took Theophrastus a life time. It was this isolation and thirst for knowledge which resulted in his empathy with Theophrastus feelings, what Theophrastus wanted to know, when Theophrastus wanted it, where Theophrastus had to go, which plants Theophrastus needed to observe, how he observed plants and why Theophrastus created the very first Botanic Gardens. Nobody can fully understand history until you understand the culture. The reason so little is known about Theophrastus, how he thought, how he behaved or what his motives were is because no one has replaced today’s culture with his Greek culture and experiences as a pioneer in Botany.
As Andi put it “It takes more than an archeologist sifting through papers and sand or a botanist who loves plants to understand Theophrastus. You need to be fully immersed in the day to day problems and experiences that confronted the man at that time. I am proud to be the son of Theophrastus’ energy and thoughts, I will never be Theophrastus, I will never be as wise as he, but I do enjoy the beauty of plants both large and small as he did 2500 years ago.”
Andi is one of a kind he walks around with a pocket full of one yuan notes. Every beggar, every minstrel, artist or busker he sees, he would pull out a note and hand it to them. He never asked them their name or for a tax receipt he just gave 20 or 30 yuan a week. As a student of his I asked why he did it? He replied “they need it more than me.” I added “is that the reason why you are prepared to defy the law to protect plants and animals.” The soft, sincere spoken voice of a man who dearly believed in the preservation of all living things said, “Yes, and these creatures are in desperate need of a voice that can pass on their agonizing, screams for help to anyone who will listen.” – Xiao Ming Hong An.
“No matter how grotesque, how beautiful, how large or how small the creature is, Andi went out of his way to protect it and remove it the imminent of danger it faced. Like the time he deliberately stopped the traffic picked up a snake in the middle of the road and carried it into the bush. No one questioned his reasons why as we all knew of his love for life.” – Zhang Wen Guan Qing Shui Tan Yunan China
“Andi showed a love for everything even with the protection of ferns and their relocation from along a road side; being widened, to a safe haven. This was more than any individual I had ever witnessed do before or probably would do in the future.” – Huang An Ren Lu Zhou Sichuan China.
Nothing probably epitomizes the sincerity of the preservation than when I asked his wife, how, would you explain Andi’s love of nature. Her story unfolded with a beautiful example of how he believed every living thing deserves an equal chance to fulfill its life. “One day as we were walking down the street in Chong Qing with litter fluttering around our ankles. Andi saw a fish just 50mm in length lying on the footpath. People either didn’t see it or chose to walk around it but not Andi. He went over to the fish, bent down and picked it up and spat on it. He gently wiped it before placing it in his mouth to clean the rest of the dirt and dust from it again removing it. He spat the contents on the ground then salivated all over this tiny fish. People gathered as he saw another and repeated the process. He then asked me for the front door key then again placed the two fish in his mouth. He ran the 1000 meters back to our home and placed the fish in a bucket of clean water. Later when we returned home miraculously one of the fish was still alive. I was amazed yet this is how he valued the life of even this tiny fish that most would have left to die. For the next 12 months it became his little pet. He has rescued hundreds of butterflies, beetles, grasshoppers, kangaroos, echidnas and birds over the years but this is the one event I will always remember.” Liu Ying
Andrew was influenced by the following People:
Miss Coughlin his English and History teacher at Wynnum State High School. Enthusiasm and optimism.
Mr. Jones his Biology teacher at Wynnum State High School. Precision for detail and patience.
Alex Floyde MOA. Curator of the Coffs Harbour Botanic Gardens. Commitment and dedication
Anthony Packer (Tony) Friends in hiking and understanding the simple things in life to the end.
Gail Joanne Mellis Honesty, integrity, reliability with love and affection.
Kylie-Lea Nysen Devotion without compromise
Julie-Anne Sheldon Hardships without giving up
Jennifer-Marree Anderson Training and effort without deviation
My foster daughter Min Min known to me as Kallis the beautiful one. Enthusiasm for life without belligerence.
Volunteer Staff at the C.H.B.G. The feeling of achievement without monetary compensation or glory is a far greater thrill.
Zhang Wen Guan his family and the Yizu (Sanizu) minority from Qing Shui Tan in Yunan. These are the people who gave me Utopia and live in a Utopian world without realizing it.
The people of Chong Qing who supported me gave their home their food so I could continue without the fear or worry of money.
Alex Floyde was the changing point in my life, as it was his dedication to detail, the commitments he made and the sacrifices that were needed to achieve a goal that gave me the confidence to write this tomb for our native flora originally around the Clarence Valley..
Tony Packer who was a great friend who was always there, his knowledge when it came to the practicalities of long bush walking was second to none.
Gail Mellis was instrumental in forming my character and placing me on the long journey into happiness and love with our native flora. She taught me how appreciating the smallest details that nature has to offer can be so rewarding.
My four daughters who inspired me and lovingly pressured me to continue no matter what their personal losses were.
Perhaps the person that needs to be acknowledged now is my wife Liu Ying who stood by me through the worst chores of photographing plants in inclement weather and standing for long hours from swamps to desert holding umbrellas, reflectors and camera accessories so the photographs describing every characteristic of a plant and its life cycle could be bought to those who really appreciate Australia’s flora and beautiful photographs though she often complained with “How much longer?”.
Let’s not forget our readers who will contribute to the ultimate success and whose funds will lead to one of the greatest garden floral reserves any where in the world. A big thankyou to you all, I love you all. Andi
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