• The man behind the cave garden in the Umpherston Sinkhole

    The man behind the cave garden in the Umpherston Sinkhole

    Mr Kenneth ‘Ken’ Norton was born on 12 August 1929, not yet knowing the integral role he would play in the formation of the cave garden in the Umpherston Sinkhole in Mount Gambier.

    Mr and Mrs Ken and Elizabeth-Norton
    Mr and Mrs Ken and Elizabeth Norton

    The sinkhole was formed by geological processes over a long period of time. Originally a limestone cave typical of the area, the limestone rock was corroded by seawater waves. The sinkhole was created when the chamber’s roof collapsed. In 1886, the Umpherston Sinkhole was made into a sunken garden by James Umpherston, and had been a popular tourist destination. However, the garden fell into disrepair.

    Ken was born and bred in the area, and grew a keen interest in South Australia’s geology at a young age.

    ‘When I completed my schooling, I took up a job within The Woods and Forests Department [now ForestrySA], but it was never just a job to me,’ Ken explains.

    Ken soon took interest in his department’s idea of developing the sinkhole, which was full of dirt at the time, into the impressive ecosystem it is today.

    This development turned into a 33-year project, one that Ken proudly led from start to finish.

    ‘We started by cleaning it up and planting lots of greenery. I even planted the surrounding trees, which you’ll find standing tall today.’

    Umpherston Sinkhole
    Umpherston Sinkhole

    ‘Something you may not know – the reason you will only find Hydrangeas in the garden, is because the possums don’t like them – they ate every other flower we ever planted!’

    The sinkhole slowly began looking more like Ken’s vision, and the community became excited, with many offering their time over the weekend free of charge.

    ‘The help was overwhelming, and much appreciated. Everyone could see the potential, and it became a community project that everyone enjoys today.’

    Once the sinkhole was completed with lush gardens, pathways and benches, the community could enjoy weddings, awards, and many other special events, and is highly sought after by all who know the area.

    Now, Mr Norton resides at Resthaven Bellevue Heights. He proudly remembers the Umpherston Sinkhole, and all he achieved within the Woods and Forests Department, sharing his story with great pride.

    Mr and Mrs Norton have also had the opportunity to tell their story with Gardening Australia. Watch their segment below:

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