Magnetic Island North Queensland
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A young koala's beach adventure

April 25th 2007
Davies depart Island Nursery

Zanita at the Nursery office Following its sale last week, the Island Nursery, a landmark Magnetic Island business opened and run for over 21 years by Zanita and Gary Davies, is changing hands. This week Zanita is clearing the decks but took a break to talk with about the nursery and the other roles it has served: as a welcoming oasis for anybody who felt like a little dose of good conversation and as Zanita's informal shopfront and repository for the Magnetic Island History and Craft Centre.

Bags of potting mix, fertilizer and the moist, fecund, smell of healthy growing tropical plants create a sensory pleasure beneath the cool steel shed on Sooning Street. To add to the agreeable ambiance Zanita Davies welcomes all and sundry without imposing herself. 'People can come and purchase, look about or just talk,' she says.

As if to celebrate the Island's past and easy-going sense of familiarity, a sign hangs near the entrance displaying the nursery's phone number from a decade ago - before the "47" prefix arrived - when most Islanders knew each other's numbers by their last three digits. But if you thought this all sounds so laid back it couldn't make for a viable business then you don't know the Davies.

Both off the land from Bordertown South Australia the pair arrived on Magnetic is 1981 with four year old son Richard and two year old daughter Emma who is also about to return with Zanita's grandchildren to live permanently on Magnetic.

Coming off a farm Gary quickly adopted his practical skills to landscape gardening. 'He used to carry plants around on the back of his truck and people would ask if they were for sale,' says Zanita.

It wasn't long before they'd bought some acreage at Horseshoe Bay and by 1986 they had designed and built their shop. 'It was a curiosity. A new shop on the Island. We began with beautiful plants (including a wall of orchids) and plants for decorative purposes. Then we got into and out of fruit trees (cockatoos loved them) but soon adapted to more practical supplies of nursery items like potting mixes and fertilisers,' says Zanita.

Just opened, a busy Gary Davies at work at
The Island Nursery in 1986

Zanita was not always a green thumb, 'Gary used to say, when I visited a nursery, "You can buy a plant but don't take it home - you'll just kill it!'" This was before Zanita had kids and she thinks that the experience helped her horticulturally. 'I learned that plants, like children, also require food and drink!' she laughs.

But for 15 years the Davies (mainly Zanita) ran the nursery seven days per week while Gary operated his busy landscaping business. It wasn't until friend and Island jazz legend Max Brown passed away in 2002, that Zanita began to feel the importance of home life and decided to stay home on Sundays.

A former English teacher, Zanita, possesses a sharp intellect and is a very capable researcher. Her passion for history was something she brought to work and, as foundation President of the Magnetic Island History and Craft Centre, Zanita stored most of the archival files of the Centre, tucked into the rear office space at the Nursery. As a font of local knowledge Zanita has been happily ensconced at the Nursery where, with the archives have been at her fingertips, she has been able to form many historic connections with locals and visitors.

Looking through the shop

A restful atmosphere

Though unintended, her interests and accessibility have led to the nursery becoming something of a social oasis too. 'I noticed that people will come and spill their beans here,' says Zanita. 'Strangers will engage in deep and meaningful conversations. You can't talk like that at the supermarket but I am here on my own and so people talk. It's not a role I have played deliberately. It just happened. It may be the restful atmosphere with all the plants,' she says.

As we talk Zanita draws my attention to a sunbird gorging on the nectar of a nearby flowering ginger plant. The breezy shed has welcomed other non-human visitors too. Apart from the inevitable collection of green tree frogs, Zaniata shares her space with butterflies, lizards, and even echidnas and sometimes snakes.

'It would be sad if we were actually leaving but as we will remain at Horseshoe Bay, this is just a step along the way,' she says.

One of the biggest achievements of the History and Craft Centre, which is located at the old school house in Picnic Bay, has been the retention of Butlers Hut from the former Dunoon's developers (read here). The hut is, with some amount of synchronicity, now ready to store the Centre's archives.

As a business the nursery, unlike a bakery for instance, reflects the seasons and tracks the now dramatically changing attitudes Australians have to the plants they wish to live with. 'Dry times see more irrigation equipment sold while people want to get planting when the rain comes,' says Zanita.

But perhaps the biggest shift is a subtle one whereby gardeners are no longer simply asking for Australian "native" plants, which may come from anywhere in the country and be bred as hybrids. 'People now want plants native to Magnetic Island. The native (to Australia) business has almost disappeared.'

Of course not every customer has a broad understanding of the ecology they are gardening in and Zanita was amused by one woman who wanted to encourage butterflies but complained about the (butterfly) caterpillars which were busily devouring the (butterfly caterpillar food) vines she'd planted.

As for the future, Gary will continue his landscaping and Zanita will, likely, manage the books and continue her activities with the History and Craft Centre. 'We're just tired,' says Zanita, adding that 'Gary says, "We've got the tired part of retired."' But for a business that has put both their children through private schooling, Zanita says contentedly, 'It's been good to us.'

The new owners of the Island Nursery, Brian and Dianne from Alice Springs, who purchased both the land and the business, are expected to begin their operations within two weeks.

Story and photos: George Hirst

To make a comment see below

Davies depart Island Nursery
David Donohue
April 25th 2007
Thanks for everything Zanita and Gary - enjoy your well-earned rest.

David Donohue
Stakeholder Relations Manager
Water Matters Alliance
Martin Gibson
April 25th 2007
PLANT NURSERY?? I didn't know it was a nursery!. I only ever went there for a chat about the Island history, to pay my MIHC membership fee, to pick up the key to the MICDA photo copier, and to catch up on Island gossip and all in a very relaxed and friendly manner. - We will miss your smiling face at Sooning Street Zanita but pleased we will retain your wealth of knowledge about all things Magnetic Island. Enjoy your new life.
Kay & Tony
April 25th 2007
With every ending comes a new beginning.. as a special part of Magnetic Island's history begins a new chapter! Best wishes to both of you.. we are so pleased for you! Enjoy those Italian Beers, cricket games, children, grand children & some lazy days!!
Keith & Betty Owens
April 26th 2007
Hello there Zanita & Garry,
You cannot give me shocks like this Zanita do you want to give me Keith another Stroke? Well Seriously I have just received the Magnetic Times & who should be on the front cover "None other saythan That Delightful Lady Zanita Betty & I met when we strolled in to the Nursery in 2004 & again in 2005 In 1948 as a Young bloke I Met Betty near the Jetty In Picnic Bay & had our Honeymoon at Dunoon on the 12th of April 1952 BIG Buisness cannot Leave Memories alone but that is another matter & that brings me to another matter that Bet & I were able to share time,Zanita sitting down having a yarn before we left to come home to Hobart & give Zanita a photo of the Home as it was in 1948 & so She was kind enough to include it in 2006 for the Month of December but a lot different now thanks to Jan & Richard Parry & we love them as well for their Kindness in allowing us to stay there in 2005 Wow We Love You all there at Magnetic & George as well who Kindly interviewed Bet & I in 2004 Have a Happy Retirement Zanita But you see George the Man HAS to Keep going but although have never met Garry He has to be a good bloke look who he Married Do come to Tassy & see us Keith & Betty.
Alan Patterson
April 26th 2007
There was one job description missing from the article. On occasion Zanita would deliver medicine to elderly neighbours on behalf of the Pharmacy, on her way home. Of course it was never any trouble for Zanita but all the same was always greatly appreciated by myself. Best Wishes in semi-retirement!
Wendy Tubman
April 27th 2007
Was always a joy and a pleasure to pop in for a chat with Zanita (accompanied by a sardonic comment or two from Gary if he happened to be passing through)- to say nothing of an educational experience of one type or another. Hope both Zanita and Gary continue to be seen around the island - although I could understand the temptation to sit behind a wall of vegetation at the far end of HSB and keep busy preserving the memory of the island as it was before...

Good news about the trend toward native natives. Does that mean people will soon be ripping out all the golden cane?!

Seriously, all the very best to you both - and to the family.

sheila roach
April 28th 2007
Well that certainly made me sit up too!No Zanita at the nursery- who allways offered advice and help to one and all?I was shocked -even though I no longer live on the island -I would like to thank her for her friendship over the years and congratulate her in all her endevers.All the very best to both of you._
sheila roach
June 27th 2007
Hi I was reading the decline in the population figures on the island -I must say I was surprised as there has been so much redevelopement at Bright Point.Incase your wondering where they have all gone I think they are here!In Lismore or Coffs Harbour and Kyogle.Im thinking of starting a maggie island club!It is beautifull around here but my goodness its cold!I have a restaurant now called Isadoras in Lismore and I would be delighted if anyone passing through called by.Good to have a yarn about the island which of course I miss and the dear folk that live there.Anyway all the best to one and all.Better put another log on the fire!Oh to put on a sarong!I write this in ugg bootsand several layers of clothing.My dog also has a coat and is not impressed at all!
October 9th 2007
shes my granmother

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