A family legacy of curiosity, care and conservation for the natural world has driven Trees For Life volunteer Lillian Camphausen in her many contributions to restoration of Adelaide’s environment. Discover how fostering a sense of wonder is continuing this family legacy. Meet Lillian.

Lillian and her two sons at Kangaroo Island, three people sit under a large rock at a beach
Lillian and her two sons at Kangaroo Island

‘From my parents I learnt that life is about looking for beauty everywhere, observing it, recording it, and doing something about it in any way that you can.

‘Both my parents sadly passed away this year, but in clearing out their things, we’re finding so much that they recorded. For example, Dad always drew the most amazing things from the garden. Dad would sketch, and Mum would write about it.

Lillian and her family at Parra Wirra, a group of people sit at a picnic table in a bushland area
Lillian and her family at Parra Wirra

‘As kids, my brother, sister and I played by making things out of stuff in the garden. That is how we learnt. We used scissors to cut shapes out of leaves, we pressed flowers, looked at insects, had insects in jars, watched caterpillars pupate and then become butterflies, and we all planted things. And most of the plants died, of course, when we were young, but that was part of learning to look after something.

'And I think… well I am a pretty impatient person… but any bit of patience I have is what I have learnt through looking after things where it is a long time before you get the result.

‘My parents were both gardeners, and they were always interested in plants, so I had an interest from when I was little. It is like a lot of little boys know every car, every make, every model, but I knew every plant in the garden.

‘Dad studied entomology, so insects, but he didn’t work as an entomologist where we lived in Singapore. He did some public service work at first, and then he ended up the chief horticultural officer at the presidential palace. He managed the grounds and the garden there. And he always loved insects and plants – all living things.

‘After we moved to Adelaide, we spent almost every weekend out in the bush. Dad would draw, Mum would be looking at plants, writing about them, and us kids… well we played, climbed up rocks, looked at bugs and plants, tried to write down bird calls, all sorts.

‘And now, well it was a few years ago that I moved back to Adelaide, to look after Mum and Dad. I’d grown up here, so it wasn’t totally unfamiliar coming back, but I’d moved away when I was 21, so a lot had changed.’

Lillian's parents would draw and write about the natural world around them, image shows a collection of their pages, including hand-drawn and written summaries of plants
Lillian's parents would draw and write about the natural world around them

‘I bought a house in Brooklyn Park because it was close to Mum and Dad, and my sister, but I was sad to be so far from the bush. I went for a walk not long after moving in, and went past the Trees For Life office.

‘I’d done a lot of bush care before in Sydney where I’d moved from, and Brisbane before that, so I jumped at the chance to get involved again. I thought this would be a good way for me to get to know Adelaide again and see all these beautiful places where the Bush For Life sites are, and meet new people.

Lillian in amongst weeds
Lillian is passionate about bushcare, pictured on an extended BAT with Bush For Life

‘Trees For Life organise a minibus for the “Bush Action Teams” who look after the sites. But they also have mini events, which is like a half a day where you drive yourself. At first I did both. But later on as looking after my parents got more difficult, I just did the mini events because I needed to have my car, so that if mum and dad called I could just take off.

‘And then COVID hit. Everything stopped. I did a lot of my own gardening then. I actually didn’t buy veggies for a year – after planting my own. My place had a beautiful garden. But it was cottage-y, beautiful, but not my style. There weren’t many natives. So I just started watering the way I wanted to water, so less, and some plants died. I wasn’t trying to kill them, but I was testing what was working. And where there were gaps, I starting filling them with natives or edibles. So my garden is now pretty hotchpotch.

‘Luckily, during the COVID interruptions, one of the first things that opened up again was outdoor activities, so we could do some bush care. Trees For Life also does extended BATs, which are sort of like going on school camps all over again!

Lillian standing beside a large weed
Bushcare is not always about hand-pulling

‘I was lucky enough to go to Middleton and Kangaroo Island. On KI we were pulling out and cutting down literally hundreds of Tassie blue gums which had sprouted after the bushfires. You get to see the bush up close when you’re spending hours in it. It’s fantastic working with a bunch of people who are all passionate about the same thing, and you learn something from every one of them.’

Image showing lots of tassie blue gum weeds
Before eradicating Tassie blue gums
Bushland free from Tassie blue gums
After eradicating Tassie blue gums

‘I’ve done a lot of volunteering before in all the places I’ve lived, including Germany where I lived for 23 years.

‘The idea of trying to look after and restore bushland was completely foreign in Europe. All kinds of animals and plants have crossed borders for centuries. But there is a lot of conservation going on.

‘For example, when I first moved to Germany everything was very clean and tidy. Like if a tree fell, someone came and cleaned it up. But in the time that I lived there, it was changing. Rather than having everything all neat, areas would then not get mowed, so the wildflowers would come up. Or in forests you’d see trees left to rot, and then birds and insects would come back. But there was no concept of “returning it to its original state”.

‘Australia is special because it’s an island. We’ve had an environment which was isolated for thousands of years, and only got changed after European settlement. We can’t return it all to its “original” state, but we can at least try to retain some of the unique plants and animals and habitats we still have.

‘When I moved to Brisbane from Germany, we rented a place first. My kids and I would ride to their school, and we’d go past a native nursery, “Save Our Waterways Now”. There were two creek systems in that area, and the people in the nursery were revegetating around the creek. Years ago the waterways were concreted and made into drain systems. So the creek needed restoration, and I became involved in that.

‘I did work there in the nursery and met nice people. I learnt about propagation and about techniques, plants, record keeping, and experimentation.

‘I also started working as a musician. And it is funny because my first gig as a classical piano accompanist came through bush care! At the first morning tea the nursery manager asked me what I do. And I said I was a muso and he asked what kind of music and all that. Then he said “oh one of our landholders, she is a pianist at the conservatorium”. And so I got in contact with her and she does exactly the sort of work that I do! So I that is how all my music life in Australia started, it came through bush care.’

Rytidosperma geniculatum, a type of wallaby grass, has since been planted out and is flourishing
Rytidosperma geniculatum, a type of wallaby grass, has since been planted out and is flourishing at Grange Golf Club

'I love working in the nursery at Trees For Life and working with the other volunteers. You know I walk around and think “oh I planted that one and now it’s this big, or it’s doing well”, or whatever it is about it. I’ve taken part in local council planting days, and seeing my own writing on some of the labels of the plants that go out, and now checking on my little “babies” to see how big they’re getting – I get a great kick out of that!

Lillian stands with Flora in front of native grasses at the Trees For Life nursery
Lillian and Trees For Life nursery manager Flora, photo credit: Trees For Life

‘And there are great managers. Flora, our current nursery manager, I learn so much from watching her work with people. I mean with plants too, but I am also learning about people. She is really kind, and encouraging.

'She notices before you do that there is something that you probably don’t know how to do. And she will come and talk to you in such a nice way, so it doesn’t look like you don’t know what you were doing. I’ve seen her do it with so many people, including myself, she is just so good at pre-empting, and then very calmly putting you on the right track. It makes it feel like, “oh yeah, okay, I can do that”.

‘I also do other voluntary work for TPAG, Threatened Plant Action Group. We have been helping at Grange Golf Club. It is so unlikely to be doing bush care at a golf club! I don’t know much about the game, but here and there, they have “roughs” and “hazards” where trees and bushes are challenges for the golfers. And those areas haven’t been cleared. So on the golf-course, we have remnant patches of bush from pre-European settlement!

Grange golf club, image of yellow flowers in front of a tree at a golf club
Grange Golf Club. Photo credit: Tim Reynolds

‘And of course people walk in and bring in all kinds of weed seeds. At the club, I am helping to do some of that weeding. And monitoring populations of some species of plants which are not found anywhere else in the Adelaide Plains! And I get to look after these plants! How cool is that.

‘About 3 years ago, I met someone while hiking with the Friends of the Heysen Trail who got me hooked on native orchids. Interest became passion, became obsession, and addiction! They are such fascinating plants. Really weird and bizarre shapes and structures, and interesting in the way they interact with other living things.’

A flower opening, maroon against a green leaf
Helmet orchid (Corysanthes incurva) photographed by Lillian
A Corysanthes incurva, purple and green looking stem opening to a flower
Helmet orchid (Corysanthes incurva), photographer by Lillian

‘I also belong to the Native Orchid Society of South Australia. I am learning to propagate orchids. We just opened up a propagation facility at Oakden, and I am learning so much. I didn’t know you had to plant them in a sterile environment and all these details, and I am so clumsy with all this stuff. I think there are three or four times when I have gone in and every plant that I had transplanted was dead. But the last lot have gone better. And that is cool. Just watching these tiny little seeds become huge plants.

‘Some of them I will never see flower. I will be dead before they’re ready to flower! But that’s OK, I get to see plants flower now that somebody else planted years ago. That’s the same in the bush. What I enjoy now is there because of what happened long ago, and what we do now affects how others will enjoy it after us.

‘Being curious means I have lots of questions, and I spend a lot of time looking for answers. Often I don’t find them, but I find out a whole heap of other interesting things along the way! You never stop learning with living things because they are all so different. Like, kids learn flowers are those colourful things on plants with petals, right? And then later you might learn there are green things called sepals around the petals. But then if you delve deeper, you find out that sometimes the sepals and petals end up looking the same. Like lilies, 3 of each arranged like a 6-point star.

‘I miss being able to share my excitement with Mum and Dad. But luckily, my brother and sister and my two sons and I, we’ve all inherited their love and fascination of beautiful and diverse things out in nature. We’re always sending each other photos. My sons spend much of their free time outdoors, they‘re both climbers, so I get pictures of incredible landscapes and rock formations, and animals and plants that they see.

A person is wearing a harness and climbing up a rockface
Lillian's son, Collin, climbing

‘I think that is the biggest gift that my parents gave to me, is preserving that curiosity and wonder. Having that as a legacy… I think that is pretty amazing. And now being able to share that with my sons, and have that sense of family and belonging, I think that connection is really important.’

Two people stand in bushland on a rainy day
Lillian on a nature walk with Robin

Humans of Green Adelaide is a first-person series about the people of Adelaide and their connection with nature. Come on everyone, let’s green Adelaide!

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