The Weekend Post - Cairns Eye - - Front Page -

Have you ever fol­lowed the con­cept of hill sta­tions of the 18th and 19th cen­turies, where gov­er­nors and viceroys built their up­land sum­mer houses to es­cape the swel­ter of the trop­i­cal low­land coast?

Where the evenings were cool and the day­time tem­per­a­tures were not un­like the dif­fer­ence you of­ten feel be­tween the coast and our Table­lands.

The idea of the hill sta­tions as a respite from sum­mer heat were also to trial new crops. Tea and cof­fee were among the first, as were many of the spices to be de­vel­oped fur­ther as eco­nomic crops that could be traded. Also oth­ers like the al­ter­na­tive aibika that was and still is a good al­ter­na­tive to spinach and leafy greens.

Usu­ally there was some or­der to what hap­pened and each es­tate had its man­ager, who ar­ranged the plant­ing and pro­gram­ming of crops, tri­als and har­vests.

These es­tates were sig­nif­i­cantly large ar­eas that usu­ally in­cor­po­rated lo­cal vil­lages and were fash­ioned on the old es­tab­lished English es­tates back in the Bri­tain.

There were at least 80-100 es­tab­lished across the In­dian sub­con­ti­nent dur­ing the Bri­tish Raj (many are now lav­ish ho­tels).

Oth­ers flour­ished in Malaya, China, Cey­lon (as it was) and through­out the trop­ics of Asia and the West Indies.

It was much like an ex­ten­sion of the time where the lady of the house ar­ranged the flower gar­dens and the man of the house grew a cor­nu­copia of fresh veg­eta­bles.

In the fem­i­nine realm and with the help of ap­pointed ‘gar­den as­sis­tants’, many of the mis­tresses or First Ladies of the Es­tate would in­dulge their pas­sion for dif­fer­ent and un­usual or­na­men­tal plants.

Many of the miche­lias (or the trop­i­cal mag­no­lias) were the re­sult of the need for a waft­ing per­fume that kicked in dur­ing gin-and- tonic time of an evening. Oth­ers de­vel­oped new rose va­ri­eties and had them sent back home as their crops de­vel­oped.

Their legacy af­ter colo­nial rule was re­placed by lo­cal govern­ment; many of the col­lec­tions like the 20 or more va­ri­eties of rhodo­den­dron were orig­i­nally bred at a hill sta­tion at Dar­jeel­ing. Hor­ti­cul­ture was ac­tively en­cour­aged and re­fined for up­land trop­i­cal cli­mates.

Medic­i­nal crops were also de­vel­oped dur­ing the hill sta­tion era that in­cluded the ‘sal tree’ (shorea ro­busta), of­ten seen in Sin­ga­pore Botanic Gar­dens and which grew to a mas­sive 30-plus me­tres. The resin was used as a dis­in­fec­tant, as­trin­gent and medicine.

So, apart from com­fort and in­dul­gence and the del­i­ca­cies of per­fume gen­tly as­sail­ing one’s ol­fac­to­ries at the ap­pointed time of day, there were many other more use­ful items pro­duced from the ex­is­tence of the hill sta­tions of the 18th cen­tury.

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