Special Newsletter of the

The Species Orchid Society of Western Australia (Inc)

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The Passing of Legends

By Graham Bowden and Tony Watkinson

February 2004 was a sad time for our members as we lost two of our great friend within a day of each other. Both Ron Heberle and our President, Reg Allison passed away, leaving the membership in mourning at their sad loss.

The death of Ron Heberle marked the end of an era. Ron was a noted orchid identity, not just in his home State of Western Australia, but throughout Australia and the world. Ron had just celebrated his 90th birthday the previous December. His birthday party being marred by the death a few days earlier, of his wife Pauline who had been his lifelong partner.

Ron was one of those giants in the field of orchid identification and a true self taught naturalist. He was a genuine character, the like of which very rarely comes our way. He had the kind of booming voice that has filled many a hall of orchid lovers, in delivering his slant on WA's terrestrial orchids, their habitats, varieties and hybrids.

Since his childhood, Ron had a growing interest in WA's wildflowers, and it was the flower shows for his children's school (Spencer Park Primary) which had him and his family all searching and collecting the native terrestrial orchids. With the headmaster, Ron Oliver, Ron, Pauline and their children increased their interest in the terrestrial orchids around the Albany area, and eventually, Ron became an orchid collector for Kings Park.

Ron found some difficulty in sending orchids to Kings Park for identification, as they did not last long enough in reasonable condition. In his typical style, he bought a camera and taught himself how to use it so as to take slides of the orchids in situ. He later updated this first camera to an SLR to enable him to get better close ups and truer colours. Over the next 30 odd years, Ron was to take thousands of slides of the native WA terrestrial orchids in the wild which he was happy to share with other orchid lovers.

Ron was published regularly in The Orchadian and other orchid publications. He has had orchids named after him and was a foundation member of the AOF and a valued confidant and supplier of materials to orchid people in Australia, Europe and the USA. He had an extensive knowledge of the geography of the south west of WA and the precise location of many orchid species.

Ron Heberle in hospital shortly before his death. Still loving his WA native terrestrials.

His interest in natural hybrids and variations within species has been beautifully recorded in his slides. Ron liked to point out that these slides only represent a fraction of his experiences with the wonderful
WA terrestrial orchids.
Ron and Pauline had recently moved to Perth and joined the Species Orchid Society of WA. His wish was to make his records available to as many people as possible and to this end, had invited the society to put samples of his photography on the Societies Internet site.

Ron's orchid experience came from field work rather than from any formal education, and as such he had very little patience with some trained botanists whom he saw as hypothesizing from ivory towers, and had no compunction in telling them so.

He was very interested in the natural hybridization of native WA terrestrial orchids and would make them a focus at the slide shows that he often gave to local orchid Societies in and around the Perth region. Even at 90 years of age, Ron was still happy to give these slide shows, and indeed he was due to present one at the Orchid Society of Western Australia the week he died.

Pauline & Ron Heberle. March 2003

Both Ron and Pauline will be missed by the orchid community here in WA and everywhere that Western Australian terrestrial orchids are appreciated.


Reg Allison, at age 56, was in his second year as President of the Society and, like Ron Heberle, was also well respected and loved by all who knew him. Reg was one of those quiet, unassuming people, who manage to get the impossible done without seeming to have tried too hard.

He was a returned serviceman, having served with the Australian SAS contingent during the Vietnam conflict, and later was recruited into the initial Australian Anti Terrorist organization. According to Reg, his health problems stemmed from his training with the later group, when he and other trainees were subjected to a mock gas attack which left them all gasping and coughing for weeks afterward.

Reg seemed to recover eventually, and after leaving the Army, took up employment in the civilian world. He prided himself on his fitness and frequently ran marathons just to for the hell of it. He became interested in caged birds and had quite a large collection of them, when he collapsed one day with lung problems.

After much hospitalization and having half of one lung removed, he was advised to get rid of the birds as their dust and feathers could have been a contributing factor to his health problems. This he did, and began to increase his interest in orchids. Reg first came across Australian native orchids when he was training with the SAS in the Queensland rainforests in which orchids abound. He was often seen scaling trees to get a closer look at some orchid or other, as his army friends can attest.

One of the first orchids that Reg 'acquired' was a Dendrobium speciosum, which he still had at the time of his death. It is one of the biggest plants of this species that most of us have ever seen and, happily for the plant, Reg's widow, Trish, is to keep this orchid as a kind of memorial to Reg.

Reg's interest in WA's native terrestrial orchids was sparked by Ron Heberle and his nephew, Graham Bowden, the Societies hard working Secretary. The three of them often would travel many kilometers around the state to look at terrestrial orchids in their natural surroundings.

Reg was instrumental in organizing a rescue dig where the Mitchell Freeway is to be extended north of Perth. He had the tenacity to wend his way through a minefield of bureaucracy that would have daunted others, to finally get permission to remove the orchids to safety, a task that was taken up by many members of the Society.

Reg, doing what he loved best. Saving orchids.

With the passing of Reg Allison and Ron Heberle, it is up to the members of the Species Orchid Society of Western Australia continue the work that they have pioneered.

Their loss is deeply felt by all who knew them.