‘The man behind the sinkhole gardens’

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

The sinkhole was formed by geological processes over millions of years.

Originally a limestone cave, the mineral rock was corroded by seawater waves which collapsed the chamber’s roof in turn creating the sinkhole.

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.

Mr Norton was born in Crystal Brook and grew a keen interest in South Australia’s geology at a young age.

When he completed his schooling, he worked for the Engineering and Water Supply Company (now SA Water) for 14 years, before taking up a job within the Woods and Forests Department (now ForestrySA), as an accountant administrator for the lower South East.

However, it was ‘never just a job’ to Mr Norton.

He 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 Mr Norton proudly led from start to finish.

Mr Norton said they started by cleaning up the existing garden and planting lots of greenery.

“I even planted the surrounding trees, which you’ll find standing tall today,” he said.

“Something you may not know – the reason you will only find hydrangeas in the garden, is because the possums do not like them – they ate every other flower we ever planted!”

The sinkhole slowly began looking more like Mr Norton’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,” he said.

“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 which still occur to this day.

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.

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