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Meet: Anita Rayner

Meet Anita Rayner, Head gardener, Sydney Living Museums, Vaucluse House. 

The gardens at Vaucluse House are one of Sydney’s historic horticultural treasures. Anita Rayner fell in love with them at first sight; now she runs them.

Robin Powell finds out how it all began for Anita.

Meet Anita Rayner. Photo - Robin Powell

Why gardening?

Because rock stardom didn’t work out! I was the drummer in a band in the ‘80s called Even as We Speak. We had more success in England than in Sydney and toured there and stayed for a while. But everyone’s other lives kept calling them home. I didn’t have another life, but when I came back I started working in the printing industry. I stayed for 15 years and hated every second until it struck me that I could change! I became a carpenter and when I realised it was impossible to live on an apprenticeship wage if you weren’t a 15-year-old boy living with his parents, I shifted to horticulture.


Anita with 'Even As We Speak', second from the right. Nice '80's rock-star look there, Anita! Photo - Sarah Records


How did you come to Vaucluse House?

A fellow Canada Bay Council worker and I had to come east one day, and he said ‘I’ve got something to show you’. It was Vaucluse House. I’d never been here before. I couldn’t believe it! My first thought ‘What do I have to do to get a job here!’ Two weeks later a friend told me about an ad for a garden labourer here.

Photo - Robin Powell

And eight years later you’re the head gardener!

Yes and there’s not another job like it in horticulture in the country. We really are custodians of our gardening history. The properties in the Sydney Living Museums collection are such important connections to our beginnings.


Photo - Robin Powell

What are the challenges involved in looking after gardens that are historically important?

Part of the challenge is just letting people know, but without sticking signs up everywhere, about how important these places are, and about the history of the plants and the people who lived and worked here. We’re really trying to engage the public in the site as a museum, not just as a manicured public garden. And of course there are always the challenges posed by whittling resources. The rest of the job is just bliss!

Photo - Robin Powell

What’s your favourite time in the garden?

On a seasonal level, I love spring of course when all the flowers explode, but I also love the autumn and winter when everything is cut back. It frightens people how hard I cut everything, but it all just bounces back. On a day-to day level, in the early morning with the sun just coming up over the trees and everything glistening with dew, I just feel very very lucky.

Photo - Robin Powell

The gardens at Vaucluse House are open every day, and admission is free. Make time for morning tea or lunch at the lovely Tea Rooms, Wednesday-Sunday. Go to and check out the beautiful video clip for Vaucluse House at


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Author: Robin Powell