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The most pertinent advice a career counsellor can give is to ‘do what you love doing’.

For most people, it’s not always possible to work out exactly what they want to do with their lives; and anyway, in the days when Damian Cumming of Dalby was choosing his life’s path, career counsellors were a thing of the future. However, things have a way of manifesting themselves, and during his years running his radiator works in Dalby, Damian found himself spending as much time as possible in the bush with his kids.

He knew all the birds and all the plants – especially the plants. One thing led to another. He began to propagate bush plants for his own garden, set on 10 flat and empty acres on the edge of Dalby, where he and his wife Janelle built a home in 1984.

The neighbours wanted some of his plants – which was lucky, as he was running out of room for pots. Eventually all the neighbours ran out of space in their gardens too, but Damian and Janelle’s expertise had grown beyond the hobby stage. They started to sell their propagated plants. The Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame at Longreach was one of their earliest large customers, acquiring native plants for much of their original landscaping in time for their official opening by the Queen in 1988.

Thus grew what is now a major Darling Downs business. Today Ausplant Nursery, a wholesale-only business owned by Damian and Janelle’s son Brady and his wife Rachele, supplies a broad range of Australian native and exotic plants throughout Queensland and New South Wales. It provides employment for 20 local people and is bursting out of its skin with the growing pains of its recent evolution, doubling in output under Brady’s management for the past three years.

Ausplant is Queensland’s largest plant nursery west of the Divide; which corroborates with a total of 300,377 potted plants precisely in various stages of growth throughout the site on the day of our interview. This number was soon to be reduced, with a plethora of healthy, bushy plants awaiting transportation to multiple destinations as far away as Cairns that morning. Meantime, at the other end of this factory-like plant production process, a similar number of cuttings, tissue cultures and grafts were being carefully placed in tiny pots and set in trays in the controlled-atmosphere propagation house. As the major plant supplier west of the Divide, the vicissitudes of the western climate are bred into the Ausplant product – with the exception of frost covers, which are essential. Once past the propagation stage, plants are raised in the open, watered abundantly from the purpose-built dam on the site.

In a business vibrating with success and activity, run by staff who love plants and the business of caring for them, the Cumming family constitutes a deliberately low-profile, but heartwarming success story. Where to from here? “We have few more acres to expand into,” says Brady, “but I don’t want to get much bigger. I don’t want to lose the hands-on touch.”

Words by Jane Grieve | Images by Janine Waters