Life Members

SA Bonsai Society awards Life Membership to those who have actively participated in the society for twenty years.

Janet Sabey

A regular active contributor to all aspects of SA Bonsai Society activities, Janet joined the group in 1966. She recalls watching a demonstration of plant repotting, thinking to herself – is that all there is to bonsai?

Of course she soon realized otherwise and became part of the fledgling club that persevered with their bonsai in spite of the lack of direction and access to the kind of expertise available in NSW where numerous clubs could pool resources to access the likes of John Naka.

It really was not until the 1980s that regular interstate and international travel became a common practice so prior to this time bonsai practitioners in Adelaide were cut off from developments occurring elsewhere. Janet describes attending the 1970 National Convention as a pivotal experience, providing opportunities to meet other enthusiasts, exchange ideas, and to learn new skills. This was the beginning of strong connections between the various bonsai clubs in Australia and a camaraderie that Janet continues to value.


Janet recalls that by the mid 70’s, bonsai experts such as Dorothy Koreshoff, Tom Yamamoto, Lee Wilson and Lindsay Bebb had all visited Adelaide and made contact with club members which served to further increase confidence and understanding.

It wasn’t long before Janet was travelling to other clubs as an AABC Accredited Instructor as part of the AABC Visiting Tutor Program, a position she only relinquished in 2011 when she decided to take more time at home refining her own bonsai collection. Janet still regularly speaks with other groups about bonsai, presents at club meetings, and advises others at our club workshops.


Over the years she has formed a particularly strong bond with Dorothy Koreshoff, the patron of the SA Bonsai Society, and enjoys viewing convention exhibitions with ‘Dot’ who will discuss the merits of each tree thus providing Janet with points about design and structure that she might otherwise have missed.

Given that her growing environment affords minimal protection, Janet prefers to work with hardy trees such as Jade, Olive, Peppercorns, Figs, Ash and Junipers.

Advice to novice bonsai practitioners

  • The novice practitioner must have patience because the creation of bonsai takes time. Janet suggests the acquisition of one or two established bonsai as this will give the novice something to tend while waiting for their own trees to develop.
  • Janet advises guarding against lost time with ‘heartache trees’ … those trees that do not grow easily in your own environment. She recalls a conversation with an American bonsai enthusiast who observed that ‘everyone in California wants to grow a taxodium from Florida and everyone from Florida wants to grow a California Juniper, but none can do so successfully’. Janet’s life lesson for successful and happy bonsai growing is to grow what grows well in your area.


  • The SA Bonsai Society Perpetual Trophy, Winner 1997-2004
  • AABC President’s Award for a Bonsai at an AABC National Convention 2008
  • AABC President’s Recognition for Contributions to Bonsai 2008
  • Bonsai Clubs International Bonsai Photography Competition 2013
  • Royal Adelaide Show Bonsai Awards – over many years

Positions held within The SA Bonsai Society

  • Life Membership 1994
  • President 1974-1990
  • Vice President 1973
  • Secretary 1969- 1970

Marie Petersen


While travelling in Japan as a teenager, Marie had seen bonsai but it wasn’t until much later that she attended an adult education class run by Jim Upton, a chemist who tweaked the interest of passers-by with the bonsai exhibited in his shop window. The then secretary of the fledging Bonsai Society also attended this class and encouraged Marie to join the club as a way of meeting other enthusiasts and developing her skills.

In 1969 she took the plunge and became one of the dozen or so regulars who made up the core of the group. As it was for many of those initial members, Janet Sabey was a primary source of inspiration for Marie, and visiting demonstrators to Australia such as John Naka and Tom Yamamoto were also significant in supporting her growing understanding.


Marie has always been an active participant in the club and became secretary in the 1970’s, holding the position for 13 years thus becoming the longest serving in the role.

Bonsai pots and tools were hard to source in the early 1970’s and Marie recalls a partnership with Osborn’s Nursery from where she would collect a trunk load of pots and one form of bonsai tool to sell at club meetings. What wasn’t sold was returned to the nursery on the following day.


During this time Marie and Janet also undertook to do demonstrations and act as guest speakers at various country garden clubs ranging across the state from Balaklava to Naracoorte. Over the years Marie has also volunteered to be both a  judge and a steward for the bonsai section at the Royal Adelaide Show.

Marie has a varied collection of bonsai and admits that her favourites are the different figs, the olive and peppercorn.

Advice to novice bonsai practitioners

  • Listen to the advice of experts, especially locals ones who know how to work with our climate and conditions.
  • Avoid using bonsai pots too early in the development of a tree as they will cramp its growth.
  • Begin with more than one tree to avoid too much disappointment when the inevitable loss occurs.


  • Perpetual Trophy Winner 1994-96
  • Royal Adelaide Show (various)

Positions held within The SA Bonsai Society

  • Life Membership 1996
  • President 2000-04
  • Vice President 1989
  • Secretary 1974-86

Pauline Phillips


Pauline’s interest in bonsai was stirred during the late 1970’s from viewing photographs of bonsai and more particularly from her several visits to Japan.

From the outset she realised that practice and patience were required but hoped that her background in botanical science as senior technical officer to the reader in horticulture at the Waite Institute would provide a strong foundation for her endeavours with bonsai.


She joined the SA Bonsai Society in 1986 and quickly became involved at the committee level, taking responsibility for designing badges based around the Koreshoff logo and screening aprons for the 1990 Convention. Pauline admits that she has derived considerable pleasure from working with others to design exhibition displays, organise events and in her role for many years as Assistant Treasurer. She admits that it’s been a satisfying experience to observe how the club has evolved and progressed over the thirty years.

Pauline sites Dorothy Koreshoff as an early influence on her development and was inspired by Dot’s aspirations, enthusiasm and creative thinking as far back as 1988. Considered to be the core of the club, Janet Sabey was also a core influence on Pauline and both Janet and Pauline would often travel together to interstate bonsai events and conferences.


Because she has several black pines, Pauline finds Lindsay Bebb’s advice pivotal in breaking her pattern of thinking thus enabling her to realise new possibilities. Attempting to be more objective about one’s own trees is the key to improving them and Pauline suggests that a bonsaiist’s habitual thinking about his/her tree can be ‘disturbed’ by placing the tree in a new environment. She recalls glancing at her own trees on display at club meetings and suddenly realising how particular aspects needed alteration, aspects about which was she previously unconscious. She considers this objective viewing to be acting as a judge of your own trees, rather than as the possessive owner.

Advice to novice bonsai practitioners

  • ‘It doesn’t rain in pots’ – careful watering and good drainage are essential to healthy bonsai.


  • Royal Adelaide Show – Bonsai Exhibition Award

Positions held within The SA Bonsai Society

  • Life Membership 1999
  • Treasurer 1988
  • Assistant Treasurer 1989 – 2016

Bob Smith


Bob’s involvement with the SA Bonsai Society began in the early 80’s after viewing the annual exhibition which so impressed him that he promptly joined the club.

He has always been fascinated by bonsai and had bought books on the subject but is convinced that the best way to learn about bonsai is to listen to various opinions, share different ways of styling and caring for trees and eventually coming to one’s own conclusion. Only the interaction offered by a club can provide this most valuable exchange and learning experience.


Bob’s commitment to the club is reflected in his work as Treasurer, a position he has held for twenty four years. Looking back he concludes that perhaps ‘balancing the books’ is one of the more straight forward roles on the Executive Committee and certainly one that fulfills his belief that one has to give to a club to get something back.

Like many Life Members, Bob acknowledges Janet Sabey as a major early influence, particularly her emphasis on aiming for movement in trees, but adds that with time, each practitioner’s preferences leads to the development of their own particular style. His own preferences lean towards more natural styles rather than the exaggerated curves evident in some bonsai.

Bob works with a variety of genus but particularly enjoys creating group plantings for which olives, ashes and junipers make ideal subjects. A tree that might fail to work well on its own can be perfect for inclusion in the group setting although he emphasizes that the whole group must have a variety of trunk size to create the illusion of depth and distance.


Although Bob is trying to reduce his collection of trees, it appears that the opposite is happening as he continues to experiment and refine. However he talks with satisfaction about the constantly evolving process of working with an individual tree over many years and responding to the possibilities of an alternative direction or a change of focal point.

Advice to novice bonsai practitioners

  • Begin with hardy trees as failure is inevitable. However don’t be afraid to cut into a tree as this is all part of learning.
  • If you must add models (bridges, figures) to trees, ensure that the proportion is correct. For example, a very tiny figure can make a tree appear disproportionally large.

Positions held within The SA Bonsai Society

  • Life Membership 1999
  • Treasurer 1991 – 2017

Howard Hamon


Prior to joining the SA Bonsai Society in 1980, Howard worked with small trees and initially derived material from close to home. He experimented with White Cedar seedlings and over-grown indoor Ficus plants. The local K-Mart also provided starter plants, small bonsai pots and his first bonsai handbook.

Quickly working his way through the novice section of club competition, Howard was encouraged by Janet Sabey to work on bigger trees as a way of truly stretching his skills. This lead to the collection of more substantial material through digs as far away as Leigh Creek resulting in a collection that is varied but one that suits Howard’s conditions. His favourite trees include Junipers, Olive, Ficus, Callistemon and Casuarina.


Howard considers the camera a useful tool to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of a tree as it provides only one viewpoint rather than the multiple views available to the moving eye. As an accomplished photographer, he has presented information to club members about photographing bonsai and is responsible for taking photographs of members’ trees prior to exhibition in major club events. As he has been doing the latter for a number of years, he possesses a valuable visual record of how particular trees have developed over time.


Howard has been a member of the committee for many years and believes the strength of the club is the nucleus of people who make things happen and contribute to a culture where skills and ideas are freely shared for the benefit of everyone. In this way the entire club benefits and we grow together.

Advice to novice bonsai practitioners

Procrastination in bonsai practice is not a bad thing as it provides the time needed to design and visualise an outcome. Careful deliberation and a measure of considered hesitation are essential to prevent time wasted with growth in unproductive directions. And after all this, if mistakes are made something will grow back and perhaps the design will change direction. The development of a tree is a continuous process of growing and styling.


  • Perpetual Trophy Winner 2005
  • Royal Adelaide Show Bonsai Awards – numerous

Positions held within The SA Bonsai Society

  • Life Membership 2004
  • Vice President 1994-2013

Joe Piro

Joe (right) with Grant Bowie at the National Bonsai and Penjing Collection in Canberra,
Joe (right) with Grant Bowie at the National Bonsai and Penjing Collection in Canberra,

Joe has been successful in numerous fields prior to taking up bonsai – racing pigeons and trotters, showing orchids from a collection of 900 and making furniture. In each of these endeavours, including bonsai, Joe has committed himself to acquiring knowledge and is recognized by his peers as an excellent practitioner.

He joined the SA Bonsai Society in the 1988 and acknowledges that the key to his success has been good teachers such as Daryl Neate, Graham Willcox and more recently, Kelvin Rodrigues. It is perhaps for this reason that Joe, himself, consistently attends club workshops to provide advice and design suggestions to aspiring bonsai enthusiasts. He now takes pleasure from seeing the new generation of practitioners receiving recognition in the advanced section of competition, knowing that he has had an influence on the development of their trees.

Joe is convinced that to make a good bonsai one has to be ‘a bit silly in the head’ because it requires letting go and listening to the tree as it will suggest what needs to be done. Working with bonsai means working with the tree, taking advantage of its natural character. However, if mistakes are made a different direction might be taken in the following year. Having many pots of the same variety of plant is one way to practice the art of bonsai and allow room for trial and error. Joe admits that we all have failures and it’s the reason we all keep digging.


Joe’s favourite plant is the Olive because it is evergreen but more importantly, it is readily available in South Australia. Joe recalls a secluded stand of small to medium Olives close to the Torrens River that kept him supplied with material for several years. He and a friend could be seen trudging home shouldering a long pole between them from which hung bundles of Olives ready to be planted, nurtured and shaped.

Joe concedes that it is the friends he has made who keep him in the club these days. This may be so but there remain many of us who hope that he will find a moment to comment on our trees with his valuable insight and advice.

Advice to novice bonsai practitioners

  • A bonsai is not created in one year – be patient and let the tree grow.


  • Perpetual Trophy Winner 2006-10
  • Keith Bowley Memorial Medallion 2006 – Royal Adelaide Show – most successful open bonsai exhibition
  • Royal Adelaide Show 1999 – First Prize for 12 bonsai; Second prize for 2 bonsai

Positions held within The SA Bonsai Society

  • Life Membership 2008
  • Committee member until 2013

Nan Hersey

Admiring a tree in a chemist shop window was the initial spark for Nan’s interest in bonsai but raising a young family meant that it wasn’t until some years later that she could seriously consider involvement in growing bonsai. She was eventually encouraged by a friend and founding club member to contact Janet Sabey and so in 1995, Nan began her involvement with the SA Bonsai Society.

Nan admits that she doesn’t exhibit any more but she enjoys her small collection, particularly ficus, elms and the flowering varieties such as the pomegranate.

As with many bonsai enthusiasts who made a relatively late start with bonsai, Nan wishes she had begun many years earlier, recognizing that there is so much to learn.

Nan’s most significant contribution to the club has been in her role as librarian. Over the last 12-15 years she has overseen the growth of the collection to over 200 books and even more periodicals. With able assistance from Dennis Stevens, she has catalogued the collection into an electronic database to ensure efficiency and the continual smooth running of the library for club members.

Positions held within The SA Bonsai Society

  • Life Membership 2011
  • Club Librarian 2000-2020
2023 Bonsai Show