Category Archives: Australia

Trailer

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Today’s flurry of snow settling round what few flowers are out in the garden also brings a couple of trailers for my new collection.

You can read an ‘In Conversation’ piece I did with Paris Morel on the Arc website here.  Apparently the cover’s still work-in-progress but you can see the beautiful photo of an Eryngium taken by Karen Melvin in her garden.  Out of shot, I am the one holding the piece of white card behind the plant.

One of the poems from Reading the Flowers (due in the Spring – with a launch reading at Hexham Book Festival) is in the new edition of the Australian Plumwood Mountain Journal, guest edited by Tricia Dearborn.  You can read it – ‘Self Portrait as a Case of Stick Insects’, and another newer poem – ‘Watching the Perseids with Sue’, here.

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Postcard from the Antipodes

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Visiting Logan Botanic Garden in the Rhinns of Galloway was a cheap ticket back to New South Wales.  A stunning collection of eucalypts.  If I could catch the smell for you in these pictures, I would…dusky, soothing, clean.  A beautiful garden, maverick and refreshing.  While I was there I also caught a glimpse of Tasmania and New Zealand, Chile and South Africa.  I didn’t want to leave.

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Writing Myself Home

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I’ve been ‘home’ for a couple of weeks now and still not quite settled.  Hard to tell if this is an ongoing state of ‘homelessness’ or a reaction against the cold spring and my weatherworn fell, still nowhere near green.

One of my new Sydney friends, Katie, gave me an exquisite pair of curtains she’d made, incorporating screenprints of the patterns on Scribbly Gums.  I hung them at my sitting room window last week so now my view (of a landscape so unlike anything I’ve seen in the past three months I sometimes think it must all have been a dream – or this is…) is framed by a reminder of those wonderful trees on the other side of the world.

photoThe Scribbly Gum Moth lays its eggs in the layers between the old and new bark and, when they hatch, the larvae tunnel their way along, eating the wood as they go.  They loop back the way they came before falling to the ground to pupate.  When the old bark drops off, their tracks are revealed, with the scribbly appearance that gives both moth and tree their name.

photo copyNative to New South Wales, the Scribbly Gum is just one of over 700 species of Eucalypt.  Many of them are hard to identify but its distinctive markings make it easy to spot.  The sense that something is written there – a secret, in code, some mysterious script – is tantalizing.  So much of my journey seemed to involve making translations from the world of nature, reading what wasn’t written.  Strange now to be back at my desk and starting a process of making translations of my own translations, tunnelling between the old and the new – even my curtains asking to be deciphered!

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The cold spring falls from the stone.


I passed and heard


the mountain, palm and fern


spoken in one strange word.


The gum-tree stands by the spring.


I peeled its splitting bark 


and found the written track


of a life I could not read.

Judith Wright

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Last Day in Sydney

So sad to leave this beautiful garden and fascinating city, busy today with lots of Easter visitors.

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A plane flew over just as I was taking my last walk round – sky writing – an out of the blue farewell.

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As I’d hoped, a glimpse of the Gymea lilies coming into bloom.  In this antipodean autumn, a gesture of the spring I’ll see signs of soon.

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Time to relocate myself, pack my bags, review where I’ve been and face in the direction of where I’m going.

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Botany Bay

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One of the places I knew I wanted to visit before even coming to Australia was Botany Bay, the place where Cook and his men first landed in 1770.  On board the Endeavour were two naturalists, Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander, who gathered examples of local species of plants and insects.  In just eight days Sydney Parkinson, the ship’s artist, made as many drawings as he could of kangaroos, birds and flowers, as well as of the Aboriginal people they encountered. Altogether he made 243 drawings of Australian plants that have survived; although he didn’t, dying of dystentery and fever on the voyage home.

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No one I spoke to had been to Botany Bay; most looked askance, muttering about oil refineries, heavy industry and the working harbour.  There is no train station at Kurnell, the nearest settlement – getting there would involve a train ride then a bus.  There’s a cycle route from where I’m based but it’s too far to walk.  Many places in Sydney are harder to reach than they look because of all the inlets – it’s taken me a while just to get my bearings, to know where people mean when they talk about ‘the North Shore’ and the ‘Inner West’.

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In the midst of preparing myself for my departure, my lovely friend Donna kindly offered to drive me there on her day off.  We went south on the Princes Highway, crossed the Captain Cook Bridge over the George River and travelled down the peninsula to Botany Bay National Park.  They have renamed it Kamay Botany Bay to honour the original Aboriginal ownership and this sensitivity to its history is reflected in much of the interpretative information, created in consultation with local Indigenous elders.

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When the Englishmen set foot on their land, the Aboriginals went into hiding, watching from a distance.  That has been their strategy ever since as the White man has claimed governance of the colony, refusing to countenance a world view other than their own – anthropocentric, rationalist, linear, hierarchical and competitive.  Only in very recent times have gestures begun to be made towards apology and healing, allowing the Aborigines to come out of hiding and start to share some of their wisdom.  In the midst of the current global environmental crisis, their deep understanding of the rhythms of the natural world has an important part to play in managing change.

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When Banks took his inventory of the plant species at Kamay – first named Stingray Harbour by Cook, then Botanist’s Bay or Botany Bay because of the rich diversity found there – there was indeed a wealth of different trees, shrubs and flowers, recorded by Sydney Parkinson, and later added to Banks’s Florilegium.  In the subsequent years of clearing, development and industrialisation much variety has been lost and many individual species are in danger of disappearing altogether.  Work is underway to conserve as much as possible and regenerate ‘the bush’ here and elsewhere.  Although I’m afraid it will take a while – I’ve heard too many stories of a widespread scorn for anything ‘green’, seen as anti-patriotic and un-economic by many Australians.  Meanwhile scientists continue to report major extinctions of plant and animal life across this vast and beautiful continent.

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There’s not much botany at Botany Bay but I’m glad I saw it.  Maybe I’ll go back some time and do some of the longer walks they’re creating in the National Park.  It feels an important place – where something noxious started that can’t be erased but that can, like a bushfire, set in motion a whole new beginning.

Donna

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Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo

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‘Look sharply after your thoughts. They come unlooked for, like a new bird seen in your trees, and, if you turn to your usual task, disappear.’

Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Save The Reef

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Rainbow Warrior is currently docked in Sydney Harbour as part of Greenpeace’s campaign to stop the building of nine coal terminals in Queensland. The resulting shipping traffic (I per hour) would seriously damage the Great Barrier Reef, a World Heritage Site, which is supposed to be protected.

Apparently there are more different species of animals and plants in a cubic metre of the Great Barrier Reef than in any other environment in the world – including tropical rain forests.

I had a great tour of the boat (with wonderful views of the Bridge and Opera House) and learnt more about Australia’s plans to more than double coal production from Queensland and New South Wales in the next decade. Already the world’s largest coal exporter, this would add an extra 900 million tonnes of carbon emissions to the atmosphere.

One academic reportedly said ‘If you’re not angry, you’re not listening.’

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Mountain Devil

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Lambertia formosa, or Honey Flower, is bush tucker. I tasted its sweet refreshing nectar at the weekend on a big hike along the Grand Canyon in the Blue Mountains. Very lovely.

It is pollinated by a variety of small birds, the type called here honey eaters. Its other name, Mountain Devil, is because of the horns on the seed head, which aren’t currently in season.

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