Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Nautical Mishaps, Two Danes and Some Shrubbery

"Shipwrecked in the Antarctic" in the 1860s ( my mother's cousin wrote in 1978, after visiting Denmark ), my great-great grandfather, Thomas Chistensen Kragh, of the Royal Danish Navy, was rescued and soon put down in Adelaide. I mention this only because I too seem to have an aptitude for Incidents Involving Boats, and am grateful to be on dry land.
But here I am in the present, on an autumn day, in the Alexandra Gardens, on the southern bank of the Yarra River. I've temporarily turned my back on the CBD, across which they look to.
First laid out in 1901 by Carlo Catani, the gardens belong to a vast stretch of green space called the Domain parklands, which include our Royal Botanic Gardens.
The Alexandra Gardens were built for the visit of the Duke of York in May 1901, and named in honour of the beautiful Alexandra of Denmark, wife and queen consort of Edward VII. We are not related, I am disappointed to say, my ancestor having been born on the tiny island of Samso, off the Jutland Peninsula, now famous for its development of renewable energy. I hope he'd have loved stone-work like this, as I do.
Tiered with locally-found basalt, the beds are full of succulents, palms, Euphorbias, grasses and Echiums.
Turning my camera behind me, see here a view across the river to Federation Square. It was never there, many years' ago in my youth... 
...but this was, this boathouse, belonging to my school. It was from here, three times a week, that this very unable seaman, now remembering different pasts, rowed out on the muddy river, without any real hope of navigating his way back. I belonged  to a crew known as 'The Gentlemen's Eight,' expert at floundering mid-river, coming last in any race and needing rescue. Oh, Thomas, at least you made it to the other side of the globe!
Steps, such as these, just after you cross Princes Bridge, are made for those who come after those who came before.

Have I found my feet? Would I rather not sail away to a  farm in Denmark? This country, down here, has been 'made' by newcomers, by stragglers, by adventurers. If it wasn't for its gardens, for its landscapes, I'd almost be back in that "Gentlemen's Eight,' meandering out to sea, prepared to hit an ice-shelf...but there's too much here moving forward to feel stranded.


  1. Hello Faisal:
    The 'Gentlemen's Eight' sounds to have been a very dangerous group to be part of....a shared spirit of adventure, no doubt, but very little in the way of sailing skills it would appear! Surely, these days, parents would never accept their precious offspring casting off to sea without a backward glance, life jacket or sense of direction?!!!

    This all reminds us of family holidays in Swanage where in those days parents would happily watch whilst as a tiny child, only supported by water wings, one sailed out to sea afloat a blown up 'lilo', paddling with one's hands as if one's life depended on it [and, as a matter of fact, one's life did!!!]

    To have such a wonderful, open green space as The Alexandra Gardens in the centre of the city is truly an asset and it all looks so well planted and tended. Yes, this would certainly be somewhere that we should visit often.

  2. Dear Jane and Lance,
    for a soft boiled egg such as myself, obligatory sport was always going to present snags. I did, however, as I do now, enter into the spirit, and Did My Best. Soon I hope to blog about my school, and its grounds. I think it's the oldest in Melbourne, and the most beautiful.
    Water is never quite your best friend when it keeps expanding! You might have nearly drowned off Swanage, but I nearly drowned off the shark-infested waters of South Australia.
    Melbourne has been, at times, very well-planned, and the funds have been there to ensure it can keep waving, and not drown.

  3. Faisal,
    I suppose one of the advantages of being an unsuccessful sailor is having the time to a successful gardener. You photos of The Alexandra Gardens are very beautiful.

  4. Michael, you're very kind. Melbourne's been expanding rapidly, getting more crowded, so its foundation of green spaces is as important as ever. Gardens restore sanity, to me.

  5. 'The Gentlemen's Eight' must be ready for a re-union, Faisal. And please ensure it is filmed for our enjoyment. Just don't be too reckless and certainly not too adventurous; no need to set sail for Antarctica - the muddy river will do just fine for the purposes of our docudrama. Very impressed by the beautiful gardens ... and by your esteemed lineage. I'm sure there's a drop or two off royal blood in you somewhere. D

  6. Dave, I hate to say it but I don't really care about ever meeting up with my fellow-rowers. Our coach, the school chaplain, used to pedal along, bank-side, in his spotless white tennis-shoes, extremely frustrated with us. Sometimes, nothing whatsoever can be done to turn a plot of arid nothingness into a bountiful harvest.
    I did not, ever, fall into the river, which in those days, consisted of some parts petrol slick and some parts dead animal.
    Royalty? We're all royal, aren't we? Aren't we all trying to climb a throne or wave imperiously?
    Better I go back to the garden, where real things happen.

  7. interesting and funny post. I don't suppose they had careers guidance in Denmark in the 1860s. If they did, TCK would probably not have joined the Royal Danish Navy, and you then would not have been a Melbourne blogger, which from purely my own selfish point of view, would have been a shame. And I'm immensely relieved you didn't drown or get eaten in the shark infested waters off South Australia, because then you wouldn't have had a chance to become a blogger at all.

    1. An interesting genealogical interpretation, Catmint! I'm glad I didn't drown when the undertow pulled me away from shore, but my uncle came to the rescue. Sharks were always on our minds though, spotter aircraft zipping overhead to tell us to get out of the water asap. I'm glad I blog too, or I wouldn't have met so many wonderful people, like you, I consider as friends.

    2. thank you - I feel the same.

  8. The bottom of the sea is cruel.


    —And yet this great wink of eternity,
    Of rimless floods, unfettered leewardings,
    Samite sheeted and processioned where
    Her undinal vast belly moonward bends,
    Laughing the wrapt inflections of our love;

    Take this Sea, whose diapason knells
    On scrolls of silver snowy sentences,
    The sceptred terror of whose sessions rends
    As her demeanors motion well or ill,
    All but the pieties of lovers’ hands.

    And onward, as bells off San Salvador
    Salute the crocus lustres of the stars,
    In these poinsettia meadows of her tides,—
    Adagios of islands, O my Prodigal,
    Complete the dark confessions her veins spell.

    Mark how her turning shoulders wind the hours,
    And hasten while her penniless rich palms
    Pass superscription of bent foam and wave,—
    Hasten, while they are true,—sleep, death, desire,
    Close round one instant in one floating flower.

    Bind us in time, O Seasons clear, and awe.
    O minstrel galleons of Carib fire,
    Bequeath us to no earthly shore until
    Is answered in the vortex of our grave
    The seal’s wide spindrift gaze toward paradise. - Hart Crane

    1. A wonderful, visceral, pithy poem, James. Thanks for passing it on. I haven't read any Hart Crane for a long time, but love many of his generation's poets. You don't write any yourself do you?

    2. At one time, Faisal. Now I just quote. I realize it was a far stretch to your "nautical" theme.

    3. I'm happy. This blog doesn't have only one line of enquiry, and something weightier than usual or tangential is exciting.

  9. such a beautifully composed post--

  10. I dunno, Velma, it's all put together with a bit of spit sometimes...