Whisked away to Ballarat for a week with my car-apprehensive accomplice Zara, I was having a working holiday...in one of the coldest parts of the State, at the end of winter...
We had two visits to the Ballarat Botanical Gardens. Above is the only unfinished sculpture I came across in this public space crammed with statuary, and my favourite.
Ballarat was a famous 'boomtown', being at the heart of one of the world's biggest goldfields, when gold was first discovered here, in the 1850s. Above is a view of Loreto College, on the shores of Lake Wendouree. Today, most of the gold you see belongs to the daffodils, everywhere in Ballarat...
Not that I had an endless, sunny horizon. When it wasn't drizzling, Brave Faisal and Superzara got stuck into masses of ivy...with a pair of clippers, I mean:
All of this came from out from under the kitchen window. How many hours did it take us, Zara?
Ivy I prefer when it's only taken over half the universe, as here...
but lichen, Zara and I agreed, is subtle, so to see it everywhere reminds us of golden ages...
such as this signpost signals.
The Ballarat Botanical Gardens "are one of Victoria's most significant regional botanic gardens, retaining a gardenesque style characterised by mature trees, bedding plants, statuary and contemporary architecture". I have never seen so many statues in one place in my life, though if I were fleeing from Pompeii, as the above threesome are said to be doing, I'd be glad to be somewhere a little cooler now too.
The above gives you some idea of the scale and layout. It is one of the most formal gardens I've visited, a linear promenade punctuated by massive, conifers such as Araucaria and Sequoia ( especially Sequoiadendron giganteum, Sierra redwood ). It made me reflect on the quality of our public spaces, and how they express our civility and the way we regard one another. It is also, here, triumphant, an example of how the extraordinary wonders of the world can be harnessed by an evolving and ambitious humanity.
The prehistoric, elephantine garrison of a tree, the Bunya Bunya ( Araucaria bidwillii ) is splendid.
I imagine the Victorians saw human endeavour as encompassing and mastering such splendour, yet I feel they were the first to behold the magnificent extent of the world around them. They were as thrilled as I was,
by all this new life.
As the name 'Ballarat', coming from the language of the Wathaurong Aboriginal people, means "resting place", so these gardens offer respite...
...to a black swan and her cygnets too.
The site is also one of commemoration. Above is a part of the more recently-built war memorial, on the perimeter.
And here, the commemoration of rhythm and echo and flow and continuity, in the guise of a fountain. These are the most finely-maintained gardens I've entered, its lawns the lushest.
Nothing is slapdash.
Past and present merge flawlessly. Is not a Golden Age more than a memory, but an aspect of our nature that can come alive wherever we perambulate?
Here, above, a corner of the Robert Clark Horticultural Centre. The new can meld with the old without jarring,
just as the old can appear from up out of the new without discord.
Whenever the rain kept me indoors, I read Gavin Maxwell's 'The Rocks Remain', and I was reading this because as a boy I'd been a huge fan of his famous 'Ring of Bright Water', an account of rearing otters in remote Scotland. I remembered other stories that are with me still: Hugh Lofting's, Gerald Durrell's, Paul Gallico's, Virginia McKenna's.
So a Golden Age, to me, is one that is forever renewed, and it is in the garden, in working with nature and what is natural, that my acquaintance with it comes most alive. Go, daffodil, go!