Saturday, August 31, 2013

Madly, in Geelong

It's here, beside this assemblage of white clay thrown with classical references before a host of discordant plant-forms, that I find I have got myself to, in the Geelong Botanic Gardens.
In amongst the Aloes and horrible Cacti ( I love them, mind you ), the several acres of outlying parkland, the bit of a tea-room and the lusciously shady mini rainforests and all the respectable statuary, the exquisitely-kept Victorian tidiness, the wonderfully brave southern hemisphere plantings, I was left with just enough time to linger under the timelessness of a ridiculously early spring day. 
I am struck by the Fan Aloe ( Aloe plicatilis ) waving its fingers and its hair all over the place,
and some gymnastic Gymea  lily ( Doryanthes excelsa ), big, bold and leaning out.
All of my photos, thanks to my lack of photographic skill, got bled of life, as maybe I did. Oh what would I do to have got here in a car, or even a limousine, with a. picnic basket. But I am a poor man and so the train is what I take -
 - with a stunning spectrum of personalities, all of them also booked on this particular transit, from out of Melbourne, in any number of the seats around me. A view to die for, no, but I began to breathe more easily.
You approach Geelong Botanic Gardens via scruffy Eastern Park, where Eucalypts like these, and any other number of other trees, stand tall. I like that it's got an unplanned look.
Out around the other side, where new works are going on, you know you're not in an urban landscape.
The new plantings take my breath away, so brave they are against the traditional.
I found a cooling banana and a place to sit,
and a place to hide.
Here it is as you look out across towards the Gardens, with the sea to your left, glistening as it did this day.
And here, a look into the gardens, where a whole lot of development is taking place, beyond the rough-hewn bits of fence.
And here, madly, he who hoped to transmit an idea of a most beautiful garden, both its 2002 reincarnation, and its mid-19th century establishment, is simply propping before you his favourite house in the vicinity, without any idea as to its garden, a ghostly place. What a long journey it all was then, to get back to my little doggy to get un-mad.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Our Shelter from the Stormy Blast

Tonight the State Emergency Services came. All it took was an emergency...but I transgress.
Above is part of the beautiful Christ Church Grammar School straddling the rather neglected and prosaic Fawkner Park in South Yarra, which park is, here and there, getting some long-needed attention.
 I'll avoid showing you the park as much of it really fields, tedious avenues of some sort of leafless elm-like tree, or other avenues of unloved Moreton Bay figs, promenades built for promenading Victorians, inadequate mulching, soggy fields where careless photographers step...
...oh yes, tonight's emergency:  a windstorm tonight  ( 100 km per hour plus ) hit home, in a quick, short series of thunder-like thuds, and my favourite, and most stately Eucalypt came crashing down onto the roof overhead, just as I was eating a bowl of soup. Bits of plaster fell before me and into my remaining soup, a stump of tree projecting savagely through the wall. Zara, exemplar canine companion, was the hero of the night, having agitated at least an hour before impact for some sort of affirmative action. I too felt something was going to happen, but prayer protects... PS: this is not my home, illustrated above, however much I'd like it to be, but Christ Church again. What a very confusing post.
This, then, was what thudded through the roof/wall, a fist of a branch, strapped by electricity cabling -

- I was sitting just a little to the right of the centre of the underneath of this image, spoon in hand...
It's all gone now. SES ( State Emergency Services ) have packed their truck up, leaving us with half a toppled Eucalypt sprawled across the roof, having to be removed tomorrow. They, the SES, were splendid, arriving minutes after they were called, sure in all they did, as if scripted, no ego. What I was hoping to make some sort of point about, however, having ambled into Fawkner Park yesterday, a park without much horticultural distinction, on my way to a semi-serious visit to the Alfred Hospital, which visit proved to be good news entirely, is that trees enliven otherwise static environments... do Aloes, or any other plant life, especially in what is meant to be winter, when a bit of sudden colour enlivens a grey, desultory, looming kind of day.
For those without any acquaintance of the park, it lies just south-east of the CBD and is flanked by one of Melbourne's major boulevards, the formerly glorious St Kilda Road, once - as I can still remember - home to glorious mansions, few of which remain, now a thoroughfare dragged down by unnecessarily ill-fitting sky-scrapers, ennobled by rows of Plane trees. Adjacent also is some rather expensive housing. Here somebody seems to know what they're doing with what they've got.
As they do here. I'm sure no Eucalypt fell on this roof tonight, cresting as it does above the mortal world, apparently.
I look at the tree and I look at the building and I believe they compliment one another. Sometimes the built world lends a backdrop to nature.
A Rainbow Lorikeet ( Trichoglossus haematodus ), one of thousands, takes its late lunch as I make my way to overworked hospital staff, to a waiting room, with my bits of paper. I don't want to know I have anything wrong. I don't want to know the park's not being properly cared for. I don't want to know all the beauty that's been more or less made will vanish out of carelessness.
This is my favourite house/garden  in the vicinity, a rarity, knuckled down between high Victorian splendour and the vacuous aggression of corporate non-architecture.
This is what I've been getting at, despite tonight's drama: nature civilizes humankind. It's not we who civilize nature.
Back at Christ Church again. The melanoma proved to be nothing at all - not that I purportedly believed it would have mattered anyway - and I'm grateful to be somewhere momentarily quiet. I wouldn't really recommend Fawkner Park to a visitor to Melbourne, but what experience tells me is that wherever you walk, you're bound to find something behind or within or underneath appearances. All you need is faith.
Much of Melbourne's beauty's been mitigated by greed, as I'm sure it's been in some other places. There are quarters, though, where someone walking without any apparent hope or intention may be able to see a little further than the prospect has devised. I have a strong feeling to reconnect with my church, but that might take a bit more walking.
In our world as it is the past is so often becoming now something to be ditched, as if it didn't matter, as if no sky were falling. Perhaps it is not; perhaps we can build a pretend sky, lit with enough twinkling to dazzle us.
But all I want is a bit of quiet, a bit of a refuge, a bit of space, some green around me, and some blue up above.

Thursday, August 8, 2013


I was going to be going to Geelong today, to the 'Impressions of Geelong' exhibition. Until I woke up, that is, to bitter winds, recurrent rain and chill.
We've had our mildest July on record, I believe, so I've been getting out there defrosting in the sunlight. And wacko! I've got alot more done in the winter garden than usual ( bent down on frozen knees, cowering in gales, teeth gritted, etc, etc ). Above are some of the remains of a massive Hakea that dropped silently to the ground one night recently in the front garden.
So it's a domestic day instead. That's been good, because I've been able to clear out my fridge and make a thick slurry of a winter soup. I'd been thinking it was good to be getting out every day, but no way is this little winter bunnykins and his preferred canine accomplice going to do other than hibernate.
The African stool and the Chinese bowl were given to me by my brother. The Dusty Miller flowers came from the garden a year or two back and still prove useful.
You're getting bits out of my kitchen now. When there's no garden to go out into, there's always the garden within.
It may not always be known in the northern hemisphere that alot of what blooms and grows in the southern hemisphere can do so in the colder months. We are upside-down, of course.
Here's that Dusty Miller again, in my kitchen. Melbourne's winter can be bleak, for sure, but it's not the wipe-out it is up in the northern half of the world.
What is a blizzard? That's a big, overwhelming thing that happens in books. Soup cooked, my windows open to keep the air fresh with gusts of cold air, there's a sort of relief to be away from the absurdly hot days we'll get later on, when the heat hits like a thousand fists, Mr Bond...
The sky outside is white, bleached of fire. Trees swagger in the wind. Nothing could induce me or the Young Miss Zara McWoof to go out there -
- much better it is to be screened, sequestered, holed up, observing outer reality rather than participating in it...
...for there's a silver lining in every gale, on every storm-front, pitted as we are against hyper-reality. If you'll toss me a piece of toast, Zara, I'll go and get your slippers...

Friday, August 2, 2013

Metro Bush Track

I was walking between South Yarra and Prahran railway stations the other day - Melbourne's just had its warmest winter July on record - when the light and the new growth of native plantings, the freshness of it all made me want to record what I saw before me.
So I came back today - with a camera - on a greyer, windy day, more typical of the time of year here. Above is one of a number of new plantings of a Hakea species I don't know and haven't seen before. I love its curling leaves.
Here it is again, looking ghostly, as so many of our natives do, they who have populated this continent in their legions.
Walking a railway line is a bit like reading between the lines, with bits of a past and a bit of a present hinting at what might be a future.
For some, "natives" are just another design element. For me, stuck in suburbia most of my life, they sing across space and time to a place I'd rather be in than here, in amongst the fences. We wave our arms because we are being moved to grow we do.
So the trains choof tirelessly in inner Melbourne, and the commuters commute. But just to the side, the real world - so I call it - reaches out.
A paper-bark and another Hakea climbing to the sky together. It doesn't matter to them that a train screeches every few minutes beneath them...
...although the event may hold the interest of a raven, Corvus coronoides, he whose echoing lament, I'm happy to say, haunts our suburbs still.
Gungurru, Eucalyptus caesia, native amongst granite outcrops in Western Australia, is exquisite, here on the other side of the continent. What I love about our natives, especially when I come across them in the city, is their ability to evoke another place and age altogether. I am not walking on concrete.
I am out instead among the thriving branches ( Kennedia prostrata, above ), facing the sky, taking whatever falls...
...bells, perhaps. Fuchsia Gum, Eucalyptus forrestiana, dangling ahead. Who'd know they were only minutes away from the Central Business District ( who'd want to know )?
 I hope the world doesn't become so full of us conquesting humans every last bit of the past is sanitised or dumped. Here, a Victorian cottage rooftop, mercifully rusting. 
Are we brave enough? Do we know what we're doing with our chemicals and politics and publicity? No. We believe, by and large, we don't need the world any more. It isn't Earth any more if we believe we're indestructible.
It could be, above, a hilltop seen before Western settlement - apart from the train tracks just visible on the right. I do not want pretty little gardens of pretty little flowers, but I hope spaces - margins - such as this, left over from the world's demands, grow wider.
I love Australia for its rawness. Some may flinch to see a world so undisguised. For me, it speaks of fighting back, of perseverance, of a sort of humming in the presence of threat.
The crippled shall walk, the meek shall inherit the earth, they who are last will be first...
...ah. Here on this track, between two train stations, it's not only strength and and indefatigability I see, but a quiet and unassuming gentleness.
I have a train to catch. But I never forget that the life I'm blessed to have been given contains forms and presences more beautiful than any gardener could have sculpted. And these accompany me. They are not to be railroaded.