from Anne in Adelaide, South Australia: A day we shall remember

May 3, 2021

I will remember the last day of April, 2021.

Our gardener arrived early to work with us. My husband spent time cutting down branches overhanging the road, working with a chainsaw and piling up wood for our fires. We anticipate the arrival of the winter rains and have been planting indigenous plants to take advantage of the last days of warmth before the earth gets cold. Digging planting holes requires considerable effort as the earth on this hillside consists of layers of shale.

After a long day, we went to a music recital: ‘Botanica Lumina – Enchanted’, in the Santos Museum of Economic Botany (1881) located within our Adelaide Botanic Gardens.

To get to the Museum, we had to walk through the Botanic Gardens, which are usually locked at sunset. Towering fig trees line the entrance avenue. We could hear possums with their aggressive hisses and the squealing of the grey-headed flying foxes that have found a safe roost in our gardens.

Paul Haydock-Wilson – Wikicommons. Museum of Economic Botany

Adelaide is fortunate in having a rare remaining artefact of the past: a Museum of Economic Botany – the last one in the world. ‘Economic botany, simply put, is the study of plants through the perspective of their practical use for humankind.’ Our museum was lucky to escape redevelopment as some bright sparks wanted to convert the building into a wedding venue.

Fungi models made from paper mâché

The hall is filled with fascinating displays of fruit, fungi made out of painted paper mâché, wood samples and native artefacts. These exhibits were once used to educate students and the non-scientifically trained public about valuable and useful plants.

The Museum was restored to its former glory in 2008. Due to the space restrictions and distancing requirements, our audience was now limited to 30. Pairs of chairs were placed at 1.5 m intervals in the narrow corridor between the banks of display cabinets. The hall is visually delightful. You can sit and gaze at the gold and white patterns of the ceiling high above you, even more delightful when you are listening to music. The whole space is filled with light.

Beautiful Dreamer by Stephen Foster

There were only two musicians, Celia Craig, an oboist, and Michael Ierace, a pianist. Celia told us that she appreciated the acoustics of the lofty Museum. The two musicians played a series of popular and classical pieces for about an hour and a half.

However, the overwhelming reason I will remember the 30th of April is that today, before sunrise, my good friend’s daughter died. A month short of her 39 th birthday.

Tammy did not die of Covid-19 but cancer.  In a perfect world, our children would survive us. We move towards old age with the joy of children and grandchildren, looking towards their futures, the hope of a good life for them – maybe a better one than ours. Our ageing and our death we learn to accept. To lose a child is against the natural order.

Tammy was a shining light to all who knew her: a dedicated language teacher, tennis player, weekend quiz expert, beer not wine drinker, bridge player and a Lego enthusiast. Her beauty and her smile lit up every room. She faced her long, painful illness with fortitude. Such bravery comes from deep within. None of us knows how we will deal with such a difficult passage at the end.

Deeply loved daughter, sister, niece, aunt, teacher and friend to many. RIP Tammy.

‘Beautiful dreamer, wake unto me,
Starlight and dewdrops are waiting for thee;
Sounds of the rude world, heard in the day,
Lull’d by the moonlight have all passed away!

from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: a Black Swan in the Botanic Gardens

August 5. Today, we walked in the Mt Lofty Botanic Gardens in the hills to the east of Adelaide. It was one of our coldest days with the daytime temperature hovering around 3°. But the sun was out and that was enough to make it pleasure.

an early flower

The Mount Lofty Botanic Garden, established in 1857, is a 97 ha area covering native forest as well as sections of European trees and flowers such as rhododendrons, azaleas and daffodils. We were a few weeks early for the spring flowering. It is interesting how the English immigrants wanted to replicate their beautiful home gardens in this new continent. In the nearby suburb of Stirling, if you bought built a new house you were required to plant deciduous European trees such as maple, ash and oak in order to create an autumn show. Adelaide gardens are filled with roses and huge camelia bushes.

the blackbuttt forest

The English also brought their birds because they thought the local birds did not sing well enough or that birds they were familiar with would solve an agriculture problem. Blackbirds, song thrushes, skylarks and goldfinches were introduced. Most of the species died out or are now only found in limited areas. They were not able to adapt to the hardness of the Australian climate. Blackbirds have survived in urban Adelaide gardens: one sings in our valley.

The most catastrophic decision was the introduction of the common starling to Australia in the mid-1800s. The idea was that it would feed on local insect pests. Instead, starlings have attacked fruit crops and have caused significant problems for livestock and poultry farmers. In western South Australia people are employed to shoot starlings to try and stop them migrating to Western Australia. If you spot a starling in West Australia you are required to report it and authorities will destroy the bird as soon as possible.

Since we are birdwatchers, we spent some time in the botanic gardens looking for birds. It is noticeable that most of the bird species were found in the native forest on the fringes of the rhododendron-filled valleys. I noticed that the huge blackbutt eucalypts had old burn marks on their trunks. In 1983, the devastating Ash Wednesday fire destroyed more than half of the botanic garden. Eucalypts grow back, English shrubs do not.

social distancing – Australian style

We had the garden almost to ourselves, although there were many warnings about the necessity of social distancing. It was not an issue. We got lost and could not find another soul to ask for directions.

On one of the smaller lakes a single black swan was half asleep amongst the lily pads. And I thought: Yes, that is appropriate. After all, we are living through a ‘Black Swan’ event: a rare event, with a severe and widespread impact, unexpected, but obvious in hindsight. The Black Swan event reveals our frailty.