Yesterday, I had the privilege of attending the inaugural Golden Wattle Sunday Springfest at Box Cottage Museum, home of the City of Moorabbin Historical Society. The event organised by the Box Cottage Museum Team.
Several months ago, Fran Bader, writer, historian, Box Cottage Team member and close friend, invited me to pen some limericks and haiku for the day focusing on the wattle, Australia’s floral emblem associated with spring and Box Cottage situated in Joyce Park, Jasper Road, Ormond.
I accepted the challenge for terse verse and emailed some limericks to Fran for approval. An invitation arrived to write more poetry and also read alongside representatives from the Henry Lawson Society, Australian Natives Association, and the Adam Lindsay Gordon Commemorative Group – a privilege indeed.
In July, as Kingston Citizen of the Year 2016, I attended the opening of the NAIDOC Week exhibition and learnt about the wattle tree from an indigenous perspective. When I shared a poem that came from that experience, Fran asked if I would read it at the Springfest. From having fun as a wordsmith, I became a presenter of a poem, which I hope will encourage people to think more deeply about our national floral emblem and our national identity.
The Golden Wattle
by Mairi Neil, 2016
Five small petals peep from long stamens,
a cluster of yellow welcoming Spring.
The Golden Wattle
a Gondwanian wonder.
I ponder NAIDOC Week
watching smoke drift from
the smouldering leaves
of the Blackwood Wattle.
Welcomed to Country
like those colonisers long ago
who repaid the First People
by stealing their land
to build wattle and daub huts.
Frontiers became bathed in blood
but indigenous spears and clubs
fashioned from the Mulga Wattle
succumbed to muskets and cannon.
Two hundred years and more pass
Still a wattle tree flowers each day
across this continent.
Accepted as a symbol of unity,
the hardy plant
withstands drought, winds, and bushfires.
Resilient, like the spirit of the First People.
I hope the wattle’s therapeutic qualities
work their healing on a nation
coming to terms with a tumultuous past
and often intolerant present.
Leaves, bark, and seeds
medicine to mind, body, and soul.
When you don a sprig of yellow
reflect on Australia’s birth,
remember to mourn the fallen,
but, like the strong shrub,
survive. Banish winter blues,
flourish, and welcome Spring!
Before I read my poem, I thanked Fran and her committee for inviting me – not as Kingston Citizen of the Year, but as a writer:
… Fran and I share a love of history, and poetry, and since it has been a long time between visits to Box Cottage, I’m enjoying the tour today.
I teach a Life Story class at Godfrey Street Community House in Bentleigh and several of my students have written their memories of Wattle Day – a regular commemoration before my family’s arrival in Australia.
However, I know how attached we can become to a tree – my birthplace is Greenock, Scotland, named because of a green oak. One of the songs Greenockians sing in exile is ‘I’m proud to be a branch of the green oak tree…’
So, here is my tribute to another tree precious to those in my adopted country…
The day was a great success, due to the hard work of the Box Cottage Museum Team. Blessed with a glorious blue sky, the warm sunshine definitely more spring than the tail-end of winter!
A relaxed and friendly group sat outside listening to several poetry recitals, including mine, plus short speeches and an even shorter tree planting ceremony from local State MP, Nick Staikos. Nick expressed surprise that the hole had been dug and all the hard work completed – he just had to pop the sapling in and pat the soil.
However, he did have to give a speech and present some awards – we don’t let our politicians off too lightly!
Nick mentioned, that although only 30 years old, he’d seen massive changes to the area where he’d lived all his life. He thanked the Historical Society members for their hard work and enthusiasm in preserving important aspects and artefacts of historical significance for future generations.
The Historical Society initiated an art exhibition involving Ormond Primary School’s Grades 4,5, and 6. Valma Sharp, President of the Historical Society, announced the winners of the Most Creative Artwork Awards, and Nick presented the prizes.
The walls of the verandah and outside the cottage, plus inside the shed, were festooned with the children’s efforts to capture the essence of the wattle in a creative way. Several times throughout the afternoon as visitors appreciated the display, I heard how difficult it had been for the judges to choose the winners.
Well done to the children and art teachers of Ormond Primary School!
I felt at home at the Springfest because I knew many of the people attending the day. There were several ex-students from my writing classes in neighbourhood houses and a couple of current ones. Also, several regulars who read or attend Mordialloc Writers’ Group Readings By the Bay.
The writing community in bayside suburbs participates in cross-pollination just like the native bees humming in the various flowering bushes at this time of year.
For those who may wonder who Adam Lindsay Gordon is, perhaps the following verse from one of his poems, recited by John Adams of the Adam Lindsay Gordon Commemorative Group, may strike a chord – I know my mother quoted the last four lines of this verse often:
“Question not, but live and labour
Till yon goal be won,
Helping every feeble neighbour,
Seeking help from none;
Life is mostly froth and bubble,
Two things stand like stone,
KINDNESS in another’s trouble,
COURAGE in your own.”
Rosemary Kelleher, Secretary of the ANA Fraternal Organisation, recited the following poem:
Waratah and Wattle
by Henry Lawson
Though poor and in trouble I wander alone,
With a rebel cockade in my hat;
Though friends may desert me, and kindred disown,
My country will never do that!
You may sing of the Shamrock, the Thistle, and Rose,
Or the three in a bunch if you will;
But I know of a country that gathered all those,
And I love the great land where the Waratah grows,
And the Wattle-bough blooms on the hill.
Australia! Australia! so fair to behold,
While the blue sky is arching above;
The stranger should never have need to be told,
That the Wattle-bloom means that her heart is of gold,
And the Waratah red bloom of love.
Australia! Australia! most beautiful name,
Most kindly and bountiful land;
I would die every death that might save her from shame,
If a black cloud should rise on the strand;
But whatever the quarrel, whoever her foes,
Let them come! Let them come when they will!
Though the struggle be grim, ’tis Australia that knows,
That her children shall fight while the Waratah grows,
And the Wattle blooms out on the hill.
Jan and Tony, seasoned performers from The Henry Lawson Society, read poems written in the bush poetry style favoured by Lawson and Patterson.
It wouldn’t be an Aussie celebration without a delightful afternoon tea and the Box Cottage Museum Team put on a great spread with fruit cake, lemon slice, and other tasty treats. There were old newspapers (accompanied by the appropriate cotton gloves) to look through – here is a page from the year 1959, dated August 12 (my birthday).
The tour of the Museum’s collection inside the cottage and in the sheds is worthy of several visits – and although it is open to the public on the last Sunday of the month, the historical society generously makes the place available by appointment. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
When I left Box Cottage I mentioned to Fran’s husband, Holger, who manned the entrance all afternoon welcoming visitors, that Fran and the organising committee will ‘sleep well tonight’.
There is a lot of work ensuring a day like yesterday, is a success. Effort volunteers do cheerfully every weekend in many communities, not just at Box Cottage. But creating an inaugural event such as the Springfest is always a gamble – will people respond and support something new?
Reflecting on yesterday – the tree planting, the magnificent display of artwork, the appreciation of poetry – the answer is a resounding ‘yes’.
Sharpen your pens for next year and start penning those limericks, haiku, and other verse!