From Ulladulla, we headed down to Catalina in Bateman’s Bay where our Air BnB was Something Else. With hundreds of metres of sheer curtains in lilac ombre festooned in every room and acres of large white tiles on the floor, it had its own style. Sydney daughter described it as having a Greek wedding vibe.
It is just over two years ago that the Black Summer fires swept through parts of Australia. Just -pre-pandemic in fact. I wrote this piece in January 2020. We had entered bushfire territory.
It is astonishing how quickly the Australian bush can regenerate – helped, daughters told me, by the fact that rains arrived not long after. That is by no means always the case but the area we were in was looking lush and green by Australian standards. “You can tell where the fires came through,” Canberra daughter said, “by the trees with black trunks with dense tufts of fresh foliage on short growths.” Those trees are mainly their native eucalyptus. We soon had our eye in for spotting fire damage and that was haunting.
The fires swept through Eurobadalla Botanic Gardens near Mogo on New Year’s Eve of 2019. Looking at the fire photos on line, there wasn’t much left and all the infrastructure was destroyed. These gardens are more what we call ‘nature reserve’ than ‘botanic garden’ but I don’t know how much of that is post-fire. Sydney and Melbourne both have botanic gardens that are more international in their plant collections; Canberra’s botanic gardens are based on Australian native plants and have a totally different feel. I would guess Eurobadalla has always been more focused on native plants but with the main efforts going into rebuilding infrastructure, the flora is more about regeneration at this time than showcasing a broad range of native plants.
The more than 37 000 knitted wattles on the entrance lawn were both eyecatching (“Well, that is one way to get colour in the garden,” was Mark’s initial observation) but poignant in the extreme when we read the information board. Wattles, from the acacia family, are one of the first nurse plants to appear after fire. So these hand-crafted sticks of flowers were both an acknowledgement of the devastation experienced and a symbol of regeneration.
We went for a walk one grey, calm morning along a beach which seems to be part of a nature reserve by the Clyde River that reaches the sea in Bateman’s Bay.
Elder daughter has a been a great picker-upper of unconsidered trifles all her life. It is only recently that I have dispersed most of her rock and shell collections from the back shed here. To my amusement, she has passed on this trait of gathering beach treasure to her small son. And I can tell you that the shells on this Australian beach were a great deal more varied and colourful than anything I have seen on a New Zealand beach. Small, but so pretty. I wanted to gather them myself. Daughter and son pocketed these small treasures to take home and that brought a smile to my face.
The beach was lined in what we call she-okes in this country. Excellent firewood, Mark says, despite being fast growing, brittle trees that can fall apart in our winds. She-okes are Casuarina equisetifolia, native to Australia and up through the Pacific into Asia. They are not a tree of great beauty in form or foliage, being typical of that somewhat scrawny, scruffy, rangy look of much of Australia’s tough native vegetation. What was interesting about these plants was the role they were playing in breaking the force of the sea and their ability to grow in areas where they must get inundated by salt water on a regular basis. That said, the front row of trees had fullly exposed roots and were falling backwards on a frequent basis.
After a rewarding week of family bonding, we were jolly relieved to test negative at Sydney airport, on our arrival home and again five days later. Travelling in Covid times is a whole new ballgame but we are big fans of N95 masks.
Postscript: It gave me quite a jolt when I heard my daughter cautioning her five year old that we were moving through snake territory at Eurobadalla Gardens. This is not what a NZ grandmother expects to hear. For overseas readers, NZ has no snakes at all – not even in zoos. Australia, on the other hand, has a fair representation of the world’s most venomous snakes. NZ children are taught about personal safety measures in earthquakes and tsunamis. I assume many Australian children are raised being aware of safety around snakes and bushfires.
Given my ingrained fear of them, I snorted when I saw this tweet come down my Twitter line. In a world where many people pay lip-service only to the threats posed by climate change, I thought yes. Very much yes.