Part two of our very recent trip to Australia with festoons of curtains, bushfire regeneration, she-oaks and a side of snake wisdom

Every single room was similarly festooned and all but one in lilac ombre – even the bathrooms. Acres of festooned fabric

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.

Regeneration after the fires at Eurobadalla Botanic Gardens

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.

Drifts of symbolic yellow wattle blooms
It must have taken a lot of community involvement to knit 37 000 of these

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.  

Three generations

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.

8 thoughts on “Part two of our very recent trip to Australia with festoons of curtains, bushfire regeneration, she-oaks and a side of snake wisdom

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Travel is certainly not as easy as it used to be but we managed it. Though a friend who was booked to fly over to Australia on Thursday for a family reunion tells me she had to postpone because her partner tested positive the day she was to leave. She is now waiting anxiously to see if she stays negative before her rescheduled dates to get over before the European whanau leave to return home. There is a whole extra layer of uncertainty and anxiety.
      Snakes – yes, well, I don’t do snakes, big, little, venomous or pythons!

  1. tonytomeo

    Blue gum eucalyptus supposedly contributed to the combustibility of the Oakland Hills Fire. Blue gum eucalyptus grows wild in some places here, but until recently, not many seemed to understand that they are intentionally combustible. I suppose that must seem like a far fetched concept. Some of the native species here are similarly combustible.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Australia has certainly evolved with fire and some of their native vegetation requires fire to break seed capsules, I understand. That combustibility is why their fires pass through at such speed that they can outcompete vehicles. To me the ‘stay and defend’ strategy is incomprehensible but I am told that if you can protect yourself from the firestorm and get out as soon as it has passed, you can actually save your property by damping down the residual burning. Fires in New Zealand are not that common but with our vegetation they are usually much slower burning, destroying everything in their path and hellishly difficult to extinguish. I do not think the stay and defend approach would ever be applicable in NZ.

      1. tonytomeo

        Stay and defend is incredibly dangerous in forest situations, but is not nearly so dangerous in some of the sparse vegetation of desert regions, such as the Mojave desert. Fires move through so quickly with such limited fuel that one could stop in the middle of a roadway and wait for a fire to burn past. When I see such fires in the news, I wonder what is there in the deserts to burn. Fires in the juniper forests or palm groves (Washingtonia filifera) are just as hellish as they are in oak forests though, and palm groves famously incinerate all other vegetation.

  2. Lisa P

    I do enjoy a festooned window valance or scarf, we wouldn’t want them getting cold. But I do feel that they are more appropriate in an historic home… When in Canberra I suppose. I think a real wattle display would have been better than a tribute act. I do adore the flora of Australia, I had a glorious and fragrant wattle at a previous home but my neighbours demanded that it be cut down because of their little madam’s hay fever. I didn’t want to but they kept causing a stink over it so I told them they could remove it at their own expense… I think that was one of the saddest days of my life, but yes the pollen did go all over my washing when it was in flower. There will probably be snakes in New Zealand before long, I am just up to my ankles in tropical army worm. Now I saw an interesting comment on Facebook that many daphnes in New Zealand are grown in the ground and then transplanted into a pot to be sold… I’m just wondering if you could shed some light on how daphnes are commercially grown in New Zealand.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      A bit 1980s, all that festooning. We’ve not had snakes establish in NZ so I am trusting to the oceans and our border control. Traditionally, Daphne’s have been grown in the ground and lifted and potted for sale but I doubt that many nurseries are doing that these days. Most plants are container grown these days, although some deciduous crops will still be done in the open ground.


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