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Wattle flower – this one had a delicate perfume

Today, 1st September is National Wattle Day in Australia, as well as the first day of spring.  When the Wattle starts to flower we know spring is just around the corner.

There are about 985 different Wattle (Acacia) species in Australia with around 1,380 species worldwide. It is a very useful tree & has a very long history of being used by the indigenous Australians who used all parts of the Wattle.  We only know some of the ways the Australian Aboriginals used Wattle as much of it is passed down orally & is tribal knowledge.

The following are just some of the ways the Australian Aboriginals used Wattle.

Wattle has a significant role in Bush Medicine.  Various parts of Wattle tree were used to make cough medicine & inhalations to treat colds & flu. It was made into poultices to treat headache & backache, preparations to relieve itchy skin, ointments to treat boils & wounds & as an eye wash.  Wattle was also used to treat scabies & to remove warts.  Both the bark & roots of certain Wattles were made into bandages & to make a splint for broken bones.  Wattle smoke was used rituals & for good health.

Bush medicine is a specialized skill.  There are thousands of Wattle species, & not all are used for the same thing. Some Wattle are able to be ingested, while others are toxic.     This is not something you just go to the nearest Wattle tree, pick & prepare.

Wattle seed is high in both protein & carbohydrates.  The gum, seeds & roots were prepared for eating, either as a raw paste or roasted as a damper.  Wattle gum was eaten as a snack & made into a sweet drink when dissolved in water with nectar.

Wood from Wattle was made into a range of weapons; boomerangs, spear throwers, spear shafts & heads & shields.  Wattle doesn’t split, so made good digging sticks.  Gum from the Wattle was used to make glue to repair tools & to make traps waterproof.   Thin, pliable green stems were used to collect honey from beehives.

Some Wattle was used to poison fish in small billabongs.  The inner bark of some Wattles was perfect for making string & rope. These were also used in head decorations, ceremonial items & to make sandals. Bark was also used to create fine string for fishing nets & bags.

Wattle was used to make clap sticks, a traditional instrument. Dye was also made from Wattle. The leaves & pods produce a soapy lather & this was used for washing.

Wattle was prized as firewood as it is slow burning.  Wattle ash was mixed with the young leaves & stalks of native plants that contained nicotine & this was made into chewing tobacco.  Wattle was also used as a seasonal indicator telling the people when food was available in an area.

It’s an amazing plant as well as being beautiful, especially when in flower.  Unfortunately, Wattles trees are short-lived, but they do grow & spread easily & many species tolerate dry conditions. The Wattle species Acacia pycnantha is the floral emblem of Australia & features on the coat-of-arms.

I wrote about the history of National Wattle Day last year with a range of different facts about this wonderful plant.  http://bit.ly/UfzUVL

If you are interested in making Wattle perfume from a simple recipe published in 1896 see – http://bit.ly/OBaSwr

Wattle flower – this one had a much stronger perfume than the one above

Wattle features on the Australian Coat of Arms

“The first ‘national’ Wattle Day was celebrated in Sydney, Melbourne & Adelaide on the First of September 1910.” – so says a really good history of National Wattle Day from the Wattle Day Association.  http://www.wattleday.asn.au/

I wondered why we have a day to honour the Wattle.  After a bit of research I collected these Wattle facts.  I didn’t know many of them so I hope you find them interesting.

  • Their botanical name is Acacia.
  • There are at least 950 varieties of Wattle indigenous to Australia.
  • Another 350 varieties grow in Africa & America.
  • Botanist George Benthan was the first to formally document the Wattle & he did so in the London Journal of Botany in 1842.
  • The Australian Cricket team wore a green & gold cap when they toured England in 1899. These became the official colours for subsequent cricket teams.  Some of our Olympic team wore green & gold in 1908 with the colors becoming official in 1912.  In 1928 the Australian Rugby team wore the green & gold for the first time.
  • In 1984 the Wattle’s green leaves & golden-coloured flowers were chosen as the Australian National Colours.
  • Prue Acton as the official designer for the Olympic uniforms also used the green & gold colours.  In 2008 she said the following, “Green & gold,” she insisted, “are not complementary. They do not represent the spectrum. They tire the eyes & force them to seek relief elsewhere. Worse, they’re irrelevant. My land is red-gold, is blue-violet, is ochre, is magenta-tinged & purple-shaded. My land is not green & gold. There’s no way to make them – in any version – work for us.”  Journalist John Huxley wrote in the same article, “Looking across local playing fields it would be easy to conclude she was right. The Socceroos’ present shirt is such a ghastly combination of bilious green & insipid yellow that it is a crime against fan fashion.”   Perhaps we love Wattle, but that love should be kept to the tree & not taken to clothing, particularly clothing that represents us as a country.   http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2008/02/28/1203788535250.html?page=fullpage
  • A sprig of Wattle is also featured on our Coat of Arms.  The Wattle flower has been our unofficial Floral Emblem since 1901 only becoming official in 1988. It symbolizes the unity & the spirit of the people of Australia.
  • The Wattle flower has adorned stamps & is also on the Order of Australia Medal, Australia’s highest award.
  • It is said that a Wattle was the first plant to flower after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.
  • The flowers have a distinctive soft scent & have been used in perfumes.
  • The Wattle does not live for many years, usually only between 5 & 20 years depending on the species.  However the Western Myall (Acacia pendula) lives to 200-years or more, Western Myall (Acacia papyrocarpa) lives around 250-years.  Blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon) also lives for around 200-years.
  • Wattle regenerates easily after a bush fire. Rain after a fire causes seeds held in the soil to germinate.
  • Old Wattle seeds are generally viable & will grow as long as the hard casing of the seed is abraded.
  • To germinate the seeds yourself, simply soak in hot water to break the hard seed coat & plant into a seedling mix.  Replant the seedlings into larger pots before planting in the ground.
  • Wattle flowers are mostly yellow & are a collection of small ball-shaped flower clusters.   However, Acacia purpureopetala (listed as vulnerable) has mauve-pink flowers & Acacia gilbertii has white flowers. Two Victorian Wattles that were only discovered recently have red & orange flowers each. Scarlet Blaze (Acacia leprosa) discovered in 1995 has red flowers. It has since become Victoria’s Centenary of Federation floral emblem. Hedge Wattle (Acacia paradoxa) discovered in 2007 has orange flowers.
  • The bark is good for making tannin.
  • The early settlers to Australia used Wattle & daub to make their homes.
  • The wood is also prized by furniture & cabinetmakers.
  • The Mulga Wattle (Acacias aneura) has a much harder wood than other Wattles & is traditionally used by indigenous Australians to make musical instruments, tools & weaponry.
  • Wattle seed is bush tucker & is often used in bread.
  • Wattles are reasonably drought tolerant.  They grow reasonably fast & this makes them useful for erosion control or for when you want a quick effect in your garden. Planted together they make good screening. They tolerate pruning.
  • Most Wattles grow to between 4-10 metres tall.  There are however, some much taller varieties.  White Marblewood (Acacia bakeri) is the tallest recorded at nearly 50-metres (164.5-feet) tall. Imagine this in flower! Blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon) can reach 30-metres (100-feet).  Snake Wattle (Acacia aculeatissima) is really a low groundcover.
  • Some Wattle species in Australia are classified ‘invasive.’  In South Africa the Sydney Golden Wattle (Acacia longifolia) & the Golden Wattle (Acacia pycnantha) are regarded as a weed.
  • One species Georgina Gidgee (Acacia georginae) is very poisonous & will kill sheep & cattle.

So happy National Wattle Day on this first day of spring.  The Wattle Day Association has an extensive history of the Wattle in Australia.  See –  http://www.wattleday.asn.au/

A Wattle in Steel Park was in flower 3 weeks ago

In February 2010 I wrote about the resplendent Morton Bay Fig at St Stephen’s Church in Newtown for Festival of the Trees. See https://savingourtrees.wordpress.com/2010/02/24/st-stephens-fig/ With this post, I aim to describe the cemetery as I have experienced it.   To separate the graveyard & the trees is almost impossible as they intermingle & both are quite beautiful.

We went while it was drizzling with light rain which made the whole place quite evocative

Once you walk past the massive Morton Bay Fig planted in 1848 & the 2 large clumps of Giant Bamboo, also planted more than a century ago, you follow the dirt road that takes you to the heritage protected Gothic Revivalist St Stephen’s Church & immediately into the cemetery.  The graveyard itself starts within metres of the entrance on both sides of the dirt road.

The current cemetery is about 4 acres (1.6 hectares) & is bordered by a high sandstone wall.  The land, 4 kms from Sydney’s CBD, purchased by a group of businessmen in 1845, was originally 12.5 acres (4.8 hectares).  It was the main cemetery for Sydney until it closed in 1867 because it was full.  Even so, a few people were buried here up to the 1940s.  All up, about 18,000 people were buried here, though the true numbers are not known because many of the graves hold multiple people, all buried on top of each other.  A significant number of the famous are buried here.

In 1948 Marrickville Council reclaimed ¾ of the cemetery land to create a public park & Camperdown Memorial Rest Park opened in 1951.  The headstones and other fixtures were brought inside the cemetery wall & I guess the thousands of interred are still under the park while the dog walkers & others play overhead.  Rather a gruesome thought, though I know others who question why I think like this.

gravestones line up against the whole of boundary sandstone wall

The tombstones from outside the new boundary were removed & placed inside & against the sandstone perimeter wall & fixed in place with steel nails.  Unfortunately, the nails have rusted over time & split many of the headstones.  Most of the graves & headstones are made of Sydney sandstone & have seriously weathered over the years.

The graves surround the church, then spread out through the cemetery.  I have not been on one of the regular guided tours, so I do not know much about the individuals who were buried here.  Directly behind the church is an impressive grave in the style of a boat.  My favourite tombstone is a tree stump made of cement.  Over time it has weathered & appears real until you look closely.

The cemetery is also special because of the trees.  There are Brush Boxes (Lophostemon confertus) planted in the 1960s, Blackwoods (Acacia melanoxylon), a Lemon Scented Gum  (Corymbia citriodora), a Port Jackson Cypress Pine (Callitris rhomboidea), 2 African Olive trees (Olea africana), a number of Melaleucas, a grove of Chinese Elms (Ulmus parvifolia), Canary Island Palms (Phoenix canariensis), a Morton Bay Fig (Ficus macrophylla), a few Birch trees & a number of Camphor Laurel trees (Cinnamomum camphora).  There are also 2 clumps of Giant Bamboo.

If I were to take you on a tour, we would walk down the dirt road passing many graves & a row of Canary Island Palms planted in the 1930s.  There is a circular road behind St Stephen’s Church & many of the gravestones in this area are impressive.

many of the trees are huge

From here we would walk into the small area beside the church on the other side.  It is somewhat off the path, but it is well worth it because of the enormous Oak that spreads its boughs here.  The last time we went it had been raining heavily & the ground was very boggy, which I think would discourage people from going in this direction.  In this area the gravestones are sparser, though I would guess there are people buried in unmarked graves.  The Oak is magnificent & would be one of the trees that were planted in 1848.  The Oak tree spills out claiming a lot of space & I can easily imagine the kids playing on it after church a century ago.

A few metres away a big tree has recently been chopped down.  Judging by the side of the stump, I imagine this tree also filled the space now open to the sky.  Interestingly, the stump is one of many which is directly next to a grave & over time it has dislodged part of the stone.  I would guess there was a tradition of planting a tree where a loved one was buried.

The cemetery did have many Peace roses, but Marrickville Council removed them because it was felt they required too much care.  I found one old rose bush planted in a grave, so perhaps it is a remanent of the original roses.

Moving away from this area & rejoining the dirt path that meanders around the left side of the cemetery following the sandstone fence, you pass very old Brush Box & Camphor Laurel trees.  Their trunks are massive & they have been left to grow naturally with minimal pruning.

A special site is on your left where those from the shipwrecked Dunbar & the Catherine Adamson in 1857 are buried.  I know it is important because these graves are painted white & are well looked after.  The dirt path becomes a track & takes you to & along the back wall of the cemetery.  Tombstone after tombstone are lined up against the perimeter wall. Some are detailed & very beautiful while others are simple affairs.

The trees in this area are different.  They too are tall, but their branches sweep just above the ground & in some cases require you to dodge & walk around them.  Some of the graves here are different as well, being just headstones & you have to assess where the grave would be if you don’t want to tread on them.

This part of the cemetery has remanent Kangaroo grass (Themeda triandra) left over from when the whole area to Botany Bay was covered with this species of grass.  It’s nice to look at & I can easily imagine following the walking trail to the sea over miles of this soft grass that would have caught the light & changed colour throughout the day.

To your right is the centre of the cemetery & my favourite area.  It has no path, is dense with tall trees & you cannot see the church.  Apart from the odd gravestone, you could be anywhere. The grass is long & many of the graves are overgrown.  There is a birch wood covering a few metres that have sprung up naturally after the initial trees were planted.  There is also some Wattle, a very large a Port Jackson Cypress Pine, more Oak trees planted in 1848 & a grove of Chinese Elms.

handmade jewellery left in the hollow of the Oak stump

In the middle is an old Oak stump that stands about 6 feet high with a natural hollow that ascends to the top.  Here I found a piece of hand-made jewellery that has been carefully placed inside.  It made me think that I had come across some sort of wishing ritual, so apart from taking a photo, I did not touch it.

One branch from this tree has been left on the ground.  It had the most amazing pattern & to me looked almost like rivers taken from space.  Interesting that pictures of earth from space can look similar to what we can see in nature & even the same as inside the human body.  The patterns repeat again & again.  I hope the church authorities leave this stump as it is very beautiful.

Leaving the centre of the cemetery, you return to the path, which widens & takes you back to St Stephen’s Church.  Here there are many other tall & old trees, mostly Brush Box.

The most filigree tomb is right in the front left-hand corner behind the Giant Bamboo.  Here 4 figures act as columns for a roof structure.  Each figure looks different & holds something different.  We did not notice the bees that started to gather & had to run away because these bees were quite territorial. There are at least 2 hives situated at the back of the Lodge located a few metres away.

Once you pass the Giant Bamboo & the massive Morton Bay Fig, you return to the front gate & are in the heart of busy Newtown with it’s tiny terraces & narrow streets.  If you follow the perimeter fence to your left, you come to Camperdown Memorial Rest Park where a few of the original Brush Box trees can be seen at the edge of the park.  This much-used park is where the cemetery was originally, so remember to be quiet.  There are people sleeping under your feet.

NOTE:  I have tried to create a visual walking tour of Camperdown Cemetery.  The photos are labelled 1, 2 , 3 etc & they follow the path as I walked it.  You can view this at the following link – http://www.flickr.com/photos/savingourtrees/sets/72157623601096089/detail/

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