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I've been a Canberran since moving here from Adelaide on the first day of 1980. I now live in suburban Duffy with my partner Louise Maher, ABC 666 radio and on-line journalist. Among my early memories is following Sleepy Lizards (Shinglebacks) around the paddocks north of Adelaide, guarded by the faithful bull terrier. I have always been passionate about the natural world, trying to understand how it works, how the nature of Australia came to be, and sharing those understandings. My especial passions are birds, orchids and mammals. For much of my life I have been a full-time naturalist, running bush tours, writing books etc, doing consultancies, presenting a regular radio slot on local ABC, chairing a government environment advisory committee and running adult education classes. Recently I have eased back somewhat, but am still writing, teaching, doing some radio work and running overseas tours - as part of my fascination with our Gondwanan origins I've been running tours to South America for the past decade. I was awarded the Australian Plants Society Award in 2001 and the Australian Natural History Medallion in 2006, both for services to education and conservation. In January 2018 I was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for 'service to conservation and the environment'.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Did Canberra Get the Wrong Floral Emblem?

Back in 1982, when the Australian Capital Territory wasn't even self-governing, it became the last Australian jurisdiction to acquire a floral emblem. A committee of eminent citizens with genuine claims to botanical and horticultural expertise recommended the adoption of the Royal Bluebell, Wahlenbergia gloriosa, a truly beautiful sprawling herb of wet places in the high country above Canberra. Their recommendation was adopted, to the delight of nursery owners, who sold vast numbers of them to excited citizens - then sold them another one when the first inevitably died in the hot dry Canberra summer. 
Royal Bluebell, Wahlenbergia gloriosa, high Brindabella Ranges, Namadgi National Park.
It seems to me that there are two criteria to be taken into account when selecting such an emblem; either (or preferably both!) it should be a plant (or animal of course) which people are familiar with and fond of, or it should have unique connections to the jurisdiction, having most or all of its population within the borders. With greatest respect to those who made the decision (and the late Robert Boden, who chaired it, was a good friend), I think the lovely Royal Bluebell fails my criteria. Firstly it has no particular association with the territory; it is widespread throughout the Australian Alps, in New South Wales and Victoria. Furthermore, few Canberrans ever see it; in fact most people I talk to assume that the two common, tough little low elevation species lumped as Common Bluebell (W. communis and W. stricta) are in fact the emblem. They are ubiquitous, providing massed blooms in summer when most other flowers have wilted, growing in hard weedy nature strips and sites scarcely meriting the term 'soil'. I think we could do a lot worse than formalising this de facto situation and nominating the rugged Common Bluebell as the real emblem.
Common Bluebell, Wahlenbergia communis, and pollinators.
On the other hand, if we were to go to the other criterion - that it be a species unique to the territory, or most of whose range lies here - there are other options, my favourite among which is the beautiful shrub Grevillea diminuta, which lives only along the ridge of the high Brindabellas. Additionally, it grows very successfully in Canberra rockeries, so could readily become much better known. Lastly, virtually every plant of the species was burnt to the ground in the great fires of January-February 2003, but they have rebounded magnificently, probably from underground shoots rather than seeds. I reckon that such resilience is another quality we should be looking for in our emblem!
Grevillea diminuta, Mount Franklin Road, Namadgi National Park.
Obviously, such things are just human conceits, but that's not a reason not to go on thinking about them; if the symbols were unimportant we'd just let them fade away.

And then there are aspects of our faunal emblems to think about too... Another day.

1 comment:

Flabmeister said...

I believe this decision to have have been made by a Committee. Need anything more be said about the minimal chance of the decision being correct??

Your suggestion of Grevillea diminuta makes excellent sense.