I am a child of the outer Sydney suburbs ~ those strange un~urban places beside the Port Hacking River: Cronulla, Caringbah, Gymea, Kirrawee, turned into something strange & foreign, buried under concrete & tarmac, resurrected only in memory. It was a strange nether world connected to the Sydney sprawl by the Illawarra train line, saved from soulessness by the long sprawling reaches of the river & confined by the Royal National Park to the south.
Every place has it's own uniqueness. Southern Sydney is quirkier than some. Waterfront is prime real estate but steep, bound deep into its bowels by sandstone & clay, engulfed in smoke & falling ash during the fire season. Visiting could be interesting. Some places could only be accessed by a flying fox. Several I knew you counted a hundred or more steep, narrow steps down to the house & as many to climb out again. As blocks became fewer the houses grew odder, occasionally only one room wide going straight down the cliffside & at least one place I remember spent months dynamiting sandstone before they ran out of money & the place was still inaccessible.
But when I was a child a lot of southern Sydney was still the backblocks, still bush, still wild. Our place was a 3/4 acre block running down to the river where the blueberry ash & she oak grew wild & my mother laboured amongst the sandstone to wreck order out of chaos to create a garden that was a curious mix of native & exotic, wild & cultivated, bush & formal.
At the top of our block a little rill ran through the maidenhair & the fishbone ferns. It was a damply exotic & enticing place for an imaginative child. I thought everyone in the world lived in a paradise like mine. I learnt too late that such paradises are a delicate & fragile organism. The brilliant Christmas bells were the first to go. I can remember them blooming amongst the clay & sandstone when I was very little but never again. The flannel flowers lingered longer but they too had disappeared before I had finished high school.
It has taken most of my lifetime for Australians to begin to appreciate what they have & to plant amongst their azaleas & camellias, their roses & daffodils the strange exotic blooms of their native country but only the hardier types ~ grevellias & hakias, tea tree & kangaroo paw, wattles & euculypts but the shy, delicate flowers of my childhood are gone forever. They are too difficult to propagate, hard to transplant, prone to sudden malaise.When we moved to the island 20 years ago I was delighted my first spring to look out on paddocks turned hazy purple with wild orchids & fringed lilies & hidden in the damp bush places the exquisite green orchid with its centre of blood red. As houses began to sprout around us like a fungal growth I scoured the paddocks attempting to transplant some of the small fragile plants but their delicate systems never survived & year by year I have watched with sadness as there are fewer & fewer flowers each spring.
I guess I'm one of the lucky few. I remember how it was, the scarlet & gold flush of Christmas bells, the pale cream & green of flannel flowers, a haze of purple everywhere the eye can see. I would rather a sea of wildflowers than anything man can make.