Jottings on Jacarandas

Although the magnificent lilac-blue blooms are beginning to fade, I thought I’d take some time this week to celebrate the magnificent jacaranda trees that bring such delight each spring.

They thrive in the warmer climate of Sydney and surrounding areas, and I have noticed on recent train trips that they don’t appear much beyond Faulconbridge and Springwood. Perhaps that is why they seem to be more spectacular to me in recent years as they are not a constant backdrop in the upper mountains.

Avenue of jacarandas in Victoria Park, Dubbo

Avenue of jacarandas in Victoria Park, Dubbo

Many people admire their blooms, and it has been a newsworthy issue of late with tourists getting into a bit of bother by blocking streets or propping at odd angles in order to get the best selfie with jacaranda blossoms as a backdrop.

I heard a story which might be an urban myth about Sydney hospitals sending mothers and their new-born babes home with a jacaranda seedling, with the trees growing alongside the children. Whether it is true or not, it is sweet image and casts a different light on the lilac trees scattered throughout Sydney suburbs and further afield.

Little wattlebird in jacaranda tree at Kiama

Little wattlebird in jacaranda tree at Kiama

I came across a wonderful article by Helen Curran of Sydney Living Museums titled The Dream Tree: Jacaranda, Sydney Icon. It provides an overview of Sydney’s love affair with the jacaranda tree and its transformative effect upon the landscape from October to November. It is hard to imagine now, but as an imported tree from Brazil, initial plantings were limited mainly to botanical gardens. The rarity only enhanced its appeal with an assertion in the Sydney Morning Herald that it was ‘well worth a journey of 50 miles’ to see the tree in the Botanic Garden.

There were issues with propagation and it wasn’t until 1868 that this was overcome. The trees became more widespread and were a popular choice for public planting programs from the early to mid-twentieth century. One of the loveliest references in Curran’s article was a tree at Potts Point known by children as ‘the dream tree’, which seems to capture the magic of the jacaranda.

A lovely painting of jacaranda trees spotted at op shop recently

A lovely painting of jacaranda trees spotted at op shop recently

But it isn’t just Sydney, of course, that holds jacaranda trees in high esteem. Jacarandas can be found up and down the coast, and Grafton has so heartily embraced the jacaranda tree that there is an annual festival for all things purple, including a street parade and key locations which offer particularly photographic specimens. Listening to a podcast recently, I heard how the jacarandas in Queensland have deeper hues of lilac than those further along the eastern coastline, the colours shifting slightly as the trees blossom in succession through Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria.

Curran provides a perfect summary of Sydney’s enchantment with jacarandas:

The jacaranda may not always have been Sydney’s, but for a few magical weeks it is a dream tree for the city – ardently, abundantly ours.

Do you have the delight of jacaranda trees in springtime?

[Photo: jacaranda and flame tree blossoms entwined – a popular pairing and visual treat]

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A Convict in the Family: Links Across Generations

Echoes of history are evident in the travelling exhibition A Convict in the Family, currently on display at the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre. This exhibition from Sydney Living Museums features photographs of the descendants of convicts, usually in their own home, with items symbolising their ancestor’s crime.

The crimes that resulted in the life changing act of transportation are varied, and it is sometimes bewildering to see modern representations of these thefts. A retired academic sits at a kitchen table, looking directly at the camera, with a single gold ring representing his ancestor’s crime. Clothing was a popular item for theft, with coats, dresses and handkerchiefs featuring in several photographs, along with lace. Lots of lace. But not all crimes involved property, such as the convict transported for vagrancy.

In some of the photographs there are interesting links between the convicts and their descendants. The occupations of the descendants vary, but performing arts and public servants feature quite a bit. One of the descendants of James Ruse is included; Ruse was transported for breaking and entering, and was given an early land grant and the opportunity to establish a productive farm. His successful efforts were rewarded with additional land grants, and his legacy is noted in the photo above, taken on the Parramatta River. The excerpt is taken from his gravestone, which he partly carved before his death:

MY MOTHER REREAD ME TENDERELY WITH ME SHE TOCK MUCH PAINES AND WHEN I ARIVED IN THIS COELNEY I SOWD THE FORST GRAIN

This exhibition made me think deeper about these unconventional beginnings of European settlement in Australia, not least of all because like many other Australians I have a convict or two in my family tree. Theft of jewellery, a steel watch chain, a single handkerchief (valued at three shillings) and a wicker basket with nine pecks of beans – all of these crimes were serious enough to ensure a trip across the seas.

There is a link to a summary of the exhibition here, including an interview with photographer Mine Konakci. The importance of understanding your past in order to have a stronger sense of belonging is evident throughout the exhibition. The video interview includes many of the photographs and is well worth a view.

Do you have a convict in your family tree?

[Photo: taken on Parramatta River, Parramatta]

Elizabeth Farm, Parramatta

Located on a rise that would have once commanded a view of the growing settlement of Parramatta, Elizabeth Farm remains a treasured property with its status of oldest European homestead in Australia. It is located near the Parramatta River, and construction commenced in 1793. The house had various additions over time and grew from a simple bungalow to a substantial homestead with servants quarters. It was the home for John and Elizabeth Macarthur and their family, before changing hands over the decades until it was purchased by the Swann family in 1904. It stayed in the Swann family until it was transferred to the Elizabeth Farm Museum Trust in 1968.

The property is now managed by Sydney Living Museums, and it feels much more like a living space than a typical house museum where there is much to see but access is firmly limited by thick red ropes. The property has been filled with replicas of period furniture, and you are invited to touch, sit, be at home and to have a unique experience in the house. Guided tours are available as well as iPads with additional content about the Farm for self-guided visitors. The content includes photos, newspaper reports and recollections from the time of the Macarthurs, and also from the Swann family whose occupancy played a significant part in the preservation of the property. They were a large family with nine daughters, only one of them married, and they used all of the extensive property between them.

But it is the property’s association with the Macarthur family that is primarily on display. From the the hall entrance off the wide verandah with the dining room on one side and the drawing room on the other, there are many references to the Macarthur family throughout the house. I was particularly taken by the smaller rooms at the end of each side of the front of the house with their windowed alcoves looking out into the garden. These sunlit rooms were a contrast to the bedrooms at the rear of the house, especially the blue room which is kept in shadow in reference to the difficult times that John Macarthur spent here when his mental health declined before his death in 1834.

There is much to enjoy in the shape of the house and the servants quarters, the courtyard and the gardens, along with the kitchen with its big old range and copper saucepans lined up along the mantle. The kitchen garden was inviting with hearty silver beet, including heritage varieties, their yellow and scarlet stalks translucent in the afternoon light. The garden is a joy, modelled on letters and diaries outlining the botanical delights of the garden in the 1830s. Spending time in this historic house is like heading back to an earlier era, and you can nearly forget that you are within an extensive business and residential area, just 23 kilometres from Sydney.

Have you been somewhere that made you feel as though you have stepped back in time recently?

[Photo: view of the front of Elizabeth Farm from the carriage loop]