Finding the Language of Flowers

Sometimes a book shifts something within and makes you look at the world differently. Other times, a cover lures you. As a writer, I choose novels I feel will be a worthy investment of my reading time. ‘The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart’ by Holly Ringland did more than that – I took that journey with Alice, learned the language of flowers and found my own.

This year, the winter solstice arrived and put an end to weeks of much needed rain, revealing the bluest sky that was full of possibility. I was a third of the way through Ringland’s novel, when, in the company of my four-legged girl and another dog I was minding, I decided to take my walk into the bush rather than along the beach. I felt like the child version of Alice in Ringland’s story who was enticed by the pathway that led through the bush to the river. As I walked, like Alice, the bush embraced me, and I needed to be nurtured.

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An Unlikely Pair: Mali (my girl) on left with Tiger

The earth had been washed clean leaving generous puddles that divided the tracks. Water, held in bowls of clay, would last the months ahead, ensuring the birds and marsupials flourish. Pools tinged aqua on their edges reflected the green foliage above.

I took the ‘Black Swamp’ track and came to where the path divides in three. I realised I had previously only ever gone left or right. On this day, I went straight ahead, towards the area that had been razed by  fire nearly two years ago. The landscape changed from the sandy forests where great silver gums pointed to a previous time. Wide-girthed eucalyptus trees revealed their age. Heavy branches of one, supported in the bough of another, creaked like the rusty hinges of a door… uncertain of allowing me access. I climbed a gentle slope and realised one particular eucalypt was scarred – a powerful reminder of the original custodians, the Jerrinja. A hidden secret that belongs to the Saltwater People and their ancestors.

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Scarred Tree on Jerrinja Land

Down into the boggy marshes where frogs gathered in a croaking choir. I picked my way through, trying to keep my feet dry. And then the path climbed, steeper this time. My phone’s satellite map told me of my location – a pulsating blue dot enclosed by trees. The dogs, nature and me. I had found the solace I was looking for. I breathed in huge lungsful of fresh air and felt the happiest I had in a long time.

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Nothing but Trees!

But something tugged at me to go further, deeper, just like the new scents that drove the dogs onwards. Blackened trunks became embedded in the brightest green undergrowth. The bush thinned and it was then that I came to a halt. A sweet honey aroma of wildflowers took me to an unfamiliar place. Wherever I looked, I saw their exquisiteness in varied colours and forms. Fragile yet hardy. I imagined myself as Alice, examining their beauty. But instead of putting them into my pockets, I took photographs.

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Colours of orange, red and yellow …

 

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Grevillea Family

Tiny stamens called for the birds, the bees and the breeze to carry their lives forward. It was as though the flowers were speaking ever so eloquently. Just as Ringland suggests –flowers are the words to express our thanks, our love, our sympathy.

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Feeling the freedom of life without time restrictions, I explored the essence of the bush for hours, until, urged by hunger, I decided to return. As I neared the quaint village of Myola, I was reminded of the callous nature of humans who use the track to discard unwanted objects that would never decompose. And a sadness tried to find its way in but I thought of Alice and her flowers and the beauty held deep within the bush. I arrived home and wanted nothing more than to finish the book. As with Alice, Holly Ringland’s novel evoked a fire that burns within my own heart, encouraging me to find the words and trust my own stories.

A few weeks later, I walked back to the place of wildflowers. The flowers I’d seen earlier had mostly fulfilled their lives and the colours of red and orange had faded. Instead, there were pinks and purples. And once again, I was entranced by the language of flowers and they spoke of happiness and peace.

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Purples and Pinks

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Happiness and Peace

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Graffiti Artists of the Bush

 

Dispersed throughout the bushland that hugs Callala Beach, are the most beautiful smooth-barked white gum trees that stand like pointers to an ancient world. During the day, their ethereal forms captivate and at night they stand conspicuously amongst their brothers and sisters of the bushland world.

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One of a variety of Scribbly Gums

 

The Scribbly Gum is in complete contrast to the rough, scraggly limbs of the revered Old Man Banksia. They stand shorter and slimmer than the robust Swamp Mahogany. The Scribbly holds out its limbs, smooth and glossy and often forms ‘wrinkles’ where the boughs meet.  Each of these beautiful trees are an essential contributor to the endangered Bangalay Sand Forest.

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Wrinkles

 

There are a few types of eucalyptus trees fondly named Scribbly Gums and they each received their title thanks to the Scribbly Gum Moth. These trees are constantly shedding their bark to not only reveal the smoothest of ‘skin’ but the signatures of a moth larva.

So how does this graffiti artist tag the bark of these magnificent trees? The eggs of the moth are laid between the old and new season’s bark. The moth’s larvae tunnel in loops and zigzags just below the bark’s surface. The tree sends out scar tissue which the caterpillars love to devour. They reach maturity quickly, growing legs before turning around to eat their way back out. Next, they leave the tree to form a cocoon and pupate. Not long after this the gum tree sheds its bark to reveal the secret signatures that make the Scribbly iconic.

Scribbly Gum Moth

The Ogmograptis scribula is rarely seen in
its moth form

 

These scribbles have been recorded by the first botanists that visited Australia’s shores as well as artists and writers. The graffiti artists of the bush have found a place in Australia’s culture.

Judith Wright’s poem called Scribbly Gum reveals an ancient language:

I peeled its splitting bark
and found the written track
of a life I could not read

Late Blue Mountains poet, Graham Alcorn wrote a poem: The Scribblygum Moth

Some chew up and some chew down,

This the philosophers might explain,

But the thing that causes me to frown,

The thing I’d dearly love to learn

Is what makes every Ogmo turn?

Off to the left, then to the right,

Another about turn, very tight,

Chomping a track, Forward and back,

On various species of gum tree.

 

And who didn’t love Snugglepot and Cuddlepie as a child? Their little gum-leaf banners were inspired by the secretive scrawls of the artist.

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Snugglepot & Cuddlepie’s  Scribbled Banners

 

A few years ago, a young school girl named Julia Cooke was obviously captivated with the scribbles on the bark in the bush. With a little help she discovered there were very different dialects amongst these scribblers and other researchers took up the chase! As a result, eleven new Scribbly Gum Moths were discovered, with three of them having an ancestor with a species that lived on the ancient supercontinent Gondwana.

All of this goes to show there truly is so much more to discover out there in that beautiful bush we are fortunate to have surround the coastal villages of Callala Beach and Myola.