Works in the Herald 1934
Do We Appreciate It?

I have often wondered how many young Australians will yet be born and grow into manhood, lacking nearly all knowledge and appreciation of the glorious world of flowers.

In the remoter Mallee and in those northern fringes of civilisation amongst the saltbush and red sand, save, in the one case, for the brief florescence of a short-lived spring, and, in the other, for some sudden splash of the magical Sturt-Pea - that desert miracle - the wonderful world of color is denied them.

Their eyes trained to gaze everywhere upon neutral monotony, the wonder is that such lands breed such splendid men.

Not that the elder people lack all sense of beauty; but fierce summers make the tending of even a miniature garden an arduous task for which they have neither time nor water to spare.

Who, having read it, does not remember the piteous pleading of Henry Lawson's aesthetically starved bush-wife? Through sun-bleached years she had nursed that one spot of blessed color in a gaunt grey land - a pathetic little plot in the hard-baked earth - drenching it daily with the greasy domestic dish-water; weekly with the weekday suds. And now, upon her death-bed, she pleads with the sorrowing but half-comprehending children: "Don't - don't fergit to water them geraniums."

Not that I would retouch or amplify that already overdrawn picture of an inhospitable, arid and featureless Australian interior, unvisited by the blessing of flowers.

That sometimes gloriously beautiful land has already been traduced and vilified by chance visitors with a luckless gift for literary expression.

Yet, in the interests of truth it must be admitted that there are places - many places, such as I write of now, where lack of rain and the rigors of life hard-lived rob men of much that all men's lives should hold.

My own early youth was spent in such a land; and, although I found sudden beauty in many a spreading parrot-haunted red-gum or along some shaded creek-bank in the spring, all knowledge of garden flowers, save here and there a forlorn, stunted but jealously nurtured rose bush or a straggling creeper, amazing tenacious of line, was denied me, in early childhood.

Suddenly, because of a threat of blindness, induced by persistent "sandy-blight," I was rushed south to a specialist. And here, for three glorious weeks, I dwelt in a garden-lined suburban street. That, I swear, as much as the specialist, saved and restored my eyesight.

And it was here, at the age of five (or a little more) that too potent beauty drew from me the earliest evidence of my adult guilt, and I wrote my first and, for me, most famous rhyme:-

   "Oh, I love to live in Norwood
      Where the flowers do sent the air
   And take a walk at sunset
      When the evening is cool and fair."

The metre is faulty, I am prepared to admit, and the spelling not of the highest order. Also, the lines may lack a little of the polish and much of the hidden blarney that comes, unfortunately, with the growth of craftsmanship; but if ever lines were written straight from the heart, and unalloyed by art or artifice, then these lines surely were. They told in them the lament of a young soul robbed of its birthright.

And now, compensated in later years for deprivations of the child, as I sit to write this in pleasant sunlight, surrounded by a wealth of varied bloom, my mind goes to those other children situated today as I was in those earlier years. And one wonders if something cannot be done about it.

Surely there is fine work to be done by a league of flower-lovers with expert advice at their call; and surely certain lovely flowers and plants and tress suitable to these districts might be discovered, and information broadcast as to their care and growth.

I dare say much is being done these days in the way of school gardens; but very much more can not be too much; for I am one who believes that the gift of blooms and their proper appreciation foes far in determining the character of an individual - and I even dare say of a whole nation.

Sow me the greedy, grasping, soulless capitalist or the blatant, brother-hating bolshevik who was reared and nurtured in a garden rich with flowers - and I shall make ready to deny my philosophy.

Herald, 28 November 1934, p6

Copyright © Perry Middlemiss 2005