An informal essay on the Aranda Bushland

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Natural history and memoir rub along together, and the writer plays with different ways of writing about nature. What marks this paragraph as a literary text, despite so much technical language? (If you have ever tried to describe a plant accurately, you will understand why botanists had to agree on a vocabulary.) What do you understand by ‘endemic’, ‘podzolic’ and ‘obtuse’ in this context? Who was Henry David Thoreau, and which famous phrase of his is alluded to?

The logo of Friends of the Aranda Bushland is the flower of Grevillea alpina, the only grevillea endemic to the Black Mountain area. It is a wise choice of symbol, for this compact shrub suggests what we might expect from the vegetation that thrives in the stony, podzolic soil of the Aranda hill. You will not find G. alpina in any commercial nursery, for it resists cultivation; but if you did, you might overlook it as the other grevilleas lured you through the leaf-shape lexicon: pinnate, ovate, obovate, mucronate, lanceolate, oblanceolate, terete and so on. G. alpina is Thoreau’s darling, the woman with the fine bones and discreet dress whom at first you do not notice among all the big hair and flashy adornment but who, once discovered, intrigues you with her simple beauty. The grey-green leaves are amongst the tiniest in the genus – a centimetre long, a couple of millimetres wide and obtuse – adapted as they are to cold and dry conditions. They are surprisingly soft: villous on top, the silvery hairs just visible to the youthful naked eye. In October, small, semi-erect flowers, unmistakably those of a grevillea, appear on the ends of the stems in a variety of warm reds. G. alpina reminds us that beauty in this environment will not be handed to us like a bunch of peonies; that we should not demand of this country what it cannot give. Educate the eye to subtlety, to delicate distinctions; seek out this land’s secrets and we shall be enriched.

(Diana Brown, from ‘Ninety Per Cent Weed-free’, Island 93/94, 2003, reproduced by kind permission of the author.)

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