a sunny day at Sydney’s Botanic Gardens
A photo taken . . . holding a moment in time, suspended . . . contemplating a tree. The two of us just sat in the mid-morning sunshine, on a bench in the Sydney Botanic Gardens, a coffee comfortably nestled in our hands, contemplating a tree. Simple things can be so good. It wasn’t just any tree. We knew its botanical name. Did someone once say that until something has a name it doesn’t exist. The tree was an Araucaria cunninghamii better known as a Hoop Pine. Let me explain.
As part of the multi faceted project we have embarked on, The Allan Cunningham Project, we have decided to photograph some of the 900 Australian native plants mentioned by Allan Cunningham in Robert Heward’s Biographical Sketch of Allan Cunningham FLS MRGS published in 1842. Why? . . . because it sounds like an interesting thing to do.
Allan Cunningham collected plants in Australia between 1816 and 1839 and he collected them from areas not touched by the “colonial” hand, pristine wilderness. Plants are part of history just like buildings, roads, bridges art and literature. This man sacrificed his life in the pursuit of rare specimens . . . in the pursuit of scientific knowledge. I see him as a bit of a botanical warrior.
In Australia we don’t have a lot of architectural history, not before the 1800s anyway. No wars are recorded, no famous philosophers’ thoughts to muse on, no Roman roads or ruins. It’s an ancient land once inhabited only by people who lived in harmony with it, as part of nature. Sure they had their tribal fights, wherever man is there is conflict, but there were no written records, no bricks and mortar, no paper written on, no written language. Back beyond 1800 our history is the land and what grew on it and what it looked like, how it breathed and how it was. We may not have material things that depict our country’s early history, however we do have the natural history of the plants, the animals, the rocks and the earth plus the living memory of the aboriginal people.
Allan Cunningham, our British, bookish, botanical explorer collected thousands of plants and sent them back to Kew Gardens, to his friend and colleague Robert Brown, for classification. Some of those plants can be found today in the herbariums of the world.