Monday, January 11, 2010

Flying Foxes

Things I like about Sydney No. 10: The Botanical Gardens Pt. 4

Early on, in the first few weeks of being here in Sydney, when Daniel and I were staying in a rather luxurious apartment in Surry Hills and I was getting used to the life I wasn't about to lead, one of our most unexpected moments occurred when walking down neighbouring Oxford Street at dusk.  (As a digression, before I tell you what this astonishing occurrence was, there needs to be some etymological explanations for those back home in London. After all...firstly, for goodness sakes, you'll be asking yourself, can't the Australians come up with their own place and street names? And secondly, if they are going to poach ours can't they at least spell them bloody correctly? Surry Hills? Where's the frigging 'e'? (oops, they swallowed it all at Mardi Gras...) Surry Hills does have some residual similarity to our dear old county Surrey in that it boasts some ridiculously over-priced boutiques frequented by people with more money than sense. There is also an air of Home Counties wafting about: tattoos are definitely verboten (rather than de rigeur) and no-one would bat an eyelid if you decided to canter down the main street on a smart looking horse. As for neighbouring Oxford Street it is the spitting image of London's. Similarly tawdry, similarly derided in the national and local press, and similarly long. Nevertheless, isn't it time Sydney just had an enormous re-naming ceremony?) Anyways, back to the point. As we walked down Oxford Street in search of somewhere to eat we looked up into the lowering sky (it was about to rain) only to see hundreds of enormous bats flying past, classically silhouetted against the waning moon. We were in a Hammer Horror movie and it was magical.

Later I found out that these bats are not in fact bats. They are flying foxes. And they spend most of their time roosting in the Botanic Gardens wreaking havoc upon venerable trees. If you go down there during the day this is what you see (and smell....)

hundreds upon hundreds of restlessly sleeping, intermittently squawking, to high-heaven reeking flying foxes. And what we witnessed on Oxford Street was their nightly migration in search of food (fruit, not blood...).

They are causing endless problems to the Botanic Gardens and there are subsequent endless discussions about what to do with them. It seems that there is a new solution posited every week in the Sydney Morning Herald.  Personally, I hope that they take over the world. There is nothing better of a night that to look up into the sky and see an enormous flying mammal. One with extraordinary skills. Every time I do so (and that's most nights, what with the ever-demanding Sniff pleading for midnight walks) it gives me a thrill. It's Dracula and Christopher Lee and exotic nights and palm trees and diversity and extraordinariness and everything good about Sydney.

Bring on the bats.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Wollemi Pine

Things I like about Sydney No. 9: The Botanic Gardens Pt. 3

When we first went to the Botanical Gardens almost a year ago now the most exciting discovery plant-wise was the mysterious Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis). This so-called 'living fossil' was re-discovered in a dark and damp rainforest gorge only fifteen years ago and this merely 200 km away from here at an unspecified location in the Blue Mountains. One of the world's oldest and rarest trees with only a hundred or so specimens known to exist in the wild the Wollemi Pine belongs to a plant family which has to have the largest amount of vowels in a single word known to lexicography - Araucariaceae. It looks somewhat like a conifer having dark green leaves with serrated edges and lots of branches. As it ages its bark starts to look like bubbling chocolate. The oldest known Wollemi Pine fossil dates back 90 million years and it is believed that the Pines may have existed since the Jurassic period 200 million years ago. Before the Pine was rediscovered in 1994, it was presumed extinct for around two million years.

Now, however, at the little shop in the Botanical Gardens you can buy your own Wollemi Pine and in so doing help conserve those wild specimens. What is more, your new living fossil can be grown in a pot (useful for those of us without gardens..). What is even better is that Daniel bought one for my birthday and it subsequently became this year's Christmas Tree...

It may look small at the moment, but with due care and attention it will reach 20 metres...

Our Wollemi Pine came with a little brochure on how to look after it, the marketing redolent of that accompanying those computer dogs or i-phone girlfriends. It has certainly made me regard it as something more than a plant. The tinsel and baubles have now been carefully removed, the single (Christmas pudding) decoration packed away for next year and the starfish that graced the top hung up in my studio. Our living fossil is now next the front door looking 200 million years old and 200 million years wise.

Re-reading the accompanying literature has reminded me that I have to re-pot it before the biodegradable pot it came in disintegrates on us. It's a ticking timebomb, a cardboard explosion waiting to happen, especially in the ridiculous heat we are enduring this weekend - the sort of heat where Sniff lies with all four limbs in the air trying to get a breeze across his belly and I just wilt on the chaise longue groaning about the injustice of having to live here.

The Botanical Gardens' own specimen of the Wollemi Pine seems a little sickly, or at least it did last time I saw it, lonely on a lawn. I am hoping that with the boosting of their funds from our Wollemi purchase it will receive renewed care and attention. I am also hoping that one day I will learn the secret hiding place of those 100 remaining wild trees and be able to go and see them, undercover, on a sort of covert mission, perhaps bearing some baubles and tinsel to spruce them up a bit. (Ho Ho).

Anyway, as they say at the Botanical Gardens, buying a Wollemi Pine doesn't just help protect the species it will also safeguard its continued survival. So I'd like you all to go out and buy one today. Save the Wollemi Pine!