By Paul Paech
Cosmic star-watcher Brian Cox tends to paint a Very Big Picture, so when he said recently on an ABC interview that we know two things for certain about “meaning”, it carries more weight, than, say, Scott Morrison saying, well, anything.
“The first thing we know,” cosmologist Cox said, “is that meaning is local. And the second is that meaning is temporary.”
“Local” for Cox is some planet-sized bit of our massive expanding universe.
“Temporary” suggests that whatever else “meaning” is, it’s always changing, evolving, adapting.
I mentioned this to Murray Cox, a much loved Bondi entity, a respected landscape gardener, and the Bard of Bondi, as we drove back to Bondi from Kings Cross last Sunday.
As far as I know, Murray is not a relative of Brian, but since Einstein, everything is relative, so let’s imagine they’re cousins.
Brian knows a lot about the universe; Murray knows a lot about plant life in Sydney, and because he lives in Bondi Beach, he especially knows Sydney’s coastal plants.
Coincidentally, Murray also knows Sydney’s coastal waters, because he’s swum along all of it, from Palm Beach, across the heads and down to Cronulla, including 50 kilometres of Harbour. (Not all in the one swim, though.)
Anyhow, driving into Bondi Junction, ever-thoughful Murray pointed over to a thriving but windswept cluster of bushes among the traffic islands: “I planted those,” he said, with justified pride.
A bit further along, he said the same thing about a dozen or so 15-meter-high she-oaks enjoying the grassy median strip at the entry to Syd Einfield Drive, aka the Bondi Junction By-Pass. “Casuarina cunninghamiana,” he explained.
“I picked that variety because I’d heard reports of them being used in Libyan oil fields to re-vegetate sand dunes.”
“Obviously a success”, he adds with a smile.
Channelling his cousin’s local/temporary mantra, Murray explains that Australia is by a long shot home to the world’s most diverse range of flora, because Australia’s plants have adapted over a long period to the tough conditions of many different specific places.
Gums learned to lose a branch or two when the going got tough, and other plants found out how to survive regular bushfires, some even requiring the heat of fire for their seeds to germinate.
The eucalyptus for example has adapted and diversified so much that there are more than 700 different types of Eucalyptus plants.
Because some of them grow vigorously to take advantage of water, because they know that the moisture may not last, thirsty fast-growing Australian eucalypts have today colonised wast swathes of the planet, from Los Angeles and France to Israel and China.
Early photos of Sydney show that land was well vegetated, and that even the very exposed coastal zones were able to nourish a stable and vibrant mix of flowering shrubs and bushes. The roots of the native grasses bound the large coastal sand-hills together.
The shelter of the harbour nurtured different plants with many localised variations, while swamps, billabongs, estuaries and lagoons provided the moisture for trees to live longer and grow bigger.
When land was subdivided for development, however, practically all this native vegetation was cleared.
Murray says that the wonderful green canopies of many Sydney suburbs are a direct result of massive plantings of native plants which started in the 1970s.
The 70s saw the start of exciting patriotic era for Australians, with films (Picnic at Hanging Rock, Newsfront, Mad Max &c), music (Sherbert, Skyhooks, INXS &c), and the arts generally (Patrick White’s Nobel Prize, Oz magazine, Germaine Greer &co). Not to mention Gough Whitlam.
“Starting in the 70s, if something was Australian, we loved it,” says Murray. “And if was native and green and had roots, we planted it, not always understanding the huge difference between native Australian and endemic, the specific local plants.”
Murray urges us to keep planting endemic species in our streets, parks and the diminishing private garden spaces, ideally from plants raised from local seed.
The value of any seed is entirely because it changes into something else, so a seed is a temporary thing.
Cox family Bingo: earth-gardening Murray and star-gazing Brian both singing the same cosmic choral about local and temporary.
You can contact Murray about landscape work at email@example.com