According to Frances Bodkin, a botanist and gardener who is a descendent of the Dharawal people, no effort to build a greener future is complete without acknowledging Sydney’s Indigenous past. She explains that the ghostly eucalyptus trees of the city’s coastal bushland were intrinsic to Aboriginal health, as their vapour repelled virus-carrying mosquitoes.
“It’s not just about an island of green – it’s about planning a precinct that people can access. I think this is fundamental to a healthy society.”
Today, Bodkin is preserving Indigenous botanical traditions for a new generation at Waraburra Nura, a public garden on a north-facing balcony at the University of Technology’s main tower. Here, native species like waratah, a sculptural flower with deep-red petals; Dianella revoluta, small purple blooms which bear edible, ink-blue berries; and multiple species of eucalyptus – including Eucalyptus parramattensis, a popular Indigenous antiseptic – flourish together in the warm afternoon sun.
If you follow the curve of Darling Harbour, past the Goods Line, you’ll arrive at Barangaroo Reserve – another seedbed for Indigenous flora. This six-hectare park, which opened in 2015, is named for Barangaroo, a powerful Aboriginal fisherwoman who lived in the area in the 18th century. Here, visitors sit on sandstone rocks and dip their toes in the water, or recline in the sun on an elevated outcrop called Stargazer Lawn. Across the site, nearly 75,000 native trees and shrubs – including water gum and gymea lily, a spiky plant with dramatic, flame-like flowers – transport visitors to pre-settlement Sydney.
For Georgina Reid, a landscape designer and the editor of online publication The Planthunter, Barangaroo Reserve owes its beauty to the way it preserves the craggy lines of Sydney Harbour, bookended by sandstone cliffs that jut out of the water. “The Harbour is so overwhelmingly beautiful but I’m drawn to the edges, the sandstone cliffs that still exist as they did tens of thousands of years ago, those half-tended vacant lots full of wild things,” says Reid, a note of wistfulness creeping into her voice.
Indeed, any move to invest in Sydney’s green infrastructure must consider the past and the present, tempering convenience with respect for the original landscape. After all, it’s the untamed, unkempt pockets of nature that define the city’s natural charms – and with sensitive redevelopment, this wild, ancient beauty can endure for centuries to come.
– PHOTOGRAPHY BY JONATHAN CAMI
This article was originally published in the September 2018 issue of SilverKris magazine.