It was 1966 and Canberra welcomed spring with a crisp, white frost and the flowering of wattle. My mate, Wayne Hooper, and I picked a couple of sprigs as we crunched across the park from the Ainslie bus stop to the Public Service Board. With wattle in hand, we came out with these words:
The great Australian wattle
Is the symbol of our land
You can put it in a bottle
Or hold it in your hand
They came flashing back to me after so many years when I studied the press release this week of that great wordsmith, Peter Garrett, leading celebrations marking the 21st anniversary of the declaration of the golden wattle as Australia’s official national flower. It must have been a moving event at the National Botanic Gardens as the Environment Minister waxed lyrical about the wattle long being valued by indigenous Australians and being part of Australia’s identity ever since Sydney first declared Wattle Day on the first day of spring in 1901. I mean, consider the historical significance of the floral emblem as explained by the Minister:
After Prime Minister Andrew Fisher incorporated the wattle into our coat of arms, it soon became a symbol of remembrance with Australian mothers sending small sprigs to their sons serving overseas in World War 1 to remind them of home.
It has been a poignant symbol of loss and respect at ceremonies mourning the young Australians who died in the Swiss canyon disaster and later, the victims of the Bali bombing.
The wattle features on our highest national award, the Order of Australia, and the green and gold have been our official national colours since 1984.
It is said that a wattle was the first plant to bloom in Hiroshima after the atomic bomb was detonated in 1945. To mark National Wattle Day, Hiroshima’s Acacia Appreciation Society sends the gardens hundreds of yellow ribbons as a gesture of friendship. Visitors are encouraged to take ribbons home and attach them to their favourite trees.
I know the international popularity of the wattle from personal experience because a young man once came into one of my liquor stores with my own little ditty emblazoned on his T shirt although he looked a little puzzled when I told him I had written the words. He reckoned he got his shirt in London where the wattle in a bottle was made famous by some television program with John Cleese in it.
I suppose plagiarism does bestow a kind of fame. I mean, I’d be really flattered if our own Dog on the Moon fellow put a version on one of his famous for sale T-shirts and he can keep the royalties.