As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve been thinking about traditions as they are manifest outside of Europe. Rosemas, also Roodmas and more commonly, Beltane, is a week away here in the Southern Hemisphere, and I am currently collecting and preparing for that festival.
I recognized that there is something both easier and more difficult about incorporating the land here in Hobart than there is in Sydney. The east coast of the mainland is vastly more ‘home’ to me, much more familiar, whereas the climate in Hobart is more closely related to that of European seasonal practices and festivals. While Sydney is already hot and wet, Hobart is only just starting to enjoy proper warm days. I also note that where there are far fewer Jacarandas (native to Central & South America) to announce the warmer months, Hobart and it’s surrounds are more complete with European plants; poplars, oaks, birch and especially hawthorns, are abundant.
Those in the New World in North America are sort of blessed in the sense that many native plants are also found in Europe, or are related, not just by family, but by genus and even in some cases species. I have touched on Eucalyptus already, but here in Australia, it’s not just a new world, it’s another world and finding equivalence is almost a fool’s errand.
How does one fully fuse together land and tradition in Australia?
It’s a good question, because we are equally concerned with honouring Land as our Ancestors did, as we are in keeping traditions of the Land that our Ancestors did. It is clear to me that the first wisdom of my Ancestors is one that motivates me to look at the land beneath my feet and recognize it as Sacred, in it’s own right. Once I do that, I can see that ‘fusion’ has already occurred in no small way.
All over the major cities and regional centers of Australia, European Settlers made their presence known and began altering the land with imported species. These specimens, beyond a link to our European heritage, is also a link to our collective Australian heritage. And as we move through history, Australia is now a place that encompasses many more kinds of lineage and ancestry, and there are links to lands as diverse as the middle east, India, and Asia, North and South America and Africa. We’ve adapted many kinds of agriculture like viticulture, so successfully, they have become ‘distinctly’ Australian in variety. Like us, imports, now completely normalized on the Continent and partaking of that environment in ways that create a hybrid or syncretic expereince. How we relate to them is more complex, if I think about Oak in Australia, it is not a tree of the ‘wild wood’, it is a tree of ‘civilization’, settlement, civil authority and domesticity, the strong arm of British Imperialism. And it appears in city centers, botanical gardens, and lines roads and streets, some of which in Hobart and Sydney are quite old, and harken back to the earliest established European ‘estates’. In Tasmania, the maintenance of colonial hedgerows has become of special significance, since many species are now also threatened in their indigenous European landscapes.
This European flora is no longer ‘foreign’, but part of the living fabric of our heritage, and have been here for longer than many people, certainly, for longer than my family has called Australia home. But what makes it sacred has changed, they are here something different to what they have been in Britain. If trees are words written on the parchment of land, then the words these trees write on this Australian page are telling a different story. Or perhaps a new chapter in an very old story.
But as someone concerned with conserving the Australian natural environment, Native plants are in some ways more sacred. Which poses a whole other set of problems.
Take for example the Huon Pine. I can completely appreciate the qualities of this tree that saw it logged to within an inch of existence. And now that is found in such a small space, so hard to find, it is even more sacred. One is not wandering off to harvest or gather any part of it for a festival fire any time soon. Shavings of it can be bought from artisans who are licensed to collect the wood. The same can be said of other trees of cultural and environmental import here in Tasmania, like the Leatherwood, and the King Billy Pine. Species like these make maintaining traditions completely seem even more viable since incorporating the native sacred is just simply, not an option, or an extremely limited one.
Being creative is certainly something worth embracing. Because in terms of both European and native, it can be nearly impossible to collect them, illegal in some cases, or we fail to understand that common does not mean they are not sacred. Fortunately we are able to grow many, and purchase some, like in the case of the Huon Pine. Though quite often not enough can be gathered together to actually make a fire.
I’ve encountered quite a few people who have adapted native species into a combination or even completely replaced the Nine Sacred Woods, particularly in North America, but have not encountered anything yet in Australia. But since the Anderean coven has been doing this a few years now, I assume people must be giving it a red hot go. Below is a list that I’ve considered viable alternatives to the European Nine. I’d certainly love to hear from anyone with any other suggestions, particular as relate to their specific environments across Australia.
European Tasmanian and/or Australian
Birch She Oak, Lemon Myrtle
Oak Tasmanian Blue Gum, Swamp Gum (or any broad leaf species)
Hazel Blackheart Sassafras, Silver Wattle (or any wattle perhaps)
Rowan Tea Tree / Paperbark
Hawthorn Leatherwood, Banksia
Willow King Billy Pine
Fir Huon Pine
Apple Native Cherry, Quondong
Vine Mountain Pepper, Love Creeper
These are just ideas. And they are not an ‘exact match’, nor are they intended to be. It’s worth noting that Tasmania is the Apple Isle, and has an abundance of vineyards, hawthorn hedgerows and willow, birch, and oak. There are several native ‘pines’ including the Bunya Bunya and Hoop of Queensland. None of which are true pines, but like the fir, are conifers, and very ancient. Many other types of conifers have become very much part of the landscape in Australia, like the Norfolk Island Pines in Sydney and the Radiata from California, both of which are living parts of our cultural heritage. Radiata Pine is a favourite of the Sulfur Crested and Black Cockatoos, and since it grows wild after being introduced for plantation timber, finds itself amongst our 9 every year.
It may not be viable to create an entire fire from what we have access to, but it occurs to me that one way to keep to the traditions of the Nine Sacred Woods of the Rosemas Fire would be to create twin incenses to bless the fire, with Nine for the Ancestral Land, and one with Nine for the Native Land. In a sense, we have access to the best of both worlds, and the more measured we have to be in using them, the more we are forced to appreciate their sacredness.