Seasonal Leaves (a garden accessory on Richmond Bridge), Australian culture and William Blake.

leaf walkers on richmond bridge london

Gosh these guys looked great walking up Richmond bridge this afternoon – each wearing a beautiful set of seasonal coloured plane leaves……these walkers were accessorised  (the picture is not a great one, sorry).

As an aussie living in the UK I am constantly in awe of the seasons – and I realise that most UK locals believe the weather patterns have changed – nevertheless the UK seasons are so much more distinct when compared to those in Melbourne, Australia.

In the UK the calendar makes sense …. I now ‘get’ the connection between secular/religous events.

I now ‘get’ all the celebratory affairs that are associated with bonfire night, halloween, christmas, new years eve – its partly about brightening the depths of winter.

Meanwhile in Australia all these events occur on some of the longest and hottest days of the year ….but we have superimposed all these cold wintery traditions with only marginal commentary on how stupid it all is.

Boulevard Lights at Christmas on a house in Australia

At 9pm 2 and 3 year old children are having tantrums while waiting for the sun to go down so they can finally see the xmas lights on the Boulevard in Ivanhoe …because that is what you do at Christmas - its tradition – but its a tradition that serves a purpose in relation to its environment - in the northern hemisphere .

And because there is no fruiting holly we make plastic holly……and our wreaths are all plastic………..my first experience of a real christmas wreath was not until I was in my early 30′s…….

Living in the UK has made me appreciate the colonial nature of Australian traditions and it has also made me realise that my entire schooling was based on the English landscape.

At school we learnt about villages and hamlets in geography. But Australians do not use these terms. You either live in a ‘town’ , ‘country’ , ‘suburbs’ or the ‘city’. My school had just picked up the latest UK education book without even thinking about its cultural appropriateness.

Furthermore I never had the correct visuals for all the songs and stories we learnt at school. I was using my Australian landscape to visualise English landscape descriptions. I never fully understood how different the two environments really were. Sure we saw pictures and so on – but it is never the same as going to another country.

Thankfully I finally ‘got’ the imagery that was trying to be conveyed by the song ‘Jerusalam’ (based on William Blake’s poem) when I was 34 and at my cousin’s wedding in a little village church near Stonehenge. My whole schooling made sense at the particular moment we sang  ‘….in England’s green and pleasant land’. And I was 34 and had already been to Europe in my twenties!

But I must admit we did learn about the artists that began to paint the true Australia landscape in our Art classes. Prior to the 1800s Australian painters represented the landscape with the colours and forms found in England (dark rich greens and big oak trees). But then came Glover (c1820s) and the Heidelberg School Artists (eg Streeton, Mc Cubbin, Tom Roberts) (c1900s) who finally represented Australia with its bleached colours. The trees also started to like Eucalypts rather than Oaks.

Australian landscape all bleached

Except for the art department every other bit of our school was stuck in the 1770′s . Oh dear that is rather embarrassing – but mainstream culture is always behind major art movements – but 200 years? Of course its not all black and white.  But I feel quite confident in saying that my education was severed from its ‘real’ landscape. If you are interested in landscape and Australian Culture check out this series .

Layering of cultures makes for interesting living – but all a bit confusing when you are a young and have a different concept of the term ‘season’ and ‘landscape’ from your reference materials. It would have helped if maybe one teacher pointed out the all the songs and poems and text etc we read had nothing to do with Australia – or maybe they did and I was not listening.

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  • jay

    As a fellow aussie also living in Europe – I know what you mean! The bit about the plastic holly made me laugh – And it’s only here that I finally understood why our christmas trees have snow on them! But it’s also made me think about how strong cultural attachments can be – so that in Australia we still celebrate the midwinter festival – it’s just that we take our plastic snow covered fir trees with us to the beach and play cricket. I don’t know, it’s somehow cool, too.