To celebrate Anzac Day I want to share one of my favourite articles of the last six years, written back in April 2008. It’s a favourite for a few reasons, not the least of which is that it made my Mum cry. The article must have hit some right notes, so I hope you enjoy reading it and take a moment to remember the importance of service, and and to hope for peace.
Lest We Forget.
“There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance”
- Ophelia to Laertes in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Act IV Scene 5
It’s Anzac Day this Friday. At one point in my life this would have meant nothing. I was once a surly teenager who vehemently opposed war and believed that those who were silly enough to fight in them were fools. Thankfully, time moderates harsh views. As I’ve grown older and had kids of my own, I’ve come to regret those earlier beliefs and now deeply appreciate the sacrifice made by those who served and died on my behalf.
My chest will be beating hard on the 25th, as will the chests of Diggers across the country as they march and lay wreaths, as they play two-up and shed a tear at the sounding of the Last Post. On those chests you’ll see sprigs of rosemary pinned alongside medals of honour.
Rosmarinus officinalis is an ancient symbol of remembrance. The Greeks believed that the plant stimulated the memory and at funerals, mourners would throw sprigs of rosemary into the grave as a memorial for the dead. Its significance to Anzac Day is simple: The shrub grows wild on the Gallipoli Peninsula. Diggers recall the pungent scent as they scrambled up the hills at Anzac Cove under a hail of Turkish machine gun fire, and for some, it became a scent that haunted them upon return to Australia.
One wounded Digger repatriated to Adelaide hospital in 1915 brought some rosemary home with him from Gallipoli and planted it. The rosemary grew and cuttings were taken to create new plants for a memorial hedge. This hedge now resides in the Waite Arboretum in South Australia, and on Anzac Day you can purchase plants propagated from the original “Gallipoli Rosemary”.
It’s a good idea. To me, plants are an ideal memorial, a powerful symbol of life and hope. Unlike an impersonal stone monument, they are living organisms that grow and fruit and respond dynamically to the seasons. This was never more true than in Australia 80 years ago.
During the Great War the fledgling nation was a very different place and nearly everyone was related to, or knew a soldier that died during the conflict. As a consequence the war was personal. Avenues of Honour were eagerly embraced as a way to commemorate the men and women who died during WWI and were established all over the country. The oldest is in Ballarat, running for 22km and containing 3912 individual trees, planted in memory of a fallen soldier.
Another good example is Heroes Avenue in Roma, which was planted in 1920 with 93 Queensland Bottle Trees, Brachychiton rupestris. What few non-locals realise though is that planted behind the cenotaph in the town’s Queen’s Park is a semi-circle of nine pine trees. According to local tradition, these pines were grown from seed collected at Lone Pine on the Gallipoli Peninsula.
The original Lone Pine was the sole remnant of a group of pines cut down by Turkish soldiers to cover their trenches. The tree was obliterated during the battle. However a couple of horticulutrally-minded Diggers collected pine cones from the fallen branches and planted the seeds on their return to Australia. The pines were subsequently found to be the Turkish Pine, Pinus brutia, and the species has since been planted all over Australia in remembrance of the ANZAC’s. The solitary tree at the Lone Pine Cemetery in Gallipoli is a Stone Pine, Pinus pinea, planted in 1920.
Of the gardens I’ve visited, my favourites are those that beautifully reflect the personality and experience of their owners. Forget about exterior decorating. The best gardens are intensely personal. They are filled with significant plants and are imbued with symbols and concepts that convey deeper meaning. This is what I’m aiming for in my own garden, and I’d encourage you to do the same.
With that in mind, I reckon it would be a great idea to spend at least part of Anzac Day creating a living memorial in the backyard. It might be as simple as a rosemary hedge or as elaborate as an avenue of Turkish Pines. You might plant something specifically in memory of a relative or a friend that died while at war. Or, you might do as I do, and plant an area dedicated both to remembering, and to peace. For while we remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, the enduring legacy of Anzac Day is one of humanity, the folly of war and the hope that one day, all conflicts will cease.
Published in The Toowoomba Chronicle, 19 April 2008.