Wisteria Gardens is undoubtedly the best place on earth, at least for 2 months out of the twelve. It shows that the regenerative power of spring is real, in that regard it shows exactly what Mother Nature is capable of. It truly is the garden of paradise.
The rest of the year it is a place that is anything but spiritually uplifting. It is a part of Cumberland Hospital, even though plenty of supposedly sane people tramp through there every spring to the Flower Festival. That’s why my smartarse nickname for the place is Hysteria Gardens.
So, it’s a horrible place most of the time, filled with confined souls: the ghosts of the Female Factory convicts still shackled by their leg-irons, the modern inmates shackled by their diagnoses. Really, I have more of a problem with their treatment, than with them. My mother used to work for the mental health service; after hours, she had to put up with me on my soapbox, telling her, no you’re not really “helping” these people, you’re just putting a label on them and drugging them.
Another reason I find Parramatta depressing these days, is because of all the construction work there. Make that destruction – of so many places that were once landmarks in my life. That makes you feel like you are losing a part of yourself, smashed by the wrecking balls and huge machinery.
I’ll retire to Cumberland! No, I’m being as sardonic as old Scrooge was there.
One better remedy is this: to go for a walk. Particularly if you walk to the north part of Parramatta, where all the old Colonial buildings still stand, which gives off a lovely feeling. They were here long before I was born, here’s hoping they will still be here long after me.
Fuck, I mean forget, progress! I think I would like to live in a wattle and daub hut with a large Colonial verandah, wearing a long dress. Just as long as I could have the mod cons: a fridge, electric stove, flushing toilet, TV, computer and the internet. I’m not much of a pioneer, granted.
Perhaps the best part of Parramatta Park is the wide-open paddock, with the gums in the background. Just as it would have been from time immemorial, when this was the Burramattigal tribe’s space.
Then there is the Colonial aspect, that seems to overshadow everything to do with Parramatta Park, from the time you walk under the old Gatekeeper’s Cottage. A guide took my friend and I through here when we were kids; I was amazed by the old-fashioned stove, baking in summer, and parlour furniture. Keep walking past the memorial to Lady Fitzroy and her carriage accident, till you climb the hill to what was Governor Brisbane’s bathhouse, now just an ornate gazebo. In 1823 it must have been a wonder of modern engineering, piping the water up from the river.
As I approached the Old Government House, with its grapevine covered fence, I saw a retro-style carriage. How historic, like the steam train that used to run through this park. For a moment, I wondered if they were now offering horse-drawn tours – then I realised. While chatting to the driver, I asked him if there was a wedding on in Lachlan’s Restaurant? He confirmed to me that there was. It would be a beautiful antique backdrop for their special day, an historic occasion.
I walked on, down the track until I came to the old Colonial cottages, one with that classic wide verandah. The gardens around are well-maintained. I saw a man in the other one, whose verandah is enclosed by windows.
“You don’t live here?!”
He told me that, no, he was one of the caretakers. I would be able tour the places if I wanted to arrange it with the Park office. I joked with him about modern people being stuck without their mod cons, so different to their ancestors.
Finally, I arrived at the famous Wisteria Gardens, following the stone lined path into the gates. Spring had definitely returned here. The eponymous vines were growing over the old rusty Colonial fence, its arrow points impaling the sky. It was now a riot of purple.
The vernal air was filled with its lovely fragrance.
However at this time of year, the highlight is the peach blossoms, the most spectacular part of this old orchard. They were a rainbow of colours, sometimes even on the same tree. There were the white ones, pink ones and those in fancier hues.
They led into the garden in long avenues, lined by their astonishing beauty. On this beautiful spring day, people came to admire them, some bringing their children. All of them snapped photos on their smartphones.
As you continued walking, down beside the creek, there were the bluebells, poppies and daisies in the garden beds. Ornate white roses climbed over some fences, wisterias grew over others. In purple and white, they decorated the many trellises. The beauty of the peaches was accompanied by blooming crab-apples.
I spent hours here, in this enchanted place of magic. Not forever, but for two months only, this is an enchanted fairyland. I was mostly rapturous, but a little sad, knowing it must end soon and my snapped pictures the only thing left.
All in all, there was no better place to be, on a warm spring afternoon.
As I was leaving, the wedding party turned up. The bridesmaids wore deep purple dresses; the groomsmen were in matching bowties. The bride’s dress was nice enough, for a bridal magazine. I would have gone a lot more retro in style; Regency perhaps, or the more ornate Victorian wider skirt. It would be in keeping with the Old Government House wedding and the carriage.
“Congratulations!” I told them.
Now they were going to pose with the magnificent flowers as a backdrop. In Wisteria Gardens with the air fragrant with the eponymous vines. I couldn’t think of a better backdrop for the happy couple, the splendid peach blossoms framing the photographs of their big day.
Yet it made me sad in a way. That they would have to have John Howard and his hateful words there at their ceremony. Given the choice, I’m sure they wouldn’t have invited that along, for their Big Day.
HOW LONG? How many more times must the peach trees flower, while it must be like this? One day some other people’s dreams will be able come true. On that day, it will be a nice day for a white wedding – and that’s all I will say about those men’s shirts.
Having said that, let me say that I wish the bride and groom nothing except the very best. May their marriage, like the blooming peach trees, bear much fruit. May their love return every year, blooming as the peach blossoms. A perfect backdrop.
When the spring returns, I shall return to this enchanted place.