In any ordinary week, the Australian War Memorial has six Australian flags flying out the front, three on each side of the steps. So, as I drove up Anzac Avenue this morning I was surprised to see this trio of French flags flying on one side, a week after the attacks on Paris. I stopped to snap a few photos. (Try not to pay attention to Mephisto, the rarest tank in the world.)
Mangroves are sometimes seen as muddy swamps infested with mosquitoes and crocodiles. Removing mangroves was once seen as a sign of progress. So, what is the point of preserving them?
For a start, an estimated 75% of fish caught in Queensland spend some time in mangroves or depend on food chains that can be traced back to these coastal forests. (Source: http://wetlandinfo.ehp.qld.gov.au/wetlands/ecology/components/flora/mangroves/)
Australia has 11,500 kilometres of mangroves and nearly half of them are in Queensland. I’m presently on a bit of the Queensland coast where mangroves have been growing for millions of years in the protected coastal area of Moreton Bay. Mangroves were maligned when I was a child. They were muddy insect-infested smelly swamps, and those who lived close by had the poor-man’s water view.
Mangroves were filled in, built on or turned into a boat harbour. On the Lota foreshore in Brisbane, there is a long stretch of mangroves which comes to a sudden artificial halt where a marina has been built. The mangrove trees are still trying to grow at its edge, but I sensed an ecological loss when my walking path brought me to this dry bit of beach at the beginning of the harbour. If I were a boat enthusiast I’d probably feel different.
For some, mangroves are a Stygian swamp; for others they represent regenerative, indispensable, biological diversity. Mangrove plants can grow in salty water and thrive despite the tide flooding their roots and trunks twice a day. They stabilise the shoreline and protect it from wave and storm damage. The mangroves in Moreton Bay that have been spared have a unique beauty I’ve lately been discovering. On the other side of the stone wall forming the marina boundary, the foreshore looks like this:
If you walk slowly beside the mangrove forest, you discover creatures and plants that coexist in peace, if left alone. The light plays on the water in the afternoon as the tide comes in, and the low twisty branches intertwine and mingle like family. You might catch a heron stalking through the mud, or see a spider suspended in mid-air in its invisible web, or spot a duck in a tree hole.
Some mangrove plants have above-ground root systems, like the stilt roots growing out from the main trunk and down into the mud that stop it from being uprooted, or aerial roots, pneumatophores, that grow up from under the saturated, airless mud.
The mangrove experience is different at high tide and low tide, as you can see in the photos above, and I recommend both. These days the Queensland mangroves are protected by law, and now that their benefits are more widely known, there are Mangrove-Watch groups and a number of boardwalks for locals and tourists to enjoy. If you live near a tropical coastline, check out your local mangroves, stand and look, really look, at the roots, the thick mud, the land and sea creatures that exist because of this unique environment.
There are times when a gallery visit can be dull, and others that are unforgettable. When I walked into this room of old Australian art, I experienced a moment of consternation as the walls leapt out from behind the turn-of-the-century artworks. All four walls were painted in a red and black chevron pattern, clashing with the soft colours of portraits and landscapes in frames of ornate gold and timber. The intent was to shock, and it did. The pattern is a reference to the Wiradjuri people of Australia who paint chevrons on their skin and on trees. The installation artist is Brook Andrew.
I was disturbed by the clash of loud and soft. But on this Monday morning there was something even more disturbing in the room. On one of the viewing seats was an obese boy who had fallen into a deep sleep. His carers were trying to wake him, calling his name and shaking him. The gallery guard came to help with a louder voice, keen to move him along. She called for her colleague to bring an ice pack, which was laid on his shoulders and neck. He didn’t wake.
They phoned his mother, put it on speaker, put the phone near his face, all to no effect. The guard sent the carers off ‘to have lunch’, trying to trick him into feeling left behind. No reaction. He was now sliding off his chair, an ordinary chair, not a sofa, not even a soft chair. Just a gallery chair, hip but hard. The guards pushed him back onto it, talking to him all the while. Nothing. One guard said to the other, “We haven’t had this before,” and laughed as gravity pulled the boy down again.
The carers had not gone to lunch but were hiding from the boy in the next room. They peeked round the corner and saw that he hadn’t woken. The guards warned the sleeping boy that he would have to go home in the back of an ambulance. His hand twitched, and the guards and carers persisted with the cold pack, calling, rubbing and tugging.
Forty minutes later: they stood him up but his eyes were still closed. As I left the room, relieved, they were following me out, the carers guiding him, one each side as he walked blindly. His huge black t-shirt was too long, hanging down past his shorts, revealing only his heavy shuffling legs. They were taking him home to bed, they said.
I returned to look more closely at the artworks, to try to understand why the walls were screaming in red and black. But I could think of nothing but the boy, who must have been heavily medicated. Those chevrons are emblazoned in my memory, but the boy whose eyes never opened will not remember them.