Reflecting in Fitzroy Gardens

“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

Previously, I would have never applied this concept to a local walk in Fitzroy Gardens in Melbourne – in normal times it’s a busy inner city park with incredibly beautiful trees, right next to my home. But in the age of COVID-19, it is a surreal empty place. A tree could have fallen on my daily walk, and I would have been the only person to see it.

My travel wings have been clipped but fortunately Fitzroy Gardens is on our doorstep. I’m appreciating the beauty and history of this garden with a new perspective. There’s no need to be bored, even if your travel wings are clipped. Interesting things are just around the corner.

Fitzroy Gardens is a great place for reflection as it has a long history dating back to the mid-1800s. It’s paths, buildings and trees chronicle the history of the city and its people. The gardens are almost deserted these days, as locals like me are the only people who have any reason to go there.

Right now, it’s surreal to think about the long history of this garden on the edge of the city, and how hundreds to thousands of people have enjoyed the peace and tranquility for such a long time: and now this has culminated in a time where the gardens are almost deserted. The gardens are over 160 years, with the past few days have probably seeing fewer people than the time since the gardens first opened. World Wars, multiple recessions and the Great Depression still meant that many Melburnians and visitors from interstate and overseas continued to enjoy this truly remarkable place. Alas, no more.

The gardens do have a quiet and awe inspiring beauty when you have the whole place to yourself. The trees here are historically significant, not only to Melbourne, but also to the world. When you walk around the gardens, it’s clear that it was designed during the height of the Victorian era, when Melbourne was in the middle of a gold rush boom. Paths and avenues were clearly designed with European ideals, with many European trees that that have disappeared from other parts of the world. Melbourne City Council retains a database on every tree. Long avenues of mature elm trees are a key feature of the gardens. They have been protected by Australia’s isolation and quarantine, as many trees were decimated by Dutch Elm disease in other parts of the world.

My recent walk past one of the main avenues of London Plane Trees made me reflect on a beautifully dressed couple who having wedding photos taken without loved ones. COVID-19’s sneaky ascension has no doubt ruined many treasured family moments, but hopefully everyone will be able to look back on this whole situation with a certain nostalgia and humour. Plane trees are also a major source of respiratory pain for many people when their seeds pop and travel in the wind.

Although the Victorian era elements of the garden dominate the landscape, the gardens also contain the trunk of Aboriginal scarred tree, carved from an ancient red river gum – a humble reminder of the countless generations who lived in this region prior to the arrival of European and the expansion of Melbourne.

There are also many large old native gums, pine trees and trees from China: most of the them are mature – constantly transforming with the ebbs and flows of Melbourne’s ever changing weather.

The gardens generally run from north to south down a narrow shallow valley with an intermittent waterway which would have flowed through a fern filled forest prior to European occupation of Australia. This central gully has been landscaped in a sympathetic memory of the indigenous habitat that was originally here. Visitors to the garden can follow intimate paths that meander down the gully, with lush ferns and other forest plants. Local birdlife thrives in this part of the garden, and there’s a great little coffee shop at the southern end of this pathway.

Later in the week, I’ll get around to uploading some old photos and information on Fitzroy Gardens, including the sculptures, buildings & stories that are an integral part of Melbourne’s history.

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