Goldfields God talk Acacia erinacea

From the Goldfields


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The Revd Dr Elizabeth J Smith AM, Mission Priest, Parish of The Goldfields

I imagine wattle trees blooming in the winter months, or in early spring, like patches of golden sunshine on damp, grey days. So this Goldfields wattle, which produces its yellow baubles in the heat of summer, always has me shaking my head in amazement. What plant in its right mind would flower now, when the days are long and the sun is hot? Yet Acacia erinacea, “Tjirrul” in the local Aboriginal language, goes right ahead and produces its blossom at a time of year when all the other plants are shutting down to avoid the heat.

Tjirrul is tough. It doesn’t grow tall, or bushy, or symmetrical. It has more stems than leaves, and much of its sparse new growth is ruby-red, rather than fresh green. Its branches are crooked and very spiny. Its many thorns far outnumber its golden pom-poms. Tjirrul uses every strategy to save water, avoid predators, and survive long enough to set seed for the next generation. In a well-watered garden, it would soon be overshadowed by lusher, leafier shrubs. But out in the red dirt landscape, Tjirrul flaunts its summer bling boldly.

I worked for thirteen years in a suburban parish in Melbourne, where market gardens used to grow food for the population before subdivisions in the 1950s saw homes built on quarter-acre blocks. Most had a magnolia in the front yard, a lemon tree in the back yard, and lots of ornamental plantings all around. In this context, we delighted to think of our parish as “God’s garden.” We framed our mission as tending that garden: planting, weeding, watering, mulching, landscaping for beauty and for fruitfulness.

Now, though, the religious landscape has changed. There are fewer of us Christians than there used to be, relative to the rest of the population. We no longer have gardening rights or privileges over the whole of society. I am living in a time when as a Christian I may need to be more like Tjirrul, and less like one of the English country garden plants of the colonised, subdivided, spiritual landscape. Tjirrul grows confidently in what may look to suburban eyes like a desert. But for the First Peoples of the Goldfields, and for botanists today, Tjirrul has its place in a rich, complex, abundant ecosystem.

If I am like this wattle, I will grab people’s attention by any means I can. An out-of-season burst of Christ-colour may do it. Perhaps a sharp or scratchy spiritual counterpoint to comfortable secular culture will be called for. I will focus my limited energy and resources with strategic care, not dissipating it all in showy growth or fancy programmes. Rather, I will be determined to set at least some hard-won seeds, providing for a few next-generation of followers of Jesus.

I don’t want to be ornamental or spectacular in the religious landscape of my time. I am willing to be like Tjirrul: hardy, tough, adapted to context; often sharply counter-cultural; always boldly distinct in my love and loyalty.

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