Thursday, August 22, 2013

Crusaders, crackpots and cacti

Beware of the pricks
Not long ago I spoke to the Friends of the Royal Melbourne Botanic Gardens (RBG) about Philosophy in the Garden. They were a very welcoming crowd, but there was a touch of sadness to the evening: this was after the nasty vandalism of the arid garden.

The most obvious question was: why? Why attack plants?

In her excellent Age feature today, Gina McColl has written more about the crimes and its antecedents. She has also included some interesting speculation: is there something about gardens in general, and this garden in particular, that made them a target? She quotes RBG director Tim Entwisle, alongside Jeff Sparrow and me. A sample:
In the absence of high-tech security, the RBG's low level of crime, which Entwisle describes as ''surprising and consoling'', is striking. Staff think it indicates the widespread affection and esteem in which the garden is held. And, while Entwisle is reviewing security, this esteem may offer better long-term protection than the extra lighting, surveillance and perimeter fencing under consideration. 
It's a sentiment Sparrow shares. ''When I was most recently there I was struck by what a different sensibility the 19th century had about these sort of public places, this idea of a massive, cultivated space that is just free to the public. How anomalous it is compared to contemporary equivalents, something like Crown casino.'' 
But this esteem is also why the attacks have been so distressing to the garden's staff and friends. Destroying a garden, or its plants, is more than a political gesture, Young says, ''and it can be more gutting than a broken museum piece. 
''It is to attack the living expression of someone's view of themselves and the world, and the ties between the two. If you can't physically assault your enemies, you can savage the fragile symbol of their existence.''
(Photo: Fairfax/Paul Jeffers)

No comments: