Last weekend we drove two hours inland to visit the Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers with my great aunt and uncle. It is a fairly small town, quite charming. It’s the “big town” for a lot of the nearby agricultural areas. There are lovely public parks. The town residents take their gardening very seriously, probably encouraged by the garden competition every year for the Carnival. We were lucky enough to stay in the home of some out-of-town family. They have a magnificent view of the surrounding country, perfect for enjoying with a cup of coffee in the morning. Upon arriving, Reva and I cooked a vegetarian meal for Ross and Wilma, which is a pretty novel idea for them: they grew up in southeast Queensland and enjoy their diet of meat and two vegetables. We enjoyed some lively conversation ranging from Tait family history to Australian World War II history to the ecology of Australia.
A number of friends and family recommended the Carnival of Flowers. The whole city cleans up, and the champion gardens are posted in the newspaper to set up your itinerary. We visited the champion gardens of the acreage garden category and the non-annuals category. We had our first Crocodile Dundee encounter! Most Australians we have met thus far are perfectly normal with only a few lingual oddities, but this gardener was an outback Aussie caricature. A self-made millionaire who could neither read nor write, he had risen to fame and fortune by sheer hard work. For example, for this year’s competition he planted nearly 25,000 annuals! By himself! And he’s 70! He had also constructed a prominent water feature with the name “Viagra Falls,” presumably in reference to the rock formation which has been around for much longer than four hours. Perhaps not to everyone’s gardening tastes, but you had to give the guy credit. The second garden we visited consisted of only Australian natives. It could not have been more different from the first garden we visited. In place of pansies and violas, kangaroo paw and grevillea surrounded us. As knowledgeable plant people, Ross and Wilma could identify almost all of the plants we saw. I walked around like a sponge trying to soak it all in, but very few botanical names of Australian plants have actually stuck.
Picnic Point is the highest point in the area. From its peak, we could see great views of Tabletop Mountain, a sacred place to the Aborigines. From there we visited two public parks, ending up at Queen’s Park with some fantastic annual display beds. The parade was long: a few bands, a few bagpipe bands, a Star Wars marching band, lots of cheerleaders, a Hari Krishna float, a Chinese New Year dragon, and some clowns. The parade was the end of quite a long Saturday.
Ross and Wilma have spent almost all of their lives in this area of Queensland and had a functioning farm up until recently. As such, they are uniquely suited to give farm tours. Sunday morning, we drove through some hilly country before we landed in a perfectly flat area, with mirage to be seen all around. This was the Darling Downs, some of the richest agricultural land in Australia. The topsoil there is very deep, and because of how much it can crack and shift with changes in moisture, almost no trees can survive there. Home owners have to raise up different corners of their houses periodically in order to stay level over time. We pulled off of the road to check out this beautiful soil and look at the chickpeas and barley that were growing in the different fields. Ross and Wilma commented on how straight the rows are now that the tractors have GPS units on them.
An interesting thing happened out on that land for me. With Ross and Wilma so deeply rooted in that area, and all of the family stories they were telling, I could feel myself in the perfect place and the perfect time. This is part of my ancestral history, and that land really speaks to me on a deep level. I think we’ll save a more in-depth post about ancestors for later, but I really am grateful to be connecting with my ancestry at the beginning of such a big trip. “Big” as in transformational, since that’s why we’re here. We enjoyed our trip through the farmlands, seeing the buildings built by Wilma’s grandfather and the old Tait properties. It’s so nice to have elders in this place to help ground us as we travel in lands new and old.