When is Australia going to stop being young? I may have miscounted but, as far as I can see, of the 193 independent nations states listed in the CIA World Factbook, no fewer than 143 are younger than us. Even if you allow that many of these have ancient political cultures – the date of foundation is just the date when they happened to win their independence from whatever foreign power was running them last – the fact is that Australia is no longer a stripling among nations.
George Seddon, that great polymath, holds to the view that Australia is new in its politics but ancient in its geology (a telling comparison: for his mother, Britain was ‘the old country’, but the British ice age was a mere million years ago, while Australia’s is two hundred million years in the past).
This is the work of an environmentalist, but it’s also the work of a gardener, his sensitivity to landscape honed by years of practical work. What, he asks, should we be planting? Is it utterly wrong to plant exotics – roses, daffodils, whatever – and what about going the Mediterranean way and trying to recreate Italy in the Adelaide Hills?
Seddon approaches the issues with an admirable lack of dogmatism. He refuses to be romantic about Aboriginal custodianship of the land – was burning such a good idea? – and, though he favours the use of indigenous plants, he is not averse to the occasional exotic, and points out that, in any case, there really isn’t such a thing as an Australian plant. (Australia is a continent: a Victorian plant can be as foreign to West Australia as anything from Europe.)
This is a wonderful book, beautifully written and beautifully produced, and the author is an ornament to the universities of Melbourne and Western Australia and to his country.
There is nowhere quite like The Monthly. We are told that we live in a time of diminished attention spans; a time where the 24-hour-news-cycle has produced a collective desire for hot takes and brief summaries of the news and ideas that effect us. But we don’t believe it. The need for considered, reflective, long-form journalism has never been greater, and for almost 20 years, that’s what The Monthly has offered, from some of our finest writers.
That kind of quality writing costs money, and requires the support of our readers. Your subscription to The Monthly allows us to be the home for the best, most considered, most substantial perspectives on the state of the world. It’s Australia’s only current affairs magazine, an indispensable home for cultural commentary, criticism and reviews, and home to personal and reflective essays that celebrate and elevate our humanity.
The Monthly doesn’t just comment on our culture, our society and our politics: it shapes it. And your subscription makes you part of that.
Select your digital subscription