Culture //

A botanical expose

The university has three emergency jacarandas, reveals Ed McMahon.

Campus aesthetics are an important concern for management; it’s a key selling point for the neoliberal university. Putting aside for one moment its investments in ecocidal companies, this reporter has decided to indulge their particular fascination with campus flora.

The go-to tree for the Marketing Department and campus tourists alike is the famous jacaranda in the south-west corner of the Quadrangle. This particular tree is so valued by management that it maintains three “emergency” Jacarandas.

When asked about the contingency, Senate fellows and senior administrators approached by Honi were especially tight-lipped. Two sources confirmed the existence of the emergency trees, and one suggested that they were kept off-site. It would seem that the information is otherwise designated “top secret”, which begs the question: what else are they hiding?

History helps to explain the paranoia. The first Jacaranda was planted in 1927 by professor of German, E. G. Waterhouse. It is generally accepted that students uprooted it for reasons unknown. Another was planted. It was again uprooted. The process repeated itself until Waterhouse, no doubt extremely miffed, planted one that was too large to be removed with human hands.

Or so he thought. On Tuesday 12 July 1938, the Barrier Miner reported a motion passed by the University Evening Students’ Association condemning the vandalous removal of the tree. “The joke” read the motion “if ever there was one, has long since lost its point.”

The tree appears as one of nearly 2000 listed by the City of Sydney as being of historical or environmental significance. Many of these trees have been behaving rather absurdly lately. Last year, the jacaranda itself flowered unseasonably early. Perhaps the time is coming when management will have to decide between its investments in fossil fuels and its jacaranda.

Of course, it’s not all about the jacaranda. In 2012 alone, Campus Infrastructure Services oversaw the planting of over 4000 new campus plants. This year, it oversaw the removal of several Sydney red gums (Angophora costata) on Eastern Avenue. Despite controversy, it may have been for the best.

After all, the species has earned the nickname “widowmaker” as a consequence of its propensity to suddenly drop enormous branches, whether or not someone stands beneath. It is unclear why previous decision-makers ignored this fact. The new trees, Australian teak (Flindersia australis), will be enormous at maturity. It is understood that they will obscure the horrors of Carslaw and the Chemistry Building, as well as reduce glare on Eastern Avenue. One anonymous source informed Honi that this glare is a major OH&S concern for management, and was the reason for the recent restrictions placed on vehicular traffic on the Avenue during the day.

So it would seem that our university is embroiled in a web of botanical intrigue that is so finely weaved that we may never untangle it. We may have only just scratched the surface, but it is for us to connect the dots as best we can.

Image: Lane Sainty