The Golden Hour
September 1st is the first day of spring. It is also “National Wattle Day”. Wattle is the first native tree to bloom after the depths of winter, producing a mass of fragrant, bright, fluffy, golden blossom. The wattle tree grows in the wettest and driest parts of our continent, surviving bushfires and floods, and is a constant in the Australian landscape. Sprigs of wattle have found their way into Australian mythology and is recognised as a symbol of Australia and unity. Fallen diggers (Aussie soldiers) were often buried with a sprig of wattle and it is often worn at memorial ceremonies by Australian dignitaries. Our national colours, green and gold, are inspired by Australia’s Wattle. The flower is also the background feature to the Australian Coat of Arms, it is embedded in the artwork of our $10 note, military medals and features regularly in Australian children stories including “The gumnut babies; Snuggle pot & Cuddle pie”.
Botanically called Acacia, there are about 1000 varieties of wattle. At Meredith Dairy we grow Golden Wattle (Acacia pycnantha), Cootamundra (Acacia baileyana), Flinders Rangers wattle (Acacia iteaphylla), Ovens (Acacia pravissima), Silver wattle (Acacia dealbata), Black wattle (Acacia mearnsii), Gossamer wattle (Acacia floribunda), among others. The nectar from the wattle attracts insects and birds, thornbills, honeyeaters, silvereyes, wrens etc. Sugar gliders and possums eat the gum which extrudes from the trunk and reptiles search under the bark for food. Aboriginals used wattle as a source of food, medicine and to make tools and weapons. The Bundjalung people identified the falling of wattle blossoms as a signal that it was the breeding season of the Long Necked Turtle, whilst the Wurundjeri tribe would see the falling of the Wattle flowers as a signal that it was time to hunt eels. Wattle tree timber was favoured as a fuel for steam engines during the gold rush, and the resin was used for tanning skins.
Today Wattle seed is sold commercially as a coffee substitute, a flavouring for baked goods, ice cream, chocolates, desserts, sauces and risottos. The golden sprigs of wattle are now recognised as a much loved true symbol of Australia. In 1999 our Governor General, Sir William Dean, dropped sprigs of wattle into the Saxeton River in Switzerland during a memorial service for 14 Australians killed in a Canyoning expedition, and in 2014, our Prime Minister John Howard, wore sprigs of wattle during ceremonies following the Bali Bombings.
So, while the golden blooms of wattle glow, heralding the coming of spring, we should remember that the wattle is a uniquely Australian icon, food for our native animals, a tree of many wonder, a symbol of our land that unites us all.