Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Australian Backyard Gardens and the Journey of Migration*

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Australian Backyard Gardens and the Journey of Migration*

Article excerpt

Most Australian gardens are both product and expression of immigrant experience. Although numerous records of Aboriginal gardening practices exist (Jones 1975; Hallam 1989), the gardens of the European colonizers wrought a different scale and intensity of landscape transformation. To analyze gardens, then, is to increase our understanding of the immigrants' complex and ongoing "coming to terms" with the Australian environment (Powell 1976; Bonyhady 2000). These issues have been explored in relation to Australian public and private garden spaces at various scales (Crittenden 1979; Seddon 1987; Baskin and Dixon 1996; Whitehead 2001). Much of the discussion has focused on gardens and the associated horticultural industries as conduits for the introduction and exchange of many thousands of plant species between Australia and other parts of the colonial world (Fox 2004).

Migration is a continuing feature of Australian life, but the source countries over the past fifty years have been much more diverse than were the dominantly Anglo-Celtic origins of the colonial period. That diversity has transformed the social and physical landscapes of cities like Sydney, where, in the 2001 census, 31.2 percent of the people were born overseas and 33.5 percent spoke a language other than English at home (ABS 2002). The backgrounds from which people come to terms with the Australian environment now span the globe.

Our current research analyzes backyard gardens as places where key environmental engagements occur for that majority of Australians who live in cities and suburbs (Head and Muir 2004). Although backyards are usually well defined spatially, and valued by their owners as havens of privacy and freedom, we have found it useful to think of them also as membranes around webs of connectivity that extend across multiple scales. They thus serve well as sites for research into migrant engagements with place. Researchers are beginning to record contemporary migrant backyards as places where people carry on traditions from their homelands and maintain cultural identity (Armstrong 1999; Gleeson and others 2001). Following Helen Armstrong (2004), we think of migration as a process rather than as a trajectory with a clear beginning and end. Traditions are not maintained, translated, or reworked in any linear or predictable way. We ask how this complex process is inscribed in the domestic garden landscape (Armstrong 2004, 241).

Attention to complexity in contemporary processes reminds us that we must be similarly vigilant with regard to the historical record, in particular to the idea that early gardens were a simple transplantation of English plants and attitudes into the colony. Recent research has challenged the "commonplace that the invaders were not simply untroubled by their destructiveness but rejoiced in it, so great was their alienation from their new surroundings and their eagerness to turn the land to new uses" (Bonyhady 2000, 3). Tim Bonyhady documents a number of examples of indigenous plants, including gum trees and tree ferns, being fostered in the garden context. Australian trees such as Moreton Bay fig, bunya pine, and hoop pine were for sale in Sydney nurseries in the 1860s (Gelding 1983) (Table I). Victor Crittenden (1983) argued that the nostalgic Englishness of early gardens has been overstated, because many English plants did not survive in hot, dry conditions. Jacarandas from South America and peppercorns from the Americas did thrive and were highly valued for their shade. Colonial landscapes are increasingly being understood as the product of interaction, negotiation, and contest rather than as a unidirectional transfer (Morphy 1993; Hirsch and O'Hanlon 1995).

In this article we examine the backyard gardens of three migrant groups within our broader study--Macedonian (ten gardens), Vietnamese (sixteen gardens), and British born (thirty-four gardens)--and a group of first-generation Australians with both parents born overseas (twenty-two gardens). …

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