Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Bats in the Gardens

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Bats in the Gardens

Article excerpt

The nature/culture dichotomy finds uneasy meeting ground in the garden. But particularly in settler cultures, "the garden" introduces other unresolved dichotomies: indigenous and imported; wild and domesticated; pests and pets; traditional myth and scientific rationality. This essay considers these issues by focussing on the public debate over fruit bat colonies in the Melbourne (Australia) Botanical Gardens.

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Gardens and gardening have been and remain sites of radical ambivalence and contradiction. As Dorothy Jones expresses it, "gardens invite us to commune with nature while delighting in how human hands have guided and controlled it" (31). They represent an often troubled actual and symbolic meeting ground between what we have traditionally constructed as "culture" and its apparent antonym, "nature." While both the culture/nature dichotomy and its uncomfortable reconciliation in "the garden" are characteristic of a number of human societies, it is in the West that the paradoxes so generated are perhaps most evident. The Garden, original symbol of Paradise, is also the symbol of Paradise lost; cast out of Eden, Adam and Eve must labour in the "wilderness" to render it "fruitful," converting an untamed nature into human cultural territory. Wilderness also derives its primary mythic meaning from an imaginative geography grounded in Middle Eastern cultures, and perhaps not surprisingly, has come to contain further symbolic and material complexities and contradictions consequent upon the transplanting of Christianity to parts of the world where cultural history and geographical realities often collide with it.

Such complex foundational yet unstable connotations of "nature," "culture," "wilderness," and "garden" necessarily underpin the more specific ambivalences and contradictions in the attitudes toward the land and landscape of British settler colony cultures. One of the most obvious legacies of colonialism from the fifteenth century onwards was the increasing domination of the rest of the world not only by European peoples, but by European epistemologies and ontologies. Europeans, through invasion and settlement in what Alfred Crosby terms "the Neo-Europes," or as governing elites in, for instance, India and central Africa, drastically altered, albeit in a variety of very different ways and to varying degrees, the landscapes of the areas they settled or administered. The result was often the destruction of age-old patterns of ecological accommodation between indigenous peoples, animals, and plants, or, at worst, the entire annihilation of the partners in these traditional exchanges. Introducing their own crops and livestock, and with ideas that increasingly stressed "progress" and "development," Europeans attempted to recreate, in sometimes totally recalcitrant soil, the agricultural and farming patterns of their homeland or enforced cash crop growing on local communities in place of indigenous crop rotation. Native animals, especially in the neo-Europes, were increasingly displaced or hunted, sometimes to extinction, to provide land for sheep and cattle, wheat, corn, and barley. This re-creation (or attempted recreation) of European patterns of agriculture and/or an aesthetics of landscape was not always energized by simple survival or economic gain. Memories of and nostalgia for the homescapes of "the old country" also provided a powerful impetus to alter the "new" land rather than seek to know and understand it.

In the English settler colonies, gardens of all kinds still represented (and represent) a conjunction of "nature" (or, in Val Plumwood's useful designation, "the more-than-human world" [11]) and culture (predominantly the human or human-wrought). But the relationship between settler colony horticulture and agriculture and the surrounding environment was also that between the exotic and the indigenous where exotic and indigenous sat in rather different relation from those they had established in Europe. …

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