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A Clash of Cultures Kills K’gari Icon

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K’gari is inscribed on the World Heritage list for three outstanding values.  One of these is its outstanding natural beauty.  However, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and on K’gari there are two incompatible views of beauty when it comes to viewing the vegetation.  Where many find beauty in the bush, some see the natural ecosystems as untidy and messy.  Opposite views are even more pronounced in the urban areas where the rose garden mentality is in direct competition with the natural values that brought about K’gari’s World Heritage listing.

For four years, FIDO had been nurturing a Fraser Island Creeper (Tecomanthe hillii) right beside the Eurong restaurant.  It was a challenge because an area, vulnerable to salt spray and strong winds, isn’t the natural habitat to this very special vine that bears the most beautiful waxy burgundy bell-shaped flowers in amazing clusters.  Tecomanthe hillii is almost endemic to K’gari.  The only other place in the world where Fraser Island Creeper occurs naturally is in the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area over 1000 kilometres away.

Tecomanthe hillii (Fraser Island Creeper

Tecomanthe hillii (Fraser Island Creeper) K’gari’s greatest contribution to Australian horticulture (specimen growing at Su Dawson’s home)

FIDO found a small niche, out of the wind.  By building up the soil and with regular water and care the vine slowly became established in an area where it offered to provide a great display as people entered or left the restaurant.  Because the most attractive flowers only grow from nodes on older wood, it takes four years before most Fraser Island Creepers come into full bloom, but the display they put on in Spring makes the wait worthwhile.

This Spring, the Eurong Tecomanthes were due to be in full display at the time of the Spring School holiday period, but that display will never be seen.  In June, an order to “tidy up” the garden where the Tecomanthes had struggled for four years to get established, meant that the new groundsman, unaware of the values and history of these plants unwittingly removed the vines and took them to the dump like a bundle of weeds.

Despite being inscribed for natural values, the obsession with tidiness and a notional idea of European designed gardens are widely held on K’gari, creating significant environmental problems as a result of this clash of values.  Whereas most visitors are blown away by the variety and natural display of the island’s vegetation some are continuing to see it only as a rough track to bounce over in a 4WD or a “bit of scruffy bush” as Margaret Whitlam once famously described it.

K’gari will continue to suffer while there is a clash of cultures between the rose garden mentality and an appreciation of its chaotic natural beauty.

Article submitted by John Sinclair, Fraser Island Defenders Organisation

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