As if ghosts in the landscape

corunastylis nudiscarpa

Priscilla S. Beck

1842

A couple walk through the bush, two pairs of worn leather boots and clothes more suited to an English climate than the bright Tasmanian sun. They carry with them all their belongings in a few small bundles. Walking in silence, heads down, trying not to stumble on the loose, sandy soil, at last they get to where they are going. The base of a rocky outcrop overlooking the sea. This place was granted to be their home. They regard the empty landscape with expressions of melancholy and hope. They had left everything behind, but they might build a future here.

The man spoke first,
“I’m not sure if you’ll be able to have a garden”
They both looked around, nothing was growing here except low, hardy shrubs, stubbornly clinging to the soil in between the rocks.
“No, but look,” she walked over to a single spiky flower, an orchid, poking through the gap between two rocks. Dark purple, waxy petals still with droplets of morning dew.
“It’s no rose, but -“
He walked over and plucked it out of the ground, offering it to her with a mocking bow. She took it, smiling and attached it to the pin on her shawl.

corunastylis nudiscarpa

listed as Extinct in Tasmania on the Tasmanian Threatened Species Protection Act 1995

because how can something so small, so unassuming, be so rare

something that belongs here, more than we, has been here longer, will always be, runs the risk of being taken for granted

for the vulnerable to survive is to hide
until conditions are favourable, until people understand

time stretches on, and more people inhabit that place, where the native orchid no longer grows

the ghost of the flower beside the rock, existing in memory and stories, until those too fade

an arcadia lost

and people stop looking for it

2017

A couple walk through the bush, on a track marked by engraved plaques telling the story of the place. The path opens up to a clearing containing old colonial ruins, encircled by safety rails.

The woman spoke first,
“I always hated this kind of thing” she said,
“Oh, I thought it was interesting”
“It’s just, I don’t like the tenderness people treat these kinds of places with. I don’t think it’s deserved, and I don’t think it’s beautiful. I’m glad all of the people who made this are dead and gone, for all the things they did, everything they took. Everything they broke.”
“I’m not glorifying it either, but I think it’s important not to forget..”
“I wasn’t suggesting you were. I’m sorry… These kinds of places make me uneasy… it’s a dead place now, abandoned, and nothing has been allowed to happen here since. Nobody comes here but tourists. Even the trees haven’t tried to reclaim it. Nothing new grows.”

She looked at the ground, and kicked at the dust, frustrated at her inability to express how she felt here.

“Oh! Be careful!”
“What?”
He bent down and brushed the dust off the waxy petals of a short spiky orchid, gently revealing its deep purple leaves.
“These are really rare. People thought they were extinct. For more than 100 years. Until pretty recently nobody had seen one since the 1800’s.”
“I like that you know things like this”
“Again, I think it’s important. Not to forget. The people who built these places were ignorant, careless. We need to remember that so we tread more gently now, to not let our own carelessness get the better of us, in case we lose it again.”
“The orchid?”
“Everything.”