Lantana - from nemesis to muse
Lantana (Lantana camara) was brought to Australia as an ornamental plant in 1841. A native of Central and South America, it thrived in the conditions found in higher rainfall parts of eastern Australia and within 20 years had escaped cultivation and begun its invasion. By 1920 it had swamped large areas of coastal NSW and Qld and was declared a Noxious Weed. It has currently invaded some 4 million hectares in a 1600 km stretch from south of Sydney to far north Queensland, and is recognised as a Weed of National Significance. For the conservation scientist in me, this plant is a nightmare.
I was born in the northern rivers of NSW in ‘lantana central’, and as a child I grew to hate this plant. It was prickly and smelly and formed impenetrable thickets that blanketed bush and farmland alike. As a boy I often helped my father muster cattle and, being afraid of horses and too timid to ride, I was tasked with routing the cattle from the lantana thickets on foot. It harboured ticks and leeches – and wild cattle – and I hated it with a passion. As a youth I regarded it as something of a nemesis.
Some 30 odd years later I am sitting in my bush camp writing this post in a sea of lantana. It took me 4 days to hack a path through it and clear a space for my camp studio. It surrounds me on all sides and I can go nowhere without the aid of my machete (fittingly made in Brazil). It is utterly dominant in this regrowth forest. It blankets almost every square metre of the forest floor up to eye height, and when it finds a tree it scales the trunk and limbs, engulfing it to a height of 5 or 6 metres. It is so thick it hides the landscape from view and completely obscures the terrain. Only when I look up do I catch glimpses of great trees in the distance or the nearby mountain ‘Blue Knob’.
Yet lantana is stunningly beautiful.
As I sit here typing with my morning coffee, the sunlight filters through the canopy and creates a shimmering sea of greens and golds. I am immersed in bird call and can see numerous native bird species flitting through the thickets around me. The dynamic architecture of the canes within the thickets (revealed at the edges by my clearing) is mesmerising. And the tangled mess of vine-like canes that scale the tree trunks around me create a beautiful chaos worthy of Pollock. And every now and then the sunlight catches an exquisite blend of hot pink, yellow and white in the tight clusters of delicate flowers. It’s my favourite part of the day here, and for the artist in me it is bliss.
So I am wonderfully conflicted, and my first work here in Blue Knob is playfully entitled ‘Bliss’. Inspired by the nightmarish beauty that is lantana. My nemesis, and my muse.
This piece and photographs of the installation are currently on display in the Blue Knob Hall Gallery through to the end of January 2018.