A great little story is told about white waratahs, that forty or so years ago some Water Board employees, truck drivers so the legend has it, skidded off the road in the NSW southern highlands looking for a spot to take a piss and while looking for a properly shaded spot stumbled upon the only known specimen of the Wirrimbirra, the White Waratah. Quickly they grabbed half a dozen and gave them to their wives and other special people around the highlands.
The location has remained something of a state secret, like the location of the wild Wollemi Pines, and the truck drivers kept their secret for a good long time. In the late seventies though Thistle Harris (the Wirrimbirra Raider) convinced those Water Board truck drivers to show her the spot and the Wirrimbirra. She took cuttings and every single white waratah that you’ve ever seen has come from that cutting and its clones. Apparently the wild Wirrimbirra has flowered only twice, in 1982 and 1985 (bad drought years as I recall), and no seeds have ever been obtained from the Wirrimbirra.
Below is a lovely pigment watercolour of the Wirrimbirra by Cressida Campbell.
Not far from my house, completely not secret and not at all romantic is a large vibrant red waratah. For most of the year it looks very much like a dead thing, but then in mid August it gets leaves and by early September it has flowers and by now-ish it really is just the splendid plant I have ever seen.
I don’t know why the red waratah has called to me so loudly this year but I have found myself wanting to look at it as much as possible, going out of my way to check it out. It calls to my sense of being here.
For some reason the red waratah up the road reminded me of this quote from Terrence des Pres:
in extremity symbolism as symbolism loses its autonomy…meaning no longer exists above and beyond the world: it re-enters concrete experience, becomes immanent and invests each act and moment with urgent depth..
Whatever the red waratah means each September it means it with urgent depth.