Teaching the Technical College students indoors is a challenge when the sun blazes down outside. Since becoming natives of Brisbane, we continue to enjoy the outdoors. Selina and I regularly visit the Botanic Gardens adjacent to my workplace. We enjoy taking tea in the shade on a carpet of purple flowers, the lilac colour most intense in late Spring. Fortunately that is before outdoor living during daylight hours becomes unbearably tropical and summer’s afternoon thunderstorms destroy the blooms. It is singular, this jacaranda and, I believe, the first of its kind in this city. I think I shall paint it.
One of my favourite pieces of art is R. Godfrey Rivers’ “Under the Jacaranda” (1903) in the Queensland Art Gallery. It depicts Rivers and his wife Selina, taking tea under the shade of a jacaranda tree in full bloom. The tree was a landmark in Brisbane’s Botanic Gardens, which adjoined the grounds of the Brisbane Technical College where Rivers taught from 1891 to 1915. It is thought to have been the first jacaranda to be grown in Australia as Walter Hill, the Gardens’ Superintendent, planted it in 1864. It remained in the Gardens for 115 years until 1979, when it was blown over during a cyclone. Part of the trunk is now located at the offices of the Mt Coot-tha Botanic Gardens. Other jacaranda plantings of significance can be found in the University of Queensland’s Great Court. Found in suburban backyards and streets throughout Brisbane, it is nice to think that many are the progeny of this first tree. There is a circularity with the flowers being scattered like an offering to ancestors on the gallery floor beneath the painting, literally ‘under the jacaranda’.