Naming of Canberra by Lady Denman. Photo courtesy National Library of Australia.
Wattle Day, September 1 (next Saturday), is almost upon us and Canberra's bush, parklands and even the gardens of those Canberra gardeners discerning enough to grow their own continent's flora are ablaze with hues of gold, yellow and custard.
But what a relief it must have been for Governor-General Lord Denman that the March 1913 ceremony he had to attend at Canberra in bushy, Acacia-infested rural NSW (the occasion when his wife Gertrude spoke the mystical name of the federal capital city and the event on which next year's centenary is predicated) didn't occur in the wattle season. Lord Denman, an Englishman, was a sickly, wheezing soul and was sure that the larrikin wattles of the land he'd been sent to serve in multiplied his health miseries.
Lady Denman's biographer Gervas Huxley (a great fan of his unhappily-married friend ''Trudie'' but no fan of her misery guts of a husband) records how unhappy she often was in Australia during her husband's 1911-14 sojourn here.
''[Lord] Denman's health was no better. He was constantly in bed with colds and asthma, and Australia proved even worse than England for hay fever. Australia's national flower, the wattle, was a special cause of trouble.
''Loaded with yellow pollen it set off the Governor-General's hay fever like a spark to gunpowder, and, as far as possible, it had to be banned from being used as a decoration at his public appearances. All this illness made him moody and difficult so that the atmosphere of Government House was strained and charged with the fear of giving offence … ''
Lord Denman and Trudie's biographer may have been right about the fiendishness of wattles but modern thinking about wattles and wheezing is that wattles get a kind of bum rap because, since they are so conspicuously in flower in the hay fever season, we notice them and point the finger of suspicion at them.
We think their blossoms a kind of smoking gun. In fact, the national Asthma Council of Australia counsels, ''Problem pollen usually comes from imported grasses, weeds and trees, which are wind pollinated. Australian native plants are usually not the culprit … ''