Over the past week, we have been treated to some beautiful gardens and floral displays.
Ballarat Begonia Festival
We re-visited the city of Ballarat (120 kms NW of Melbourne) to see the Begonias that were on display in the conservatory, following the famous Ballarat Begonia Festival.
There are approximately 1,795 species of this bright and vivacious plant which occur in subtropical and tropical moist climates, in South and Central America, Africa, and southern Asia especially. Like roses, there are many cultivars (all named) and grown and keenly exhibited by their enthusiasts.
The Begonia Festival is a community festival held annually in the Botanic Gardens at Ballarat. These are probably the most stunning public gardens in regional Victoria. The festival began in 1953 and was inspired by the success of the similar Edinburgh Festival. Queen Elizabeth II attended the second Ballarat festival during her first visit to Australia in 1954.
The gardens that surround the conservatory in which the begonias are displayed contain many colourful beds of annuals, sculptures and garden structures. Along one pathway are busts of every Prime Minister in Australia’s history. I was interested to see that the one of our previous PM, Kevin Rudd, was only about half the size of all the others but I suspect his ego well and truly makes up for having such a small head.
During the week, we visited Cruden Farm with our friends John and Barbara. This is the home of that wonderful woman, Dame Elisabeth Murdoch (mother of Rupert). Dame Elisabeth died in 2012 at the age of 103 years. She was a remarkable philanthropist and woman of very high principles. She was loved by the entire community. Her home, Cruden Farm, is now owned and run by a benevolent trust and is open occasionally to support charities – many of which she was still actively involved with in her 90’s and last few years of her life. We were privileged to be able to roam around her garden.
Born in 1909, Dame Elisabeth had an extraordinary life that began inauspiciously. Her father worked for the New Zealand Loan and Mercantile Company, but the family were not wealthy. She married Rupert’s father, Keith Murdoch, the newspaper baron, in 1928 and they spent 24 years together before he died when she was just 43. Elisabeth Murdoch continued in public life to become renowned for her charitable works. For example, she helped to create the Royal Children’s Hospital in Australia and the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute. She was made a Dame by the Queen on the day the hospital opened.
Perhaps because of her simple upbringing, she had a highly developed sense of values and approprietness. The Guardian newspaper reports that she once described her concerns about the invasive journalism practised by certain of her son’s publications. “I think the invasion of people’s privacy is the worst thing,” she said. “I think privacy is anybody’s right, I really do.” She is also reported to have disapproved of her son Rupert’s decision to divorce from his second wife Anna, mother to Lachlan, James and Elisabeth, in order to marry 30-year-old Wendi Deng 17 days later.
She may have been ‘old-fashioned’ but she had a poor view of modern liberal attitudes to bringing up children. She once said, “Children are defiantly disobedient if never checked. I think today’s young people are having the most hideous time because they are confused. Parents seem frightened to be in control with their children and don’t understand that is what makes them feel cared for. This, she said, was the secret to her family’s closeness,”
Dame Elisabeth was also determined to be a role model for women, long before the women’s liberation movement began. She had decided that she was not going to be a housewife and she made history when she became the first woman trustee of the National Gallery of Victoria. “I’m not a feminist,” she once said, “but it’s nice to show that women can be useful, and I’ve tried to be an example to my children – three of them daughters.”
She fondly remembered and she loved her garden at Cruden Farm. The beautiful Dame Elisabeth Murdoch rose is a very fitting tribute to her life.