Sometimes when I’m in the city I hear the cries of a flock of black cockatoos flying overhead. They’re different to the sounds of other birds in the city- looser and wilder. They live up in Centennial Park in the eucalypt forest near the aqueduct where you can walk dogs off the leash.
Barry Humphries once said that when he was growing up he hated Centennial Park so much he dreamed of breaking in at night and ring barking the trees. I’m not sure where this animosity came from, perhaps a rebellion against the Victorian principles of order that dominate the majority of the planting. But there are wild parts too, zones you can discover when you go off piste. Like the Paperbark Swamp: a sludgy atmospheric swamp at the heart of the park, dominated by the smell of methane gas from the coppery waters and the colony of bats that have made it their home. The site of Australia’s last duel- it’s a complete world, the universe of an Australian Tim Burton.
The swamp stands in contrast to the order of the rose garden and the little islands of canna lilies and palms that surround it. Yet some how the current gardeners have modernised this concept, mixing in succulents with herbaceous borders. I often get inspiration for my own garden here, in the unexpected contrasts of the texture and colour.
There’s regular filming going on the Park – you never know who you might come across. I’ve worked here myself- creating a night time Lord of the Rings sketch and a 1930s Carnival.
Sometimes when I’m walking near the Duck Pond, I remember a very touching overheard conversation. A severely disabled young boy, his body twisted in a wheelchair suddenly burst into floods of tears. His carer, so gently, said ‘ Come on, it’s alright- do you want to go and see the ducks” When he heard that the boy stopped crying and a huge smile broke out. And to me that’s the beauty of Centennial Park, a chance to immerse yourself in the healing force of nature.