Canberra Bulb riot of 1994
Last Monday mother in law return to her home after two months with us. On the last weekend of her stay we treated her to a hands on experience of a rich civilized cultural extravaganza of which I am about to describe.
Canberra has an annual spring festival of flowers called Floriade. Hundreds of thousands of visitors flock to Canberra to see the 850,000 bulbs planted in Commonwealth Park for the occasion. This is a very significant event, all kinds of cultural activities fill the park with entertainment, such as live music, dancing, displays and stalls. Piped music floats through the flowers as you stroll through riots of colour on deep green carpets of grass in tranquil tree filled gardens on crunching stone paths.
I know what is going through your mind now. I can see the question being pursed on your lips. And you are right, it’s the obvious question that you might ask of such an event.
“What in Hell do they do with all those bloody bulbs when it is over?”
Good question. Well in every other year they have taken them out and stored them for use next year.
“Obvious” I hear you say. “Where’s the story in that?” I hear you ask. “You’re losing your touch old son, too much cheap red wine”.
This year the Floriade fathers, or is it mothers I’m not sure, decided in an inspired moment of wisdom that they would let the good gardening citizens of Canberra come to the park and take a token number of bulbs for their gardens and at the same time help the park staff dig the gardens.
The news broadcasts went something like this:
“Canberra Citizens will be able to come and take a few of their favorite bulbs from 8.30am on Saturday. There is no need to rush as you will be able dig all day until 5pm. Just bring a fork and a bucket a select your bulbs.”
You may or may not know Al and I are keen gardeners, we thought to ourselves it would be nice to get a few Tulips and some daffodils for our garden. Al suggested that we get an early start on Saturday as it might get a bit busy. She suggested that we arrive about 8.15am.
Good idea I thought, but let’s start just a little earlier as getting a car park is difficult sometimes.
So these little pigs got up at 6.30, planning an arrival at the park by 7.30. This way we could get a good place in the line to take a “few of our favourite bulbs” home.
The granny (Al’s Mum) asked if she could come along and have a last look at Floriade while we were about it. We agreed, packed the car up with a green plastic rubbish bin to put bulbs in, a fork to dig them, some plastic bags to separate them into varieties, and a pencil and paper for naming them.
This would be fun. We headed off to the park. I decided to park around the back at a place I knew that “Not many people would park”.
As we approached the park at 7.15, I fell in line behind a car towing a trailer. Packed in the trailer was every imaginable gardening instrument, wheelbarrows, forks, spades buckets, the lot. In the car were four “keen gardeners”, and even from behind I could see the flared nostrils and the sneers on their faces.
It was at this point that I started to have second thoughts. My stomach felt crook. I quickly glanced at Al and just for a moment I thought I saw her nostrils flaring just like I had seen them before at the end-of-year sales. I blinked. No, she was still smiling and joking, phew just my imagination.
We drove into the quite secret car park, and although it wasn’t full people were starting to fight for car parks. I was over taken by that awful feeling of no going back that you get when they bring the steel harness down over you in the roller coaster. Oh God what have we done.
I parked the car. Coming across the bridge from the park was a stream of ladies dressed in their best gardening gear, net scarves, gloves and plus fours, and they were carting buckets and bags of bulbs.
“Don’t you know what bloody time it is” Al has always been a master of the English language and I have found her very astute with things like the time of day.
My stomach sunk further. I peered over my shoulder at the granny, her nostrils started to flare also. She too started muttering about the time of day. I plugged my ears. I didn’t want to hear her providing heritage advice to the other 70 year olds who were now obviously coming back from the park with arm loads of bulbs.
Well there was nothing for it. We jumped out the car. Grabbed the dustbin and spades and ran full-bore across to the park. Behind me I could hear a little old granny yelling “Wait for me”.
“Not bloody likely” I muttered to myself.
The scene that struck us as we tore through the area that had once been concession stands was awesome. There must have been 3000 or 4000 “keen gardeners” like locusts over the flower beds.
The only words that could be consistently heard from the now rushing throng towards where the bulbs might be were “It’s not bloody 8.30 yet”
We passed people with wheelbarrows, buckets, milk crates, cardboard boxes, using anything that could carry bulbs.
It was about this time I thought to myself, “I can feel a letter coming on”
The flower beds were alive with “Keen Gardeners” busily digging bulbs. There were yells of abuse as forks went through feet and fingers. Abuse as people dug up bulbs set aside by others.
As we ran through the park, Al spotted a patch of greenery that only had a few people on it. What luck. We were in.
I was digging with a small hand fork, that broke and so I started digging them up with my hands. Alison was swinging our big fork very successfully. We had about half a dustbin of some nondescript bulb, when we heard a thin shaking old voice saying, “I couldn’t keep up”.
Al and I looked at each other. God we forgot the granny.
The event was infectious, next thing I knew the granny was busy picking up bulbs from anyone who turned them over and wasn’t quick enough to put them in their own bucket.
While taking a quick breather, I asked Al what we were digging. She said she didn’t know but everybody else was digging them so they’re worth having.
Of course, I had never thought of that. I am a little slow first thing in the morning.
It wasn’t long before our patch was empty, and our dustbin was full. The plan was for me to return the dustbin to the car, empty it and come back.
Al would find a new patch, dig bulbs and the granny would guard them.
I struggled back to the car with half a ton of bulbs slung over my shoulder. Everybody coming into the park was making remarks like:
“Don’t you know what bloody time it is”
By this time the TV Cameras and the press were there also. I looked at my watch. It was 7.55. The park was an absolute sea of “Keen Gardeners”, if it was busy before, it was 5 times worse now. I heard a park official estimate that there were 10,000 “Keen Gardeners” in the park.
As I crossed the bridge over a four lane highway that links Commonwealth Park with the car park, I saw that the medium strip was full of parked cars. The place where I left my car was full and people were now getting really ugly-looking for parks.
I quickly dumped my spoils in the boot of the car, glancing around furtively making sure nobody saw me.
Rushing back to the park and find our diggers, gave me the opportunity to make those leaving with bulbs feel guilty
“Don’t you know what bloody time it is” I asked sarcastically of those now returning from the park. They all looked down at the ground sheepishly. What a feeling of power. I had my bulbs in the boot and now I could make others feel miserable.
Finding Al in the park was really quite easy. I just hurried to a place where there was the most noise and confusion. There she was with buckets of what were either Tulips or very healthy Onions.
The granny was bottom up in a flower bed, digging out great squares of pansies. I asked Al if her mother realised that they weren’t bulbs.
Al said to leave her alone, she thinks she is helping. We had another dustbin full, so we decided to call it a morning and go home before something terrible beset us.
It was difficult to drag the granny out of the flowers. As we had a rest on the way back to the car, she was off again. Back into the pansies, we need granny reins like those little harness you have for toddlers.
People had arm loads of flowers, the bulbs had long since all gone. It was difficult to walk back to the car for the hundreds of people pouring into the park. The crowds were increasing rapidly.
Gary, all these people, and nobody was trying to sell them anything. What a waste. I thought of you. I did think of selling them my pansies, but decided it might upset the granny.
By the time we returned to the car, it was about 8.20am. The Big Dig was not meant to start for another 10 minutes.
The Floriade flower beds looked like those pictures you see of the trenches in France during the First World War.
We piled into the car and headed home. As we stopped at the lights in the main drag, I had to lock the doors to stop the granny from climbing out to continue her digging in the medium strip.
The urge to stop the car and start digging every flower bed we passed was almost uncontrollable.
We spent the rest of Saturday sorting our goodies. We got a heap of tulips and we think some white and some yellow daffodils.
That night on television they showed the Floriade Stampede. Apparently people camped out overnight staking their claims. At 6.30 am the authorities gave up trying hold the rampant gardeners back.
The funny thing is, we have never spoken to anyone about this and nobody has ever admitted to us to being there!
Who says life is boring in Canberra!
made me cackle!