Stop, smell the roses

Detail from Tara Badcock’s “Hunt Nature Birth” Solo Commission at the Devonport Regional Gallery

I hope Tony Abbott is sitting at home with his chin in his hand, gazing out the window, making a list of the things that led to his own demise. And, like a good liberal for whom the individual counts more than community, I trust he might consider, first, the daft things he said and did. And how what might be daft in an ordinary person is dangerous in a PM.

For me, the list is bookended by one of his first comments and one of his last.

His expression of regret, as both Prime Minister and Minister for Women, over the lack of women in his Cabinet was offensive to every woman and a twisted trouncing of his own leadership before it had even begun. Doomed, if you like, by his inability to make the female, the feminine, the woman matter.

Then, at the end, to admit to never being someone who wanted to “just hang around and smell the roses” and “that’s never been my idea of a day well spent”, you have to wonder why politics rewards this degree of soulless-ness. Those who boast disdain for roses should not inherit the earth.

On top of my list, I would place a disdain for roses because of the truth it tells about the man’s character.

One of the details in Tara Badcock’s Solo Commission, which finished this month at the Devonport Regional Gallery, is from ‘The Index of Her Mind’ – a luscious fabric rose furled inside a woman’s bonnet. It’s a metaphor for the arrival of the Chudleigh textile artist’s baby daughter, and a message of hope and possibility in life.

It’s just one part of an impressive exhibition that deals with the struggle of an artist’s identity after giving birth, of the tension between high creativity and domestic life, and with the role of the colonial female. It is a powerful woman’s work – as brave and as tender as the first rose in Spring.

Smelling roses is like poetry. It is agriculture and gardens, romance and philosophy. It is stopping to see the land around you and recognising beauty. It is taking time for human breath, to enjoy and appreciate what is so often ignored, to appreciate the kind of beauty that does not speak a word. It is where peace begins.

It’s about getting closer to nature so that when you meet an onion grower on farm you know the thing to do is to hold and feel the weight of an onion in your hands, to look at it, to press the top and bottom to see if both are firm, and peel the skin away to appreciate the colour and patina of the flesh. Not to eat it like an idiot.

I’ve not always smelled the roses. But one day I woke up. I’d once given my father a potted rose for his birthday that he planted in his garden. On one of my two yearly visits back from career days in London, he reminded me of the rose I’d given him, took me to admire it, noting how beautifully it flowered. I had completely forgotten my gift to him.

This awakening tinged by guilt was what taught me the truth of the rose, how taking care of the small things, takes care of the big. Not the other way around.

Later, smelling more roses led to regular visits to The National Rose Garden at Woolmers Estate in Longford. To ordering them from specialist rose nurseries, to growing them, cutting them, giving them… An appreciation of roses introduced me to the work of one of Australia’s most famous rosarians, Susan Irvine, and her forensic and engaging rose-lover’s diary called “Rosehips and Crabapples” – a book that opened up a knowledge and discovery of Tasmanian gardens for so many.

If he had followed, or even simply appreciated, the rose path, Tony Abbott might have found Susan Irvine’s choice of quote on the inside, from author Elizabeth Jolley:

“To offer consolation through beauty and harmony is to overcome certain weariness or a sense of futility in a world which contains so much human suffering in the face of which we seem to be utterly powerless.”

If Mr Abbott had more respect for rose lovers, he might have even noticed Arthur Conan Doyle’s exalted embrace in The Naval Treaty:

“Our highest assurance of the goodness of Providence seems to me to rest in the flowers. All other things, our powers, our desires, our food, are all really necessary for our existence in the first instance. But this rose is an extra. Its smell and its color are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it. It is only goodness which gives extras, and so I say again that we have much to hope from the flowers.”

We should judge our leaders by how much they stop and smell the roses. Dismissing both rose and rose lover in a radio second with a man who laughs and calls you “buddy”, Tony Abbott dismissed himself.

I’m reminded of a verse a friend of mine has hanging above the loo.

“If I had my life to live over,” it reads, “I would start barefoot earlier in the spring and stay that way later in the fall. I would go to more dances. I would ride more merry-go-rounds. I would pick more daisies.”

I would add ‘smell more roses’ because the person who can’t stop to smell the roses is the kind of person who is destined to eat an onion like an apple.

Tara Badcock’s ‘Hunt Nature Birth’ Solo Commission 2015, curated by Ellie Ray for the Devonport Regional Gallery, will tour in 2016.    

First published in Tasweekend, October 2015

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