Growing Waratahs for fun and profit
These magnificent flowers light up the bush in spring — but were nearly wiped out around Blue Mountains villages by enthusiastic gatherers a century ago.
The waratah is the New South Wales floral emblem and these days it's protected from marauders in the bush. You can still enjoy it in your garden, though, because plant breeders have developed many varieties for sale in garden centres.
Every October the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden at Mt Tomah holds a Waratah Festival that offers guided walks to see waratahs growing in the bush.
You'll have to look hard, though, to find waratahs growing in the bush near our villages. The reason is rather sad.
"You can see waratahs in all their scarlet and green glory all along the line from Lawson to Wentworth Falls just now," the Australian Worker reported back in 1921, "but they will not remain there for very long. The small boy who wants to earn sixpence for the pictures has only to go along and tear up the treasures whenever he wishes."
"When city people come to the Mountains for a holiday," the Sunday Times observed in 1925, "they love to go looking for waratahs. Children sell bunches of the flower to people in trains and cars, and receive a good price for them."
Lawson's Constable J. Fogarty caught two boys selling waratahs on the roadside — one had 73 blooms and the other 35. The boys were taken to the Lawson Police Station and given "a severe lecture."
Other reports describe travellers boarding trains laden with "the rich ruddy bloom of the State’s most distinctive flower." Waratahs were "carried into accommodation houses by the armful. It stands in vases in public refreshments rooms. It adorns the mantels of private residences. It is ravished wholesale from remote gullies by motorists. On every hand we watch it being carted away ... ”
It bloomed in time for the 1912 Melbourne Cup ...
Lithgow Mercury November 6, 1912
Read about growing waratahs at the Royal Botanic Garden's website in Sydney.