The Carlton Gardens, with it’s sweeping lawns, tapestry of flower beds and beautiful array of Australian and European trees, is a city oasis. The beautiful Royal Exhibition Building serves as the centrepiece of this World Heritage Site, as the city’s skyscrapers loom ominously at one end of the Gardens. But it’s one tree, the old Moreton Bay Fig Tree, sitting towards the corner of Nicholson street and Gertrude street, that will be our focus today.
But first, let’s go back to 1886. Victoria’s ‘Half-Caste Act’, intended to push Aboriginal people of mixed descent towards integration into white society, had massively reduced the number of Aboriginal people on missions and reserves and had far-reaching, devastating consequences on the indigenous population, destroying families and ripping apart communities.
The forced displacement resulted in large numbers of Aboriginal people finding themselves in unfamiliar territory and with little prospect of finding work in their new homes. To make matters worse, these new homes consisted mainly of boarding houses in which social or political gatherings were forbidden.
But this didn’t stop an emerging and determined community. Refusing to be beaten or downtrodden, they began to hold meetings in public spaces as the suburb of Fitzroy gradually became a welcoming destination that offered a sense of community alongside greater employment prospects.
Enter the old Moreton Bay Fig Tree in Carlton Gardens. Over time, this tree became one of the most important of these meeting places and during the 1920’s to the 1940’s was witness to a number of legendary speakers and community leaders as they addressed large and eager crowds.
Serving as a place of inspiration for many during bleak times and playing host to those offering inspiration when it was really needed, this Moreton Bay Fig Tree holds a special place in the hearts of many.
So next time you visit Carton Gardens, look for the old Moreton Bay Fig Tree and spare a moment to imagine what might have been said and done here, and take the time consider the influence spawned in this area that will have been carried forward to this day.