PUR­PLE HAZE

Grafton’s bloomin’ marvel­lous jacaran­das

Australian Traveller - - Contents -

Broad coun­try av­enues be­come arch­ways of LILAC GRANDEUR as na­ture PAINTS A POR­TRAIT in this her­itage town. Grafton’s JACARANDA sea­son is a thing of beauty, writes JUS­TINE MCC­LY­MONT.

A HOT AIR BAL­LOON DRIFTS in the early morn­ing breeze, mov­ing grace­fully over the Clarence River. The wa­ter shim­mers be­low like a mir­ror to the clouded sky. From my view on the Grafton Bridge I watch as the bal­loon trav­els slowly, past the lush green river­banks, care­fully tended her­itage houses and tree-lined streets. In the dis­tance I can see pur­ple blos­soms danc­ing in the breeze. It’s an im­pres­sive river, this one, a wide ex­panse car­ry­ing tales and sto­ries of a by­gone era. Like the time a seed mer­chant planted some jacaranda trees here 139 years ago. The first city es­tab­lished on the New South Wales north coast, Grafton in the Clarence Val­ley is home to over 1400 jacaranda trees. Known for their vi­brant colour, the jacaran­das put on a stun­ning dis­play each spring as they burst into bloom. For a few short weeks from mid-Oc­to­ber to early Novem­ber, the ‘Jacaranda City’ is trans­formed into a fes­tive cel­e­bra­tion of na­ture’s beauty. As I walk un­der the arch­ways of lilac on Jacaranda Av­enue (of course), the dap­pled light peeks through the branches of del­i­cate blos­soms and fern-like leaves. It’s 6.30am, but I’m not alone. Cars are start­ing to drift into town, filled with vis­i­tors keen to cap­ture the jacaran­das in the early morn­ing light. Story has it that back in 1879 the afore­men­tioned seed mer­chant, Henry Volk­ers, planted the first jacaran­das in Grafton on this very street. Volk­ers had es­tab­lished a close con­nec­tion with the di­rec­tor of Syd­ney’s Royal Botanic Gar­den who sent the early spec­i­mens up from the cap­i­tal for plant­ing. The trees, of South Amer­i­can ori­gin, soon thrived in Grafton’s sub­trop­i­cal cli­mate.

Like the cherry blos­soms of Ja­pan, there’s some­thing mag­i­cal about a place that cel­e­brates just for the sake of beauty.

Ob­vi­ously smit­ten with the trees and their dis­tinc­tive blooms, the com­mu­nity held the first Jacaranda Fes­ti­val in 1934. Now in its 84th year, Grafton’s Jacaranda Fes­ti­val is the old­est flo­ral fes­ti­val in Aus­tralia with many of the early tra­di­tions, like the an­nual crown­ing of a lo­cal as the ‘Jacaranda Queen’, still car­ried out to this day. This year’s fes­ti­val (from 27 Oc­to­ber to 4 Novem­ber), boasts a pro­gram fea­tur­ing hot air bal­loon­ing, open gar­dens, bus tours and a food fes­ti­val, not to men­tion an ex­hi­bi­tion of the rich­est re­gional draw­ing prize in the coun­try (with a prize value of $40,000) at the Grafton Re­gional Art Gallery. To say that Grafto­ni­ans are pas­sion­ate about their prized trees would be an un­der­state­ment. On the morn­ing of ‘Jacaranda Thurs­day’ the whole town seems to go pur­ple crazy. Walk­ing down Prince Street past the grand old build­ings, there’s a buzz in the air with shopfronts dec­o­rated in pur­ple re­galia and staff dressed up in cos­tume to en­ter­tain the crowds. It’s good old-fash­ioned fri­vol­ity, rem­i­nis­cent of a sim­pler time when ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties had to make their own fun. “I’ve been a Grafton girl all my life and I still have my breath taken away by the jacaran­das,” says Leah Wal­lace, cur­rent co­or­di­na­tor of the fes­ti­val. But it’s not just the lo­cals who are taken by the beauty of these trees. As I turn to look at the ma­jes­tic canopy along Turf Street, which must in it­self have nearly 100 Jacaranda trees, I no­tice a Chi­nese cou­ple dressed in full wed­ding at­tire. “The Chi­nese pop­u­la­tion in par­tic­u­lar have a real affin­ity with the colour pur­ple,” ex­plains Leah. “Cou­ples come to have their wed­ding pho­tos taken here. We even had a sur­prise mar­riage pro­posal in our float pro­ces­sion last year. The bride was in love with the fes­ti­val and her boyfriend, now fi­ancé, wanted to sur­prise her. He con­tacted us be­fore­hand and I helped ar­range it for him. It was a very nice mo­ment,” she says. Like the cherry blos­soms of Ja­pan, there’s some­thing mag­i­cal about a place that cel­e­brates just for the sake of beauty. As I walk through See Park, time seems to slow to a more leisurely pace, all the bet­ter to in­dulge in the ex­pe­ri­ence and the warm spring sun­shine. Vis­i­tors pic­nic on a pur­ple car­pet of flow­ers, while chil­dren hold out their hands to catch the pur­ple blos­soms as they fall el­e­gantly from out­stretched tree branches. A mo­ment caught in time in one of na­ture’s – and Aus­tralia’s – most colour­ful fes­ti­vals.

MEM­O­RABLE JACARANDA EX­PE­RI­ENCES

1. PIC­NIC UN­DER THE JACARAN­DAS – Stroll, drive or cy­cle around Grafton’s jacaran­das be­fore stop­ping at See Park to pic­nic un­der the blos­soms. Lo­cal busi­ness Now We Pic­nic can set up a styled pic­nic or de­liver a ham­per to your door. 2. JACARANDA BUS TOUR – Take in the sights with a tour of the tree-lined av­enues and her­itage precinct and a stop at See Park to pho­to­graph the jacaran­das. Guided by a lo­cal gar­den­ing guru, this two-hour tour in­cludes light re­fresh­ments and runs twice daily be­tween 29 Oc­to­ber to 3 Novem­ber. 3. FEAST FOOD FES­TI­VAL – Temp the taste­buds on Satur­day 3 Novem­ber with a va­ri­ety of food stalls, craft beer, fine wine and live mu­sic by the Clarence River. 4. HOT AIR BAL­LOON­ING – Take in a bird’s eye view of the jacaran­das and the mighty Clarence River with a sun­rise bal­loon ride. 5. OPEN GAR­DENS PRO­GRAM – Wan­der through coun­try gar­dens in the grounds of river­side her­itage houses, Scha­ef­fer House Mu­seum and the his­toric South­gate Hall. 6. JACARANDA THURS­DAY – Mix it up with the lo­cals as they go pur­ple mad in the main street on the morn­ing of 1 Novem­ber with mar­kets, per­for­mances, fancy dress and all man­ner of pur­ple coloured food. Only for the light-hearted! 7. GRAFTON RE­GIONAL ART GALLERY – Visit one of Grafton’s most beau­ti­ful and pres­ti­gious her­itage build­ings to view the an­nual Jacaranda Ac­quis­i­tive Draw­ing Award ex­hi­bi­tion, start­ing 26 Oc­to­ber.

FROM TOP: The jacaran­das ex­tend out to Grafton’s sur­round­ing coun­try­side; The Clarence River hugs the town. OP­PO­SITE (from top): Head to Grafton at the end of Oc­to­ber to cel­e­brate an ex­plo­sion of colour; Jacaranda Av­enue in full bloom.

CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP LEFT: Even Christ Church Cathe­dral’s swan stat­ues wear pur­ple gar­lands; Wan­der the length of Grafton Bridge; Pur­ple de­lights picked up from Hank’s Kitchen, the old­est bak­ery in town and a much-loved lo­cal in­sti­tu­tion. OP­PO­SITE (from top): Spring comes with an un­par­al­leled beauty in Grafton; Take the time to sim­ply cruise down the res­i­den­tial streets dur­ing jacaranda sea­son.

BEST SPOTS TO SEE THE BLOOMS 1 Jacaranda Av­enue, Pound Street, Grafton 2 See Park, Grafton 3 Prince Street, Grafton 4 Turf Street, Grafton 5 Ryan Street, South Grafton

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