Christmas tree rooted in rich past

Stan MaleyMidwest Times
Connie Sullivan decorates the Agave stalk Christmas tree on display at Greenough Museum.
Camera IconConnie Sullivan decorates the Agave stalk Christmas tree on display at Greenough Museum. Credit: Stan Maley

Currently on display at the Greenough Museum on Phillips Road is a community-sponsored display of Christmas trees, young and old.

“We asked people who weren’t going to be home for Christmas, to bring their tree down here to set them up and share them with visitors,” Museum curator Gary Martin said.

“I started doing a bit of research on Christmas trees and they have been around since the 1840s in England.

“The earliest one I found in Geraldton was at the Geraldton State School in 1878. At that time, they were usually end-of-year celebrations for schools, Sunday schools and the like.

“The first Christmas tree at Greenough was held at the Central Greenough State School on the first of January 1880.

“They used a banksia tree as there were no pine trees around at that time. The next one was held on the 31st of December of that year and they used what they called an ally plant.

“That was the dried flower stalk of the agave plant. Since then, that has become the traditional Greenough Christmas tree.”

Legend has it John Maley was the instigator of this idea.

This history lesson shows us that the agave plants we see around town and particularly down around the lighthouse, have been in Geraldton for a long time.

These have become a nuisance in some areas, even though my mate Bob would often reminisce about making them into tequila sunrise and drinking them as the sun sets in the west during summer.

“The use of agave is a radical shift from the use of a bushy green tree to something which is almost skeletal,” Gary said. “It is however, the right shape and the banksias weren’t.

“They used to decorate the agave stalk with lighted candles.

“The final example of Christmas tree we have here is the Norfolk Island pine. They were a late introduction, reaching Greenough about 1906. The mass planting of them for Christmas trees only took place in the 1970s.”

Gary bemoaned the fact most of the displays were plastic trees, made in China and bought in the discount shops.

He felt they were actually ugly and difficult to dispose of.

Perhaps we could all grow a real tree as a living celebration of Christmas and plant them out.

Norfolk Island pines can also stay in pots for years and live happily there.

In closing this column for 2018, I am taking the opportunity to thank all my readers who celebrate Christmas and all those who don’t to wish that you have a very merry festive season and an enjoyable holiday in the summer in the sun in Geraldton.

I look forward to sharing with you next year.

Garden of life is a regular column by Geraldton Guardian contributor Stan Maley.

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