Have you ever recalled the memory of somewhere you went as a child but can’t remember exactly where it is or even the context of the visit? All you know is that it was a special, magical place where you had all sorts of great adventures. I have a few of those. For me one memory in particular was of a little stream and a waterfall and a stone pathway with three stone bridges making a figure 8 around the stream. I remember lush green ferns all around and steep moss-covered rocky slopes reaching high up on either side. My parents took me there when I was young and I loved running around the stone paths, over the bridges, imagining being chased by magical creatures, although the details are lost in the distant memories.
I thought I remembered it being in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne and always felt that if I ever wanted a little nostalgia I could always go back there to see it and relive those memories. I wasn’t in a hurry. Recently I had the opportunity to go there again without too much trouble. The Botanic Gardens always had helpful signs to direct visitors around the maze of paths that meandered around all the lovely lawns and gardens that were paradise for flora fans from all around. I quickly found the direction to the fern gully and made my way there, enthusiastically looking forward to seeing that childhood memory brought back to life again.
Disappointment. It was unrecognisable. Yes there were ferns and yes there was a small stream flowing alongside the cheap looking rubbery bitumen path. Was it the same place? Had it been completely redeveloped with barely a meagre budget? After all, it was forty-odd years ago and I accept that my memory may have been distorted by time and fantasy.
I reflected on a few other childhood memories and how my rediscovery of those were more than accurate.
While in kindergarten (aged about 4) we went on an exciting excursion on a double decker London bus to an apparently nearby park. I remember the park quite clearly. Gravel car-park, huge oak tree on the left, wide open grass area beyond a small playground. For decades I couldn’t for the life of me remember where that was. It was only one day several years ago I happened to glance backwards while driving down a highway (probably a head check for a lane change) not 5 KMs from where I grew up, a road I’d driven a million times in my life, and recognised it instantly. I had never been to that park since that day in pre-school and it hadn’t changed a bit. All it took was a glance from the right vantage point to trigger the memory.
I had a similar experience with another park I visited with an aunt and cousins. The park contained a yellow building with a kiosk, a steam train ride and a lake. I would have been about three years old, I think and it was years later I realised it was Emerald Lake Park, the destination of Puffing Billy.
So is it possible that my memory of the Botanic Gardens fern gully was that wrong? I wasn’t convinced but I was sure it was in the Botanic Gardens. Time was limited so I had to try to find another opportunity to visit. I think I tried again at least five times, scouring the place for this mysterious lost fern gully with the waterfall and stone pathways. I was tempted to ask one of the groundsmen if they knew of it or if it had been redeveloped. But most of them looked like they hadn’t been born when I was there last.
Then one day, Eureka! I walked through the gardens and decided to take the long way back around the north-west entrance and there it was! Technically outside the Botanic Gardens but unmistakable, it was at the northern end of Government House between it and Alexandra Avenue. Naturally I went wild with my camera in case it disappeared from the earth again like it almost did for me once before.