Since the flowering of the sasanqua camellias on my birthday, I have noticed references to camellias blooming all over my field of vision. Well, by all over, I mostly mean the internet. It’s as if a silent, floral force of camellias has stealthily invaded my cyberspace whilst I have had my eyes temporarily distracted by its earthly representatives. I feel as though I am being camellia-stalked….yes, really, stalked! But that is an unkind thought so I will attribute a purer motive; here it is. Camellias are simply experimenting with ways to communicate with our increasingly de-naturalised societies.
Who knows? Not me. But, what I do know, is that in the past week I have encountered abundant camellias on the bush in RL. And, in my internet life, I have met them in books, blogs, movies, opera, history, (thanks to this wonderful post by blogger Valerie Davies (http://valeriedavies.com/2012/05/ ), and in politics. Today, I also realised, back in real life, that I often carry camellias in my pocket, for these natural beauties have infiltrated the financial realm. They are part of our currency.
Three white camellia blooms appear on the New Zealand $10 note. They sit in the company of Kate Sheppard; the woman who is credited with leading the fight for women’s suffrage in New Zealand. Thanks to Kate and her campaigners, New Zealand became, in 1893, the first self-governing nation in the world to grant the vote to all women over the age of 21.( http://www.christchurch.org.nz/Women/ ) When the Electoral Bill was before Parliament, women suffragettes handed out white camellias to those Members of Parliament who supported the Bill.
Why camellias were chosen to represent women’s right to vote, I have not yet discovered. It may be that the choice was made under the influence of a popular Victorian interest in floriology and tussie-mussies. But it’s most likely that the reason for their choice was more prosaic than that; the camellias would have been one of the few flowers in plentiful supply in September. Whatever the reason, the white camellia became, and remains, the symbol of women’s suffrage in New Zealand.
Kate Sheppard was born in Liverpool in March 1847. She arrived in Christchurch in 1869 and here she stayed. ( http://christchurchcitylibraries.com/Society/People/S/Sheppard-Kate/ ) She was a founding member of the New Zealand Women’s Christian Temperance Union which soon realised that, if women had the right to vote, it would be easier to achieve reforms concerning temperance and the welfare of women and children.
Much as I love our ten-dollar bank-note, I wonder how Kate, as a pillar of the temperance movement, would feel about her face gracing a bill that provides a means to buy alcohol. She might disapprove, or she might see some irony in the possibility of a drinker confronting her in the eye before making a purchase.
Overall, I think she would probably see the bigger picture too. As a excellent strategist she would understand that, by having her features constantly in the public arena, the importance of women’s suffrage for the general good of humankind would never be forgotten. But enough of Kate. Let’s return to the camellia, who, it seems to me, is every inch as skilled a strategist as Kate and her suffragettes. How clever was the camellia to make itself irresistible to a winning campaign; to ensure a lasting place alongside the legacy of one of the most influential women in the world. It guaranteed not only its survival, but its proliferation. Nice work from a little flower that let’s us believe that all it does is pose languidly in our gardens.
Can Kate and the camellia’s winning ways rub off on our precious and vulnerable blue whio featured on the reverse of the ten-dollar note?http://www.doc.govt.nz/conservation/native-animals/birds/wetland-birds/blue-duck-whio/facts/about-whio/
A Tussie-mussie: In Kate Greenaway’s book The Language of Flowers, the white camellia japonica symbolises Perfected Loveliness.