This large, stately flower is the state symbol for New South Wales. Its Aboriginal name comes from its vibrant, red colouring. There are several Dreamings about the Waratah, one going back to the days of volcanoes! This Dreaming describes how the leaves of the Waratah can protect one from fire and great heat, in this particular case, as insulation against the heat from an erupting volcano.
Two well-known Dreamings about the Waratah focus upon the tragic consequences of lost love. In one , two Wonga pigeons live together in a rich, lush forest. One day the female bird notices her mate is no longer by her side, so she searches for him, calling out for him. She cannot find him, so in a panic she flies above the canopy of the forest where a hungry and ever-vigilant hawk sees her and, swooping down, grabs her and clutches her in his sharp talons. She manages to wriggle free and plummets down, finally falling onto a white Waratah blossom, her blood staining its petals to red. From then on, Waratahs are generally red; it is very rare to find one that is white.
In the other tragic Dreaming , a young woman loves a hunter who leaves the camp daily in search of food. She would always wait for his return upon a hill, from which she could see his arrival. She also wore a bright red cloak made from the red tail feathers of a black cockatoo and this would be the first thing the hunter would see in the distance when he got close to camp. One day he did not return and she remained there in hope until she died. Her body was transformed into the Waratah, its red colouring symbolising her cloak, and the stall stem upon which it stands as well as its serrated leaves are said to represent the young warrior’s spear.
One Dreaming does highlight the positive aspects of love and its connection to the Waratah. A woman does wrong and goes to a grove where a lot of Waratahs are in bloom. Their heavy scent washes away her evil and she realises she has done wrong. Her tears of guilt fall into the Waratah blossoms, and from that day on, the nectar has always tasted like honey. The sweet nectar of repentance.
The Aboriginal people would sip the dew from the Waratah in the early morning, its invigorating essence believed to bring courage, especially when one is ill. The nectar was also ingested, providing a sweet treat. In yet another Dreaming about this flower, the pistils of the Waratah were made more rigid by the bush spirits so that an old man who was very fond of the nectar (but couldn’t see very well) could find it easily by touch. (A touching Dreaming!)
If you can’t resist touching a Waratah bloom, look at how your senses take in and interact with the world, and relish the pleasures they bring as much as you can – sight, touch, taste and smell.