The Chinese Garden of Friendship: An Unfolding Journey

Un Unfolding Journey

After visiting the Powerhouse Museum to be part of the final exhibition before it closed for years, to be renovated, we bought a take away coffee and walked into Darling Harbour to visit The Chinese Garden of Friendship. Something I had not done for years.

We did what the brochure said “Take time to explore the mystery and magic,  allowing the Garden to gradually reveal its many secrets and hidden stories.”

We found a table near the lake in weeping willow shade to have our picnic with our coffee and watched the water dragons around our feet  and pop up on roa rock. We watched a turtle come out of the water and sit on a rock , the gold koi . 

It was lovely to picnic and wander through this small piece of tranquillity in a a busy noisy city. But here nothing is placed by accident. The whole garden  is based on the Taoist principles of Yin-Yang and the five elements of earth, fire, water, metal and wood. 

Chinese  philosophy places a lot on the flow of qi which we translate as energy  or life force and the garden is built with the idea of the flow of qi  as we walked  observing the  bridges, plants, trees,  sculptures, rocks, secret corners, pavilions meandering  stone steps have been meticulously chosen and placed to capture the qi of the five elements, Feng Shui and the universal forces that bind them together.

We experienced the gazing out   from the  mountain, from different perspectives of The Pavilions.  We experienced  the balancing opposites in the garden, rock  defying gravity  the constrasts of bonsai trees and conifers , the sound of cascading water and the stillness of the lake , the short soft mondo grass beneath the sturdy long-stemmed bamboo and the beauty of the large pink lotus lilies flowering on the lake. 

Below the Dragon Wall is the pool of reflection where many years back I had a moment of epiphany . Sitting their for quite awhile pondering the reflection of dragons and the wall  and counting coins it was a shock to suddenly see the clouds floating along in the water. It was one of those moments when you realise what you see is only a minimum of what is there. So easy to   forget we have only a small part of the whole .And it was one of those wow moments as the shallow pool became deeper and deeper

“The jewel of the Garden, The Gurr , also known as The Clear View Pavilion , sits at its highest point. Decorated with a lavish golden roof intricate wood carvings and an ornate lantern symbolising prosperity , it has a perfect view of the whole landscape.  


Mozzie ed Ron heard, poetry journal



Volume 31 Issue 03, October 2023

The Mozzie is a small press poetry magazine published in Queensland that publishes the work of established and emerging poets.   Ron Heard is the very dedicated editor. Volume 31 ssue includes 2 poems of mine.  I submitted to the magazine during the year and love it when a poem of mine gets chosen to be published.

MozzieOctober 2023, published two of my poems,

counting summers

morning litany after the referendum

It was very rewarding to be in the journal with a writer friend and supporter Pip Griffin.

Pip’s latest book Opus: A life in poetry is promoted and a poem from her new book is published.

Congratulations Pip Griffin.

Thank you to Ron Heard for his dedication to poets and our poetry. 

morning litany  after the referendum

air tastes brittle         hits hard                    
there has been no rain for weeks 

leaves   dusty and bluish 
curl in foetal positions 

in a Philip Glass time warp 

the antiphon of morning birds 
is devoured by a leaf mulcher

roaring hungrily nearby
the tree out the back sacrificed

 because someone said it was dead    
lies weeping    cut up in small offerings

birds that nested in its knotted hollows
have fled 

and I have  to turn away from
being a witness 

away from tv images 
Gaza Ukraine Mali Israel

garish glint of metal and concrete mock
new home units towering out of place

the riff of rivulets in Coups Creek muted
in welled-up rock crevices   

later   leaning into the warm dimpled trunk
of a doyenne of the bush  I watch a flock

of spotted pardalotes   their tiny pieces of sun
wild and cheerful  skittle the day


Spring Walk in Wyrrabalong National Park by Colleen Keating


In the bush I hear the trees
ferns, palms and moss
whispering their wisdom
renewing my being
healing my soul
– Colleen Keating

After winter

Still dark enough to note the morning star
she walks again the bush track. A few magpies
fossick in frosty grass for first feed. Swallows dart

among the insect motes off the dandelion spent heads
and fly back to perch on telegraph wires.
It is still cold. Apple-crisp and silver.

The clouds open as silk fans, their bone
displayed like veins of a feather. The magpies
sing now from branches above, and she thinks too

how their morning song is her Delphian oracle.
She walks the track that’s a bracelet of charms
taps a branch watching a spangle of diamond–

dew drops light the way while the early light captures
a scarred tree trunk hollowed black like Munch’s Scream.
A cockatoo perched above glints with the gold                                      

of a mohawk fiend, soon in flight it will have the air
of a Tiger Moth in a opal-tinted sky. She has always loved
the walks here, the brush turkey stepping from

its scratchy music of an old LP, the whipbird checking
on its mate from the high river gums, the wrens chirping
from the safety of undergrowth, yet today it is a rupture

of spring that sings a rhapsody of song: purple milkwort
ravishing attention, pink wax Eriostemon, wedding veil
showers of boronia and orange pea plants sitting

in their spiky foliage. There is joy in watching the earth
re-awaken, the inevitable journey out of a winter
segueing towards summer. Ahead she can see

why she came – a wild display of flannel flowers. Petals
still mostly closed – their green tips a rising choir ready to sing
an Alleluia chorus. Open petals like earth-bound stars have                                                

the velvety feel of a childhood dress and sparkle in the shifting
light. She loves those Banksia trees that shade the groves
flamboyant with rough bearded seed pods like sleepy-eyed owls

wisely peering down: with the zephyr of a breeze there’s
a shuffling sound as if feathers are being ruffled or a yellow
skirt swinging through dried grass. The sun now on the shoulder

beams into the canopy of green and she will walk back
her mind pianissimo as a gentle Brahms largo passage
alert to nature watching, her enlivened step. 

Colleen Keating



Seeking escape in nature by Colleen Keating




waiting out a storm 

when wild weather is forecast                                         
we set out to escape 
plan things to wile away the time 
rather than waiting for it to hit

when clouds blow in dark and threatening 
we pack a picnic 
seek out nature 
and find consolations

in the shadow of 
doctors reports  tests 
verdicts more tests and treatments 
nature is the antidote

the sun on our back 
the wind in our hair
the balmy smells of the outdoors                                              
we find the secret to living. 

Colleen Keating





Ku-Ring-Gai Wildflower Garden  for a walk in nature and picnic. It was a hot , balmy day and although we walked a lot in shade the eucalypt aroma was wonderful.

The  heady, healing  eucalypt aroma as we walked  made us feel very positive.

Searching for oneness along Coups Creek, Normanhurst by Colleen Keating

searching for oneness

after the rain the forest scintilates
 a thousand shades of green
gives me a sense it is waiting

all freshly washed    polished to shining 
for royalty to walk its rocky spread of paths
song  of magpies   kookaburras  whipbirds


and a family of spotted pardalotes  skittles 
from branch to branch  and along the path


entering through the portal of two turpentines
reminds me of oneness – nature and me
mountain devils  ginger flowers   palms

and ferns featuring spiralling korus
all so foreign to me on two legs
yet Science tells us
we are  98 percent of oneness



Flannel Flower Heaven by Colleen Keating

Flannel Flower Heaven


Here’s me in Flannel Flower heaven. 

In Wyrrabalong National Park North . 

It is along  the Coast Walk from Crackneck Lookout to  the Trig Station. 

This is now a pilgrimage experience for me ( i will explain later)  

This pocket of  White Flannel Flowers  attracts many walkers each October. 

The walk includes wonderful ocean vistas and a few vegetation environ-changes

along the way. 

The show of flannel flowers begins slowly, and in the early stages can be easily missed . . . one here, one there,  and suddenly once you have seen these few you begin to see them everywhere.. . . .their presence, breath-taking. 

They clump gracefully together and move gently in the breeze. 

They cluster in masses growing from unobtrusive grey furry wavy leaves.

Stems grow  up and buds appear and then the flowers emerge and blossom.

Ten star petals velvety to the touch each with a delicate pointed tip, exposes a downy pin cushion centre conducive to  bees, butterflies, beetles to land for a feed.

Viewing these plants leaves me with a visceral sense of joy and satisfaction . 

I felt bewildered last year when I snuck along this track during lockdown  (in my 5 km permission radius) to find it had had a back burn, I guess to clear the bush  against fire for the houses further down the hill.  

Now I felt uplifted  this year, 2022, that I had returned with hope for this Flannel Flower Pilgrimage. 

This is not an illusory emotional response but a physiological one

triggered  by the sense in my brain of well being,   

given by the release of neuro-chemicals, endorphins and dopamine.

I wanted more.   I could not get enough.

Every corner I turned and I was not disappointed.

A walk in this Wyrraablong National Park with its Spotted Gums, its few old river Gums (one i take my grandchildren to, for it has the most generous arms for climbing and holding little kiddies,)   for the its banksias, Acacias and wattles and for its Flannel Flowers this week

is one of the places, 

special places for Michael and I, 

that encourages ‘Forest breathing:’  the Western term

for what Japanese call ‘shinrin yoku’. 

This is the practice of  walking and being mindful of the surroundings, letting your senses take in the sights, sounds, smells ,tastes and feel of the forest and bushland.

The health and well-being benefits of ‘forest bathing’ are well documented. There are good research  articles about this.  Today  walking here, reminding each other to be aware is enough, to be very present . The small white nodding heads of the flowers seem to be speaking to us.

They take us out of ourselves and for an uplifting and refreshing time,

we are with them in the world of nature.  

Of course we do not need this marvellous stand of Flannel Flowers or even a forest or the bush to  find ourselves immersed in ‘forest breathing’. 

The mystic and Abbess, Hildegard of Bingen said as far back as the 12th century,  that nature and the green colour in our eyes is very healing.  She was speaking well before modern medicine and she found this way for women who came to her for help. She would say to those feeling depressed, feeling down, feeling overwhelmed:

“Go out into nature ,  find the green: into a park, a paddock, even to a tree  . . .
Feast your eyes on the green, the thousand shades of green.

for its healing powers.  and now japanese Doctors even prescibe a wlk in a forest for healing and for well being. 

(The story for those who have read to the end of this.. . )

My mother loved the sea: my father preferred the hills and bush and so they bought a weekender near both, as the saying goes ‘where the forest meets the sea’.

When Mum went off with the family to the beach it turns out my quiet Dad would put our dog, Skipper in the car and drive to Kincumber Mountain.

He told me once that was his favourite place. 

My father  died  suddenly one day while mowing the lawn and he died young. It was a tragedy in our family life. 

Later as healing of loss and grief progressed I decided to visit Kincumber Mountain to help me find something. . . maybe lost . . . I knew not what. . . 

It was a late spring balmy evening,  I got out of the car and found myself immersed in a forest of flannel flowers and my father was there  .  . .we were there together .  His presence filled me mayup for the lostness in spirit we were talking.   it was  i understand an out of mind experience. It might have been a second, a minute or an hour . I do not know but we walked together. Michael came later and took a photo of me in those wild flannel flowers  nearly as tall as me and I seem lost in them and in that photo I feel my father is there. 

When I started my healing business  ‘Touchstone’ that flannel flower photo was one of my motivating photos . . .maybe about the mystery, or the more then . . but it stayed on my self all the years of my work inspiring me.)

Many years later when I was facilitating a retreat, over lunch with a friend who was Artist-in-Residence and one who understood these things, I shared my Flannel Flower experience with my father.  He listened with joy  and understanding . . .and I felt heard.

  He arrived the next day with  a framed painting of his, saying:

I have always wanted a good home for this painting and I now know where it belongs. He presented one of his signature paintings of flannel flowers.

 It was an amazing generous gift I have always treasured.

So this is the explanation why Flannel Flowers are my spiritual flower. 

PS. I have never gone back to Kincumber Mountain. I never wanted to spoil that moment and today I don’t need to go there.  But this walk along the Coast track is a beautiful reminder.


Wildflowers and Natural Sculptors in the Bush by Colleen Keating

Mid October, Spring here in our Southern Hemisphere,  perfect for immersing ourselves in the Australian Wildflowers. We visit the Ku-Ring-Gai Wildflower Garden and another day the Bobbin Head National Park. And walk with our eyes alert to the hues of colour, scent of eucalypt and many of the wildflowers .  

Today we walk to observe the natural beauty of our landscape with its sense of place. Of course the First peoples  looked at these plants differently as they were aware of living in this world finding its riches in foods and medicine and  ritual for their spirituality . In a way my spirituality is also braided by the colours, sounds and aroma of this bush  and  they weave into my life and well being today.

Australian Wildflowers

Often under-rated.

They bloom in the wilderness  


in a rustic habitat

around fallen branches and leaves  

half hidden by logs and undergrowth

not showy

not trying to be spectacular as English flowers are

easily missed unless you take time to look

easily  ignored by the settlers on arrival in their white sailed ships

and easily replaced  by their familar gardens

some needing fire to crack their seed

some able to resist drought

 wait decades for their time to self-propagate 

a natural world that has survived for hundreds of thousand  of years 

not needing humans at all 

yet human have needed them for food , medicine and ritual

and  today we need them for our eyes that search for beauty 

 as Hopkins writes “The World is Charged with the grandeur of God” 

in a world that needs beauty to remind  us of the mystery in a world  where

“Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;

and all is seared with trade, smeared with toil

And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell”


Wonderful memories of the Mountain Devil from our Blue Mountain Days  Labertia Formosa here is the flower and the second photo see if you can spot the devil with his horns. In the old days made into real deveils with pipe clieaners and material. (Well before conservation !!)


Finally we enjoyed spotting Natural Sculptures in the bush. We are unable to walk the Sculptors by the sea this year as we will be out of the city so we are making up for it with






Pay attention: spring is peeping in. by Colleen Keating

Paying attention

With a smile I capture a rainbow bouquet–
for spring is peeping-in along the bush track *
but in my excitement to capture colour
maybe some might be classified weeds 

and that makes me laugh
and reminds me of Mary Olivers ponderings
it doesnt matter
as long as you are paying attention
to the world around you
and have the attitude of gratitude
to carry you forth.




The poem by Mary Oliver:


It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

— Mary Oliver, Thirst

Pay attention, then patch a few words  together.

* Along  the north arm of Wyrrabalong NP  bush  track




Paper barks by Colleen Keating


Paper Barks

If they were teenagers
they could be called dishevelled
their shirts hanging out  half mast ties  hair ruffled 
some casually gathered   some laid back 
they could be noted as cool with rumpled attitudes

here on our track 
they generously shade our way
their  leaves startling with the sparkle
of sun catchers
their caopies a haven of birds

their ruffled bark   craggy  rough  uneven 
in tawny tones of toffee  taupe and tan
and like teens finally become adults 
they shed  their sheets of bark in growing

peeled off bark enough
for a poet to write words 
of inspiration for the journey.



Scribbly Gum by Colleen Keating

Scribbly Gum

who writes the scribbly dialect
written into trunks of eucalypts ?
I watch the trunk of a gum-tree
no sign of a scribe

who writes the scribbly dialect
written into trunks of eucalypts?
i run my finger along the rambling lines
and enjoy the mystery

May Gibbs found inspiration
for her writing on the gum leaves
Judith Wright peeled its splitting bark
and wrote her poem
of this life she could not read.

how lovely to enjoy wonder 
believing in fairies 
at the bottom of the garden

who is this secret poet ?
who is this hidden creator?
this graffiti artist?
leaving its tag  on trees         
and what is it trying to say?

a brown moth rarely seen
is the curio   its tiny eggs hatch
mysterious larvaes  burrow down
like children in class taking up their pen
they tunnel along writing  their journey
and as the circle of life comes round 
form moths and  like students fly free


May Gibbs 1876-1969    May Gibbs MBE was an Australian children’s author, illustrator, and cartoonist. She is best known for her gumnut babies, and the book Snugglepot and Cuddlepie  and her scary old Banksia man.

Judith Wright 1915-2000   Judith Wright was an Australian poet, environmentalist and campaigner for Aboriginal land rights. She was a recipient of the Christopher Brennan Award in 1975.  Judith was also a recipient of the Australian National Living Treasure Award in 1998.

Scribbly Gum Moth tells the story of the insect’s life cycle.

Scribbly gums are spectacular Australian eucalypts that get their name from the strange ‘scribbles’ left behind on their smooth bark. These rambling tracks are tunnels made by the larvae of the Scribbly Gum Moth and tell a story of the insect’s life cycle.

Photos of the Scribbly Gums were taken by me in the Ku-ring-ga Botanic Gardens in Sydney.

Ku-ring-gai is an Aboriginal word describing the home or hunting ground of the local people.