Riverfire Festival may come around only once a year, but a little flaming beauty has been lighting up Roma St since 2016.
The 10.5m sculpture of a red poinsettia in Emma Miller Place (just down from the soon-to-disappear Transit Centre and opposite the courts precinct) is called PoinsettiaRiverfire. Hardly a surprise there.
It’s eye-catching by day and stunning by night, and worth a walk down Roma St to see it at any time.
Brisbane adopted the poinsettia, a native of Mexico, as its floral emblem in 1930, and the work is also a nod to the annual Riverfire Festival.
According to the attached plaque, “more than ever the flower symbolises the increasing flamboyant cultural mix of the city’s population”.
Its creator is local artist Luke Roberts who was inspired by the nearby gardens at the Roma Street Parkland.
He describes his work thus: “Arching sykward in an aspiring and uplifting way like fireworks, PoinsettiaRiverfire aims to inspire optimism and, lotus-like, evoke a sense of the transcendental. The tongues of flame bracts herald transition to a new era.”
Integrated lighting makes it bloom at night, when it glows red amid the city towers.
Brisbane was the first Australian capital to adopt a floral emblem. In fact, it seems to be the only Australian capital with a floral emblem.
The poinsettia first appeared in the Queensland record books in June 1862, when Governor George Bowen announced at the Governor’s Ball that the Director of the Botanical Gardens Walter Hill had provided the “scarlet foliage of the poincettia” for the courtyard.
Brisbane City Council formed on October 1, 1925, and Brisbane City Hall opened on April 8, 1930. On June 16, the new city adopts the poinsettia as its floral symbol after a public ballot.
Finalists were crepe myrtle, 44 votes, bauhinia 45, gerbera 77, hibiscus 117, jacaranda 154, flame tree 161, bottlebrush 244, poinciana 521, bougainvillea 1275 and the poinsettia a winner with 1294.
The good citizens of Brisbane obviously didn’t love their jacarandas as much as we do now. They also didn’t mind adopting a Mexican species as their own.
Poinsettias grew so well that it was reported that “world-wide travellers have declared that better poinsettias may be seen in Brisbane from June until August, than are grown in their native country”.
It even inspired local poets. Emily H. Bulcock published two poems celebrating the poinsettia in 1929. She waxes lyrical in Brisbane – Poinsettia City:
She shall be called Poinsettia City; For her red flags wave the winter through;
Emblem of hope for a brave, young city: Breathing of spring and a world made new.
Who could be joyless or utterly hopeless When rioting colour warms and glows,
Drowning life’s grey in a sea of scarlet? And ever the conquering torrent grows.
Here is a fire of flaming splendour That all may share in the winter long;
Mean little cottage or towering mansion Wave your banners! Sing Hope’s brave song!
Regally clothe her – our beautiful Brisbane In royal garments of richest hue;
Let all take part on the quest of beauty Till her fame goes forth – the wide earth through.
And that just about wraps it up! Poinsettia Riverfire can be found here.
My favourite piece of Brisbane Public art.
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