Monday Music & magnolias

I am documenting the flowering of a magnolia. I pass it on my way to work each day. This is the first shot.


There are magnolias everywhere in Sydney right now. Yesterday I visited an old colonial home with two magnificent trees out the back, one covered in blooms, the other in buds. Of course, I went in for the close up.


Although they are so beautiful, I can’t see a magnolia without thinking of Billie Holliday’s scathing song about post-slavery manifestations of racism in the southern states of the US. Her powerful evocation of the ‘sweet and fresh’ scent of magnolia, overpowered by the stench of ‘burning flesh’, has stayed with me ever since I first heard Strange Fruit, more than 30 years ago, and learned what it was about.

I’ve always felt that ‘scent of magnolias’ was a reference to the facade of gentility that the White South plastered over its rotten core. Listening to it again now, I realise that single phrase is also about the inherently beautiful humanity of the people who were destroyed by the putrid racism of the ‘gallant South’. Those few words are the 1939 equivalent of #BlackLivesMatter.


Black lives matter to me. My son is Black. His father, step-mother, siblings, all his Dad’s family are Black. But even if my whole family was as white as I am, Black lives would still matter to me because I hold it to be self evident that every human life is precious, and each person on the planet deserves the chance to not just live, but to blossom.

magnolia-opening-20150810_081606I admit that saying I think of Strange Fruit every time I see a magnolia is exaggerating. But only a little bit. I think of it more often than I don’t. That’s not a morbid thing. I think it’s good to be reminded of the brutality of racism, because that makes it more likely that I, as a white person, will keep speaking out against it. And now that I have in my head that magnolias also represent the value of human life, it’s not just racism that I’ll be thinking of, but the glorious possibility of a world without it.



11 thoughts on “Monday Music & magnolias

      • I would love to see that. Must smell nice too. In Sydney summers we have purple jacarandas and orange flame trees flowering at the same time – much more garish than magnolias & cherry blossoms, but gorgeous!

  1. Well done Maamej – love the way you tied the magnolias to racism – which on the surface would seem a stretch but obviously is not. As a northerner living in the south these past 15 years I must admit it’s a very different world than the one I grew up in. The recent shooting here in Charleston illustrated both the evil that remains out there versus the good that the larger majority represents. The city came together beautifully and we are all hoping that there is a lasting positive impact. Out there in the more remote areas of the south, i think, there may still be issues to overcome but hopefully a new day is coming. And while it may be just a coincidence, the magnolias this year bloomed earlier, were larger and more beautiful and lasted longer than any I’ve seen in the past. 😊

    • Thanks Tina, I’m glad you like it, and I love the positive symbolism of your own magnolias 🙂 I’m with you in hoping for continued changes for the better in Charleston. It’s a relief when positive things come out of bad, and you realise that the racists may be noisy, but plenty of good people are still out there challenging their views.

  2. I don’t know, despite the fact that my household is totally saturated in Black Music both African and American, I just can’t warm to Billie Holiday.

    I must need counselling????

    • Obviously you do 😉 I guess it’s not your fault you weren’t indoctrinated at an impressionable age as I was. Although when she sings about standing by her man who beats her, she loses me then.

  3. Stand by your man….. must ‘fess up, I love Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty……country duets to die for. I know, I know, Possum aka George Jones wasn’t a role model husband to Loretta, what with his weakness for guns, alcohol and marching dust.

    To other posters above. Despite the pervasive political correctness in America today, it is still a deeply racist society today and not far removed from its Jim Crow days.

    • You don’t have to scratch very deep to find the racism in the US or here, but I do think more white people are challenging it now than ever before and that’s a good thing. It’s being forced to the fringe.

      Gotta go now and check up Loretta and Conway again, thanks for the reminder, I’m not averse to a bit of good country music myself, having grown up with brothers listening to Johnny Cash & Glen Campbell

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