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A Pretty Possessive Apostrophe

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What a joy this apostrophe is: so inclusive, so quietly assured

On this July afternoon when the sun has the pale sky to itself and warms our faces in that uplifting, a South Australian-winter’s-not-so-bad way, the boys and I were about to leave the Adelaide Botanic Gardens and make our boisterous path along the River Torrens to the North Terrace holiday apartment.

We’d had a fantastic morning in the 51-hectare public garden at the city’s north-east corner and I saw it, just by the Plane Tree Drive exit. Beyond the vertical and ascending letters I was struck by its many expressions of beauty.

It was the Friends’ Gate sign.

It’s named for the volunteer organisation, Friends of the Botanic Gardens of Adelaide, who has supported the Adelaide, Mt Lofty, and Wittunga gardens since 1977. Community and enterprise of this scope are worth commemorating with a gate and declarative sign and my heart was gladdened.

My second reading of the sign was that it’s not only for this society, but also for all friends visiting the Botanic Gardens. It’s an expansive symbol for those past, present and future who have happened by this gate. To meet someone by the Friends’ Gate surely provides a welcoming and opportune reminder of the relationship you share.

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Botanic Gardens

What better way to begin an hour or so in a beloved’s company than with a smile and hug by this cosy sign?

I’m neither grammarian nor linguist, but simply love locating joy in words and the worlds they create, and so my subsequent reading of the sign focussed on the possessive apostrophe. I noted how visually diminutive it is but was alerted to its terrier conviction.

The apostrophe was instantly affirming and seemed to suggest everything enchanting about the time and place. As the sun hung in the midday heavens I found abundant delight in this gentle space in our mostly gentle city. It was almost a Russian doll effect: state; city; garden; sign. Although an artificial construct, there was punctuative beauty in this natural if manicured garden. I was spellbound.

Like most moments this apostrophe existed in a personal context. Telling Claire of it later she wondered if it might be exclusive and indicating a club for the privileged few. I suggested that I didn’t find it aggressive, but rather inclusive and quietly proud.

I later speculated if Mr John Richards, the 96-year-old founder of the Apostrophe Protection Society, might have also enjoyed the Friends’ Gate so much that it inspired him to reverse his recent decision to close down his very British organisation.

I also thought about the ‘greengrocer’s apostrophe’ – a phrase referring to the mistaken use of an apostrophe, in a plural noun such as ‘Cauliflower’s – two for a dollar!’ Of equal horror for some is the clanging absence of one, the prickly omission when confronted with a line like, ‘Tigers car window broken with 9-iron.’

The Friends’ Gate sign was certain and unhurried – if a punctuation mark can connote movement. I imagined it inspiring an acoustic Belle and Sebastian song with a sweetly soaring chorus, or a Bruce Dawe poem, all festive and tender awe and penned in a distant decade.

This possessive apostrophe stayed with me as we hiked behind the zoo and Adelaide Oval then grew in the west.

AM