NOTES ON AUSTRALIA – THE EUCALYPTUS
Beijing, 2 October 2013
In my previous post my wife and I were driving down the coast just south of Sydney. I should point out that during the drive, while we were keeping one eye on the sea to our left we had the other eye fixed on the forests of eucalyptus on our right. They clothe the upper reaches of the Great Dividing Range which runs parallel to the coast. Both of us found these forests of eucalyptus fascinating.
What is more Australian than the eucalyptus? My favourite source of information, Wikipedia, informs me that of the 700-plus species of eucalyptus, only 15 occur outside of Australia and only 9 of these do not also occur in Australia. So Australia is Eucalyptus-land. But we humans have carried it out of Australia. The tree which destroyed my bed of nasturtiums when I was a child was a eucalyptus. This was in Eritrea, and the eucalyptus was brought there by the Italians when it was an Italian colony. One of my memories of that period was taking a walk with my English grandmother through a plantation of eucalyptuses. The crackling of the dry leaves on the ground as we walked over them, that typical scent of eucalyptus, my pulling off the bark hanging from the trees – all this I still, more than 50 years later, remember vividly. Since then, I’ve always had a fondness for the eucalyptus, even though its being taken out of its natural Australian ecosystems has been criticized: an “invasive water-sucker”, it’s been rudely called. All my life, I have seen it dotted around parks and along streets, the last time in Sausalito when we went to visit our son in San Francisco.
So it was with pleasurable interest that I was finally meeting the eucalyptus on its home turf.
I mentioned in my last post our drive through Heathcote National Park. That was our first taste of a forest of eucalyptuses. But we wanted more. So when we decided to leave the coast for Canberra, I thought we could first swing through Brooman State Forest down to the Clyde River and then follow the river until we got to the King’s Highway, which would take us up to Canberra. Based on the maps I had, I thought we would be taking small but asphalted roads the whole way. Wrong! Almost immediately we found ourselves on a dirt road which given our little Micra made me somewhat nervous. My levels of nervousness increased geometrically as the road got progressively rougher. And then we arrived at an intersection not marked on my map. Which way to go? After a moment of hesitation, I indicated a direction to my wife. As we drove deeper into the forest, and as signs of human presence quickly disappeared, my wife became more cheerful while my forebodings grew. While she exclaimed at the beautiful things we were passing I began to mentally review various nightmare scenarios we could be facing: we would run out of petrol, we would run off the road, something under the car would break, a tree would fall on us … Then the road started running downwards and suddenly we found ourselves at a ford. We had to drive through the Clyde River! The ford was 50 metres long, at least!! I stared aghast; this was not among the nightmare scenarios I had envisioned. Could we get across? My wife got out, took off her shoes, and waded in. Yes, yes, she said, you can make it. I looked at the height of the water on her calves and hoped that she was right. After a short prayer I started driving across, leaving my wife to wade over behind me.
We made it, for me a huge relief, for my wife a huge enjoyment, with her merrily taking photos left and right as she waded across the river.
I thought that was it. But we had to ford three more streams feeding into the river! At the last, I really thought we had had it, the water was considerably deeper than even at the river. But an angel was with us and we made it across. Thereafter, the road got better and I could relax and get into the mood of things. The road was a delight
the river was lovely
Gazing down on it I could almost imagine what this country must have looked like to the first European immigrants who arrived here, before they started changing the landscape to make it look more like what they knew back home.
We came across more eucalyptus forests as we crossed the Snowy Mountains after Canberra, and slowly a thought formed in both our minds. My wife put it very well when she said one day that eucalyptus trees look dusty. So true! The green of eucalyptuses is indeed a very dull green, the sort of green you see on trees lining a dirt road where passing cars throw up clouds of dust. I was pleased to see a comment in the museum we visited in Canberra, to the effect that the first European painters had been perplexed by the green of the local trees, which to their eyes was dull and quite unlike the bright greens of the trees they were used to in the UK (They were also perplexed by trees that didn’t shed their leaves but shed their bark. That doesn’t bother me so much; effects of globalization, I suppose).
It’s nice to know that we had the same reaction in 2013 as a bunch of Brits 200 years ago did when also on their first visit to Australia.
Next post I’ll deal with another very Australian thing, the kangaroo.
Early Australian art: http://www.myplace.edu.au/verve/_resources/Early_Colonial_Art_1830_page.jpg
Other pictures: mine and my wife’s