“People in suburbia see trees differently than foresters do. They cherish every one. It is useless to speak of the probability that a certain tree will die when the tree is in someone’s backyard …. You are talking about a personal asset, a friend, a monument, not about board feet of lumber.”
Today is the anniversary of the birth of A.A. Milne, author and creator of Winnie-the-Pooh, Piglet, Eyore and Tigger. An appropriate day for Anne and I to take Aurora for a walk into Bradshaw Park, a small bushland reserve in Mordialloc, just as important to my daughters’ childhood as the hundred acre wood!
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
When Anne and MaryJane were at primary school I was involved with the Friends of Bradshaw Park as a volunteer. Once a month on a Saturday morning , we would weed, plant flora and observe the fauna. The group worked hard building relationships with schools and the council to ensure the park remained as a reserve and did not get swallowed up in a tide of development that was threatening to swamp parts of the City of Kingston, especially when the Kennett Government swept to power. Many park rangers were made redundant, funds were slashed and compulsory competitive tendering became the norm because of the mistaken belief that privatisation of public assets and jobs is cheaper and better. When dual occupancies and high-rise are seen as the most profitable use of land many people are unaware or scathing of the value of places like Bradshaw Park.
It was a difficult and uncertain time, but I met many dedicated conservationists, environmentalists and knowledgeable gardeners in the small group of community-minded volunteers who made up the Friends of Bradshaw Park. They generously passed on their knowledge and nurtured indigenous plants to sell for much needed funds. My garden at Mordialloc benefited and the native bushes and trees that still give me pleasure today originated from Bradshaw Park.
Anne recalled how our involvement in Friends of Bradshaw Park led to hours of after school fun with mates, playing chasie, hide and seek and a host of other make-believe games. The children loved the place and learnt to value the importance of indigenous plants and trees in a natural setting. It’s no surprise both daughters are active environmentalists with strong opinions about climate change, food sustainability, the importance of rainforests and the scourge of overdevelopment.
“I am the Lorax, I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.”
I held writing workshops in Bradshaw Park for groups of children, many being home educated, others pursuing creative writing and appreciating a hands-on experience in a natural environment. To raise awareness of the Park and the Friends group, I collated an education kit in 1998 with the help of a council grant. Every primary school in Kingston received a kit, which was packed with history, nature facts, quizzes, colouring-in sheets, poetry, writing prompts, a cassette tape of bird song and guided walk around the park, and my book ‘It’s a Dog’s Life’ written to illustrate importance of keeping dogs under control in suburbia and cleaning up their poo! Talented members of the group helped with research, information and drawings.
“Many people, other than the authors, contribute to the making of a book, from the first person who had the bright idea of alphabetic writing through the inventor of movable type to the lumberjacks who felled the trees that were pulped for its printing. It is not customary to acknowledge the trees themselves, though their commitment is total.”
Rada and Forsyth, Machine Learning
Oh, Ancient Tree
What are you thinking
oh, ancient tree,
have you thoughts to share
with insignificant me?
I stand before your trunk
so sturdy and strong
the canopy of your branches
stretches loose-limbed and long.
Will your rustling leaves
whisper secrets from the past,
tell of devastating changes
and the die being cast?
Are you just happy to be alive
and home for many creatures?
Glad you’re not yet floorboards,
wood-chips, or someone’s furniture features!
I can see you have scars
from days of long ago,
but never mortally wounded,
you’ve continued to grow and grow…
Beetles and worms nurture
the soil beneath your feet,
and the birds in your foliage
ensure insects don’t overeat.
The birds nestle in your boughs
singing daily as they dally,
enjoying food as well as safety
for your health they’ll rally.
And just by being here
you give sweet breath to me,
there’s truly nothing on this earth
as wonderful as you –
oh, ancient tree!
“When you enter a grove peopled with ancient trees, higher than the ordinary, and shutting out the sky with their thickly inter-twined branches, do not the stately shadows of the wood, the stillness of the place, and the awful gloom of this doomed cavern then strike you with the presence of a deity?”
The trees cling to fragile foliage
like mothers reluctant to let
their children go.
And the winter sun radiates
white light promising a day
of autumn glory…
It is Melbourne after all.
A blue sky pockmarked by fluffy clouds
reflects a sea of shimmering blue.
But beyond the benign bay
tragedy intrudes as
fear and desperation meets
fear and distrust.
No need of Siren’s song
to lure the mariners to their death.
The monster from the deep is
dressed in political spin and
Christian charity is in short supply.
To seek asylum is now illegal
it is Australia after all.
Lyre Bird’s Lair
A forgotten memory like shadow cast
Feeds a yearning for the past,
A picture of childish eyes entranced
The memorable day the lyrebird danced.
Performing his usual repertoire of sound
The lyrebird proudly claimed his ground
Tail feathers splayed shimmering white
Brown head hidden from onlookers’ sight.
And without proud peacock arrogance
The bird shyly began a seductive dance.
Throughout the day lovers came and went
Until the lyrebird with energy spent
Disappeared amongst the haze of trees
Ephemeral as the evening breeze.
Enthused by dreams of aeons past
I return to Sherbrooke Forest at last
Spongy green moss cushions city feet
Melodious warbles and insects meet.
Fragile maidenhair decorates the trail
Flighty butterflies appreciate their veil.
Eucalyptus tang replaces rich loam smell
Towering Mountain Ash cast their spell.
I hope to glimpse again the lyrebird’s dance
Tho’ its talent for mimicry limits my chance
This bird can repeat the magpie’s trill
Replicates man-made sounds at will −
Chainsaw, hammer, or car alarm
All perfected as part of his charm.
I pant with the exertion of the climb
Birds chitter and sing with voices sublime
My misty gasps whisper to the trees
When nearby rustling makes me freeze
Low in the fork of a wattle tree
A sight I never expected to see
Constructed with meticulous precision
A lyrebird family’s nesting vision
A beautiful ball-shaped structure appears
An ideal home developed from years
Of evolution, and remarkable adaptation
By a bird unique to the Australian nation.
But alas like the palette of fleeting dawn
The enigmatic lyrebird’s chick has flown.