You call that a tree? THIS is a tree!

You call that a tree? THIS is a tree!

On a family holiday in New Zealand, we were driving to the beach when we passed a small, brown sign that read ‘BIG TREE’. My dad skidded to a halt, reversed back, and turned down the dirt road the sign had indicated. If there was anything that could draw the Kelly-family-holiday crowd, it was a big tree.

Here we are in front of it:

Dad (Geoff), me, Mum (Sandra) and sister (Violet) in front of unnamed big tree, South Island, New Zealand, 1998.

We had a lot of family holidays like this. Thanks to Dad, I’ve seen a lot of big trees. At the time, I can’t say I was terribly happy about the detours. I wanted one of those “normal” family holidays where you got to go to Movie World or something (although I can’t imagine why, I have never enjoyed rollercoasters). Here’s a photo of my sister and I on a bushwalk with Dad – you can tell from our expression how excited we both were.

Violet, me and Dad exploring a forest in New Zealand, 1998.

But of course, kids can be pretty stupid sometimes, and over the years I’ve come to realise my mistake. Now I long for the days when my parents organised (and paid for) the amazing adventures we went on back then. I love the bush (I became an ecologist), and I have inherited my Dad’s particular obsession with big trees.

Big trees are awesome. They really are. They’re impressive and old and majestic and strong. They were here long before any of us, and with any luck they’ll be here long after us too. They are their own entire ecosystem, and when they finally fall, the next generation fights to take their place.

We’re pretty spoiled in Australia when it comes to big trees, and almost all of them are mighty eucalypts. So, in honour of the upcoming National Eucalypt Day on March 23rd, I thought I’d take you down memory lane to some of the big trees I’ve seen in Australia.

(Note that this is by no means a comprehensive list – there are a lot I couldn’t find photos of, and many more I have yet to see, some out in the middle of nowhere!)

Eucalyptus diversicolor – Karri tree (WA)

The centuries-old Karri trees are some of Western Australia’s largest – but this one in particular stands out clearly in my memory. This is the Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree, and when I googled it the first thing that came up was ‘Australia’s scariest tourist attraction’. It’s actually a fire-lookout tree, with 165 metal pegs buried into its trunk so that climbers can ascend the 68 metres and survey the Karri forest below. My dad, of course, decided he had to climb it, much to my and my mum’s horror (my sister, on the other hand, was busy working out a way to get up there without anyone noticing). Luckily, he didn’t miss a step – there’s nothing to catch your fall!

Violet and I in front of the Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree.
My dad, Geoff, on his way to the top, Western Australia, 2002.

Eucalyptus regnans – Mountain Ash (TAS & VIC)

The temperate rainforests of south-east Australia are by far one of my favourite ecosystems in the world, so tranquil and peaceful. Better yet, they are home to some of the world’s largest flowering plants, the amazing Mountain Ash trees. You can see these guys throughout Victoria and Tasmania, although their ecosystem is critically endangered due to logging. They provide homes for countless critters, including Victoria’s endangered faunal emblem, the Leadbeater’s Possum. Here I am with one of these giants in Tahune Forest in the Huon Valley of Tasmania. Full disclosure: the tallest recorded tree in Australia is also in this forest (99.82 metres!) but I didn’t get a photo of it – whoops!

Me with a big old Mountain Ash on the Tahune Airwalk in south-east Tasmania, 2015.

Eucalyptus jacksonii – Red Tingle (WA)

This is the Giant Tingle Tree found in the Valley of Giants, Walpole-Nornalup National Park, in south-west Western Australia. This huge, fire-hollowed tree is said to be approximately 400 years old, with a whopping 24-metre circumference at breast height (which apparently makes it the widest living eucalypt in the world). It’s located along an 800-metre loop track starting at the car park, so is definitely worth checking out!

My sister, Violet, standing in the Giant Tingle Tree, Western Australia, 2002

Eucalyptus viminalis – Manna Gum (TAS, VIC, NSW & SA)

My most recent big tree sighting was in Tasmania, where I was able to visit the four ‘White Knights’ of Evercreech Forest Reserve. These are the tallest Manna Gums in the world, and have escaped logging multiple times over the past century – including in the 1940s when they were saved simply because loggers decided they wouldn’t be able to remove the trees once they were cut down. Although their tops are looking a little worse for wear, they have an amazing array of hollows for native wildlife to use, and it was nice to see some of the surrounding trees catching up in size as well.

Me in front of one of the four White Knights of Evercreech, 2017.

Banner image courtesy of Orderinchaos – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1662597

Ella Kelly

Ella Kelly is a PhD Candidate at the University of Melbourne, where she spends a lot of time thinking about why some quolls don’t eat cane toads (if only she could ask them!). She also enjoys talking and writing about science, and would ultimately love to have an actual impact on the conservation of Australia’s biodiversity.

There is 1 comment on this post
  1. Peter Fagg
    June 13, 2018, 11:16 am

    I really enjoyed Ella’s essay. She shows a great appreciation of trees.
    But as a forest scientist who has worked for decades in Victoria’s forests, I point out that Mountain Ash is rare in temperate rainforests of SE Australia. Its main floristic community is termed Wet Sclerophyll Forest. Another error is the claim that Mountain Ash forest is ‘critically endangered due to logging’. Despite claims by some ANU researchers, the MA forest type is not critically endangered – how could it be given that there are at least 250,000 hectares in Victoria alone? In addition, the small % of area (approx. 6%) that is available for timber harvesting is all regenerated back to Mountain Ash, and no large old growth trees are felled.

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