I regard dogs and trees as superior beings to humans. Trees are reliable and beautiful. They give us shade, timber and oxygen – and the paper on which our books and this journal are published. And, unless set ablaze by terrorist arsonists with WMD’s that come in a matchbox, they also store carbon. Give trees citizenship, I say. Give ’em the vote. Governments of oaks, elms and eucalypts would be a huge improvement.
The old dead trees are the most fascinating – the countless trees lying in the gullies and up the hills that fell perhaps a century ago, pulling up their roots from the earth as they toppled. The great upheavals left rocks in their huge tentacles and, as they slowly rot, the trunks are home to populations of creatures, from goannas to wild pigs. As grey as tombstones in a cemetery they lie there, having outlasted generations of farmers, as they’ll outlast me. In their own way they are as beautiful, more beautiful, than living trees.
When I was five, a tree was my best friend. An old peppercorn on Grandpa’s little farm. I’d haul myself into its calloused arms and hide from the world in its foliage. Apart from the pleasure of looking down on unsuspecting adults, I could be Robin Hood in a one-tree Sherwood Forest or Johnny Weissmuller in his jungle. I fell out of my friend once while Tarzan-ing. Gashed a large chunk from a leg. Almost 70 years later, there’s still a scar.
Trees are very good friends. Firm friends. My five year old’s tree could be relied upon to be there next day, uncritical and protective. And think of trees’ contribution to our lives. They provide boats, buildings, paper, furniture and, for clog-wearers, footwear. As well as contributing toothpicks and chopsticks they give little birdies somewhere comfy to sit. Best of all, they help produce breathable air and lock up that naughty carbon. Why is why I am talking to the Greens about giving trees the vote.
Later, in a different home, I befriended a eucalypt, using a resilient bough as a trampoline. Learning nothing from having plummeted from the peppercorn, I’d bounce happily in my haven in the heavens. I loved that tree – and fully understand why Heysen, Roberts, McCubbin and the rest devoted so much time and effort to painting arboreal portraits.
Trees are, after all, our largest and oldest living things. They are Australia's natural, national treasures – the true Elders of our vast continent.
According to ancient mythology, trees link the Earth to the sky. In this respect trees link humans to another world.
The celebrated Aboriginal painter Albert Namatjira loved the Ghost Gums of the Northern Territory… They are evocatively Australian, their white trunks contrasting with the red earth and the deep blue sky of the Dreamtime region that has for centuries sustained Namatjira’s Aranda people.
As for the Ghost Gum… there are those who maintain with a lump in their throats it is the most beautiful tree on earth.
The difference between me and a butterfly is that the butterfly looks at a flower with no purpose in mind but to sip nectar. The flower feeds its body while for me the colours and shapes and scents of flowers feed my heart. But how arrogant of me to assume that the butterfly does not feel its miniscule heart also soar for no reason other than touching and being touched by beauty!