If trees could speak…

If only trees could tell their stories. In many ways this may seem a strange topic for this blog, a bit off-topic for this iconophiliac, but when natural forms acquire the status of icons, there are connections worth writing about…


The backstory. Every second day or so I walk up Mount Ainslie, behind the Australian War Memorial. I walk and run, to push the old physiotype a bit… It’s a great experience, and the path takes you through beautiful passages of bush, the wildlife watches you as you pump past, and you pass through complex natural and cultural zones that are strangely compelling, once you get used to them. Some of the zones are totally artificial (cultural) impositions, like the series of excreable plaques that suggest you’re following (experiencing) the Kokoda Trail. By contrast, there’s the so-called Aboriginal Plaque, now adopted by the Australian War Memorial, but originally the private intervention of a Campbell citizen who wanted to quietly protest and memorialise the war-time contributions of Aboriginal people.


And of course, you can’t help but be aware the whole region was once trodden by Indigenous feet, hunting, farming the natural produce of this land. And then you also recognise the relics of other farmers, bits of broken down fencing which remind us this was once also a marginally economic zone for the settlers who preceded the establishment of Canberra and the development of the suburbia nearby.


Which brings me to the tree. There are other, grander eucalypts along this track, but it is this one that has become my favourite. It has somehow survived and re-grown the effects of a serious bushfire which ignited Mt Ainslie in the 1980s. Over the past two years I’ve been watching as the split between the live and dead remnants of its once significant trunk gradually widens.


But then, just today, I looked up and recognised that the stump of its burnt-hollow better half had been chainsawed down sometime in the years since the bushfire, and the solid bits rolled a little way down the hill. Perhaps it was a threat to joggers? Yet despite such traumas, it’s a survivor. These trees have the capacity to re-grow from the most unlikely remnant parts.

So, dear readers, do you have a favorite tree with a story to tell? If other bloggers can have road kill categories, surely we can have a Natural History theme for iconophilia?

PS Since writing this post I’ve discovered On Relations with Trees, an elegant and evocative essay by Melissa Sweet, in which I discover I’ve innocently appropriated the title of a book: If Trees could Speak, by Bob Beale (Allen and Unwin, 2007). Here’s a sample. Will do some more backgrounding, and update…


#1 hanna hoyne on 06.19.09 at 1:40 pm

that tree looks like my relationship while doing phd!! But!! i am still standing and so is the relationship although it’s a bit creaky and feels the wind at night.

#2 admin on 06.19.09 at 4:06 pm

And see what Max found in Canada: “it’s an icon, it’s an artpiece…”

#3 Festival of the Trees – Edition 37 « TGAW on 07.01.09 at 2:50 pm

[…] Lendon at iconophilia.net shares photographs and memories of a mangled eucalyptus tree that survived a serious brush fire at Austalia’s Mount Ainslie. Even though the tree was […]

#4 Vicky on 07.01.09 at 3:02 pm

Nigel, this is a great story! For the 37th Edition of the Festival of the Trees blog carnival, we focused on Survivor Trees. Your tree fit in perfectly!


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