Ask anyone about their favourite trees and make sure you’re comfortable. Invariably, there will be not one, but many amongst close acquaintance. Just like the power of scent to bring a vivid recollection of place or time, so too do trees mark our lives.
Most stories start in childhood; memories of bare feet perched high in backyard oaks or swinging from branches. For me it was within the boughs of four giant Moreton Bay Fig trees on the farm that housed two tree-houses, and any number of fairies hidden in the cracks and crevices.
Trees could tell much about my progressing years – the flowering jacarandas in the primary school yard that we threaded into wreaths and necklaces; the gums brushing up against my university dorm room window upon leaving home; the turning point when I stood upon a huge brushbox stump in Gloucester, the three ancient scribbly gums surrounding the grass shelter during my wilderness year, the spotted gum in a dream that showed me my life’s path.
Asking myself the question of favoured trees in Newcastle, three spring immediately to mind.
The first is the giant fig in Pacific Park. Casting its exposed roots well down the slope, this remarkable tree gives the park its character. When I worked down the road at The Wilderness Society, this was often my lunch spot. Lying with my back on the cool grass, the stresses of the morning would lift into the dense blue-green canopy above. Replete with the sound of the crashing waves and the smell of sea salt, it was a haven for many CBD workers, always with enough room for all.
The grove of trees in the grounds of the Christ Church Cathedral also hold a special place. ‘Sunnyside,’ my sharehouse of women on Newcomen St was once part of the church and had a ‘stairway to heaven’ – a back door straight out into the Cathedral park. Most mornings I would take a cup of tea into the park and sit amidst the grove. Although only metres above King street I felt invisible, rarely seeing another soul. I was kept company instead by a butcherbird couple who I watched over months build a nest, and bring up their family right above me. It was a bittersweet moment I saw the chicks take their first flight.
The third is the smooth-barked angophora marking the start of the Awabakal Nature Reserve on the Dudley side. Standing alone at the fork of two trails, the knobbly pink limbs have been given ample room to extend their full curly glory. A good friend Lou introduced me to this tree, on one of her regular visits to Awabakal, during wildflower season when the flannel flowers were out. When Lou died unexpectantly a few years later, the angophora is where we gathered to mourn and remember, a single bird singing a sweet tune above us.
In his book ‘If Trees Could Speak’, Woodville resident Bob Beale says that “Australia’s story is written in trees,” and that ‘They are as much part of us and our history as the heritage buildings, the great artworks, the books, and the precious artefacts we conserve in our museums, yet we often fail to value them.”
Perhaps you too, could remember and even visit, a tree from your story sometime soon.