Gum trees, the legends of our bushland
"GIVE me a home amongst the gum trees!"
This is a song for the kookaburras who sit in the old gum tree laughing as they survey their territory. It is a song too for the koalas who need a comfortable place to eat and sleep. Don't we all?
Eucalypts dominate the tree flora of Australia having taken over from rainforest as the continent dried. They include the tallest known flowering species on earth.
They have figured frequently in poems and song and have been the subject for many Australian painters including Albert Namatjira and Hans Heysen.
In our valley the species common was the Forest Red Gum, botanically designated Eucalyptus teretecornis.
It grew as tall woodland on the margins of the riverine rain forest where soil was less fertile, poorly drained or seasonally inundated.
In Eastern Australia its habitat extended from coastal south-east Victoria to southern Papua New Guinea.
This species has never been used in Grafton as a street tree but a stand of remnants is located over south at Rodeo Park and at the rear of Hawthorne Park. As well, there are lofty flourishing specimens on Susan Island.
More than 800 species of eucalypts exist in Australia. Not all provide suitable food for koalas but this species does and once there was a large population of koalas here.
Some remain but the continuing loss of habitat, added to the destruction by the guns of white men seeking furs early last century, made survival difficult.
The Forest Red Gum grows to a height of 30 to 50 metres with a girth up to two metres. It sheds its bark in irregular sheets resulting in a smooth grey-blue trunk surface of speckled beauty.
Winter into spring is the time for masses of white flowers, a contributory factor in the delicious honey produced here.
The landscape of our valley has been contained and limited since European settlement. The wildness is no longer but this stand of remnant Forest Red Gums combined with those left on Susan Island help us to remember.