SUNDAY SAY: Where do the Bunya's grow?
Where in the world is the place where the Bunya-bunya trees naturally grow? Only in Queensland. Their habitat is sub-tropical rainforest between the Bunya Mountains and Nambour, and Gympie south to the Esk district. The scientific name, Auracaria bidwilli, honours the botanist John Bidwill who sent the first specimens to England on 1843. The trees are very large, up to 45 metres in height, with a dome-shaped crown when mature. The cones are huge, weighing up to 10 kilograms, and contain a vast number of soft-shelled, highly nutritious, very delicious nuts. When the first cones of this unique pine were brought to England and sold at the London Covent Garden Market they brought ten guineas each, an enormous amount at the time.
The Bunya Range was named for this tree and it was there that the great triennial feast, the Gathering of the Clans, took place with the local people, the Wakka Wakka, as hosts. From about 200 miles in every direction, including from this Big River, the clans walked there along difficult but well-known pathways. Though travel for this sacred Gathering was often through alien territory, hostilities were suspended during a special truce.
The nuts ripened in March but the tribes gathered long before and remained for many weeks, growing fat and sleek on the abundant food.
Organising food for gatherings of maybe thousands, keeping the peace and participating in corroboree were all determined by customary law. Goods were exchanged, marriages arranged, disputes settled, stories told in song and dance.
At one time after white settlement the whole mountain was held as a reserve for the traditional owners and the trees declared sacred by the Government. Then with the Government capitulating to powerful pressure, (it was ever thus), logging and sawmilling were allowed. The Bunya sawmill was built with English capital and major destruction followed. The Feast of the Bunya virtually disappeared by 1876.
Meanwhile in Grafton and South several Bunyas had been amongst the earliest street plantings. However nearly all the Bunyas in North Grafton were removed in the late 1940s after a man was killed by a falling cone. There is one remaining, partly on private property at the western end of Fitzroy Street, the removal of which has now been denied by Council because it is unique!
South Grafton, a separate local government area at the time, kept their trees which are now immense, growing in front of St Patrick's Catholic Church and in McKittrick Park. These Bunyas connect us not only to the past of our city but also, and more importantly, to the wonderful and extraordinary story of the First Australians who have somehow managed to survive European invasion and are now achieving a measure of equality. May they at last find justice, recognition, opportunity and peace.