White Cypress Pine
glaucophylla) Gunnedah, nsw Australia
This Old Grey is
something like 500 years old. It was never milled because of the twisted grain and the lumpy
lopsided branches, so it has just stood there. I love these old trees. They're
masters of the sandy plains. It's got the whole history of the forests shut up
in it. Just by seeing it, and looking around to see what it has seen, I can read its story. You can
look nearby and count the big stumps that have been milled. You can see that it didn't have many companions. It
was just growing here overlooking
A marvel of these
cypress pines is that they seem to exhibit passion at pollination time. The
cones go off with a tiny crack and
they shoot brown pollen up to two metres in the air. Occasionally around about
September, a group of trees will go off together, and they just shiver with passion. In 1974, I think it
was, the pollen was just rolling up from the Pilliga forests: huge black clouds,
as though from a fire. By the afternoon there was so much pollen in the shearing sheds along the forest
edge that they could not see to shear. I'd never expect to see that again. So
many Australian marvels you're allowed to see just once in a lifetime. Australia mostly keeps
its wonders hidden.
The white cypress pine
has glorious timber. Especially for flooring. It glows... and then there are the
brown whorls of the knots. They really seem to be moving among the yellow.
Another thing I love about them is that all the new growth seems to be saying,
"Look at me! I'm only growing because you upset this country!" Instead
of the four to six trees to the hectare of pre-European times, we now have
perhaps 200,000. Sometimes they come up so thickly that they don't do anything, they won't compete. They might be 100 years old and
three centimetres in diameter. So many of the cypress pines growing now are completely
unnatural, because all the animals that used to keep them under control have gone. All these small trees are a
fair age, so they could be seeds from this tree.
From a distance the
lichen on white cypress looks pale green and woolly. It usually affects groups of trees, and
eventually kills them. If after rain you go into areas of the forest where it's
thick with lichen, in the gentle after-rain light, the lichen gets a silver glow and you can't see any form to the
tree whatsoever - just this marvellous silver glow in the air. It only lasts
seconds before the sun alters its angle.
It wasn't until late
1968 when I moved to Baradine, that I first noticed the white cypress pine. I was 45 years old. My
understanding of the Pilliga came gradually, through stories from old men. The
whole forest just looked primeval. You could wander into parts of it and think
you might have been the first man
The old men started
telling me, "You know, this was once all open country". They'd say, "Twenty-five years
ago I shepherded 2000 sheep out there and I could watch every one of them, now if I walked 20 yards [18 metres] off the
road and didn't watch where
I was going I'd bloody get lost."
This tree has not had
any particular influence on our national psyche - but I think it ought to. Only
a handful of people would even
know what it was, or even realise the significance of it when it was explained
to them. Most Australians are urban dwellers and its almost impossible to explain something like this to
them. Dramatic history just passes them by.
This Old Grey has
certainly seen some changes. It came to life in open grassland and died in heavy forest.
Eric Rolls is a poet
This article is reprinted from Australian Geographic Tree Stories, by Peter Solness. Australian Geographic Pty Ltd. PO Box 321, Terry Hills NSW. Australia. To be reviewed by us in the near future.
is describing reforestation, occurring in our lifetime in Australia.
Not a plantation monoculture but a real forest that as Rolls says "just looked primeval".
The cause is reduced demand for sheep products worldwide. Bad news for
Australian wool farmers undercut by improved synthetic fibres, but good news for
fashion victims and environmentalists.
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