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The magnificent River Red Gums

November 18, 2009
River Red Gum

River Red Gum, Valley of the Winds Walk, Kata-Tjuta

River Red Gums, or Eucalyptus Camaldulensis, are among our most ubiquitous of gum trees, but that doesn’t mean they’re a boring tree. As their name implies they grow along watercourses – including ones that are very very dry such as those you find in Central Australia. They are also a significant part of what makes the Murray River such a gorgeous old river. Apparently, though, they are not found in Tasmania.

One of the well-known places to see these gums is the beautiful Barmah Forest of the Murray-Darling Basin. It boasts trees that are over 500 years old. Sadly, though, there are concerns that due to the extended drought that area has been experiencing, many trees are threatened, if not already dying. I’ve been to this forest and it is a treasure – it would be tragic to lose it.

Being ubiquitous – and beautiful – they feature regularly in Australian arts (in poetry, song, fiction, and art). Of course, they feature in Murray Bail’s captivating novella Eucalyptus:

River Red Gum

Warty River Red Gum, Jessie Gap, East MacDonnells

Over time the River Red Gum (e. camaldulensis) has become barnacled with legends… there’s always a bulky Red Gum here or somewhere else in the wide world, muscling into the eye, as it were: and by following the course of rivers in our particular continent they don’t merely imprint their fuzzy shape but actually worm their way greenly into the mind, giving some hope against the collective crow-croaking dryness. And if that’s not enough the massive individual squatness of these trees, ancient, stained and warty, has a grandfatherly aspect; that is, a long life of incidents, seasons, stories.

River Red Gum

River Red Gum, Bond Gap, West MacDonnell Range

Too many poets to mention have written about this gum. I thought I’d choose just two. First is David Campbell, who addresses the threat to their continuation. Here are some lines from his poem “The Last Red Gum”:

So we stand, me and my brothers, just the bones of ancient trees
that have lined the riverbank since time began.
In a bare and barren landscape, fed by red dust on the breeze,
we’ve been ravaged by the careless hand of man.

Second is Lisa Bellear, an indigenous poet who, in her poem “Beautiful Yuroke Red River Gum”, uses the Gum to symbolise the post-colonial history of Aboriginal Australians. The poem starts:

Sometimes the red river gums
rustled
in the beginning of colonisation
when
Wurundjeri
Bunnerong
and other Kulin nations
sang and danced
and
laughed
aloud

Not too long and there are
fewer red river gums, the
Yarra Tribe’s blood
becomes
the river’s rich red clay

If this isn’t poignant enough, the poem concludes with:

Red river gums are replaced
by plane trees from England
and still
the survivors
watch.

What more can I say?

4 Comments leave one →
  1. November 18, 2009 10:51 pm

    Thanks for the reminder about Barmah forest. I went there on a university excursion in the late 1980s when I was studying environmental planning. I remember at the time that a lot of that forest was threatened by erosion and desalination – and that was 20 years ago.

    River red gums are such gorgeous, gorgeous trees — full of character. Sadly, they’re not as rugged and indestructable as they look. Your pictures are lovely.

  2. whisperinggums permalink*
    November 18, 2009 10:59 pm

    Thanks Kimbofo…glad you like the photos. I should hunt out my Barmah forest photos. I went there more recently than you – around 1997. It was pre digital but Mr Gums has scanned them so with a bit of a hunt I could find them I think. Still, time is of the essence isn’t it? BTW What parts of Australia are you visiting when you come (late this year is it?)

    • November 19, 2009 5:35 am

      I’ll be home in late December for a mere two weeks… Still haven’t sorted our itinerary… Likely to be just hanging out with my folks (in Gippsland) and maybe spend a few days in Melbourne.

      • whisperinggums permalink*
        November 19, 2009 8:02 am

        I can understand that … get home, relax with the family and not travel too far. If by any chance you travel up to the nation’s capital let me know. I’m here most of the time.

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