Delicious descriptions: Brooke Davis on salmon gums

In my recent review of Brooke Davis’ novel Lost & found I mentioned her descriptions but didn’t really give any examples. I can’t leave this book without giving you two that involve a rather interesting tree. It also gives me an opportunity to share my photographs of one! They are beautiful (though my photographs don’t really do them justice).

Salmon Gum

Salmon Gum from NT (Eucalyptus tintinnans).

The interesting thing about Gum Trees – because of course I am talking about gums – is their nomenclature. Many gums have multiple names, and sometimes the same name is used for several different species. An example is the Ghost Gum. This name is commonly used for several species of gums that mostly grow in arid Australia and have ghostly white bark. There are other examples though, one of which is the less commonly known Salmon Gum. I have only seen the Eucalyptus Tintinnans in the Northern Territory, but Davis writes about, I assume, the Western Australian native one, the Eucalyptus salmonophloia. I don’t have a photograph of it but you can see a gorgeous one on this blog (I hope they don’t mind my linking to it).

So, here is the first description:

They drive past rows of gum trees, leaning out over the road and into the sky, like dancers posing. Those trees there, the bus driver says. See how pink they are? Millie nods. They make her think of the inside of her mouth. Salmon gums. Always looks like the sun’s setting on them.

Do you reckon that’s a sly joke about “gums” there?

Another shot of Eucalpytus Tintinnans

Another shot of Eucalpytus Tintinnans

The second one comes in a description of the people of inland Western Australia, from Karl’s perspective:

Back home, on the southwest coast, the people have dazed eyes, blond edges, waterlogged strides. The people here are different: scratchy, like they’ve been sketched roughly on paper, like they are born of the very red dirt they scuff their feet in, made out of the salmon gums that line the streets. They yell outside the bakery, the supermarket, the pubs and in the main thoroughfare, chopping at words as though throwing their sentences in a blender. Karl doesn’t feel like he fits in here. Then again, Karl doesn’t feel like he fits in back there, either.

The sky is between day and night, that deep blue it gets when it’s shedding one for the other.

Not being from the West, I don’t fully understand the basis of the distinction she’s making here between the coastal and inland people – what’s this about yelling outside bakeries, supermarkets and pubs? – but I did enjoy reading this description. It’s vivid. I know that a few Western Australians read this blog. I’d love to hear what they think of this, and what it says to them.

14 thoughts on “Delicious descriptions: Brooke Davis on salmon gums

  1. I wish I could attach a photo – back in early June in Kakadu – I took several photographs of a stunningly beautiful euacalypt against the skyline! It was this salmon gum! Thank you for this essay!

    • Gorgeous aren’t they Jim? I wish you could attach yours. I wasn’t happy with my photos – sometimes the sun just isn’t in the right place at the time you are there is it?

  2. “The sky is between day and night, that deep blue it gets when it’s shedding one for the other.” I like that. The imagery of salmon gums gives me the wigglies though.

  3. I have only seen photos of the salmon gum as I don’t believe they are in Tassie. I also love the ghost gum which is a favourite. Everytime I go to Melbourne I beeline straight to the park where Captain Cook’s cottage is and visit my favourite ghost gum there. Love the gums though they do scare me at times in our Tassie windstorms. Don’t really want one in my living room. I enjoy seeing them where they are !!

    • Fair enough, Pam. I think, from my reading, that some gums are riskier than others. Most of the houses I’ve lived in have had gums including Sydney which has some wild storms … But of course we could have just been lucky!

  4. Brooke Davis’ description of my favourite Western Australian tree, the Salmon Gum is perfect. The intense salmon coppery colour of these trees in late summer seems unnatural. The people of remote WA rural communities certainly do appear to be one with the red dirt. The language of these rural people does tend to be abbreviated and colloquial to those from coastal regions. The initial review tempted me to read the book, now it is at the top of my TBW list.

    • Oh lovely to hear from you Laurel! Glad my WA question has flushed you out! Thanks for confirming that her descriptions ring true to you. It was that abbreviated – choppy – language bit that intrigued me the most. I’ll be interested to hear what you think about the book – if you can remember to come back and say.

      Oh and the NT Salmon Gums we saw were pretty pink (and pinker than my photos), but not intense. My photos were taken though in June/July so probably not at the height of their colour – I assume their colour changes through the season like the colour of the WA native one does.

  5. And in one of those Sydney storms a blackbutt (eucalyptus pilularis) in our back garden came down. The Macquarie Dictionary of Trees & Shrubs suggests it is prone to ‘wind throw’; but we were lucky – our neighbours not quite so – it fell on their clothes line.

    • It’s a gorgeous bark, I agree, Stefanie. I haven’t seen a lot growing together, but they may do. Most of my experience of gums is that they do. They sure would be a sights particularly in their peak season.

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