I left State College around noon on a Thursday, and after stops in Harrisburg, PA, Toronto, and Vancouver, arrived in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia at 8 in the morning on Saturday. So, even though it was around 6 pm on Friday night by my biological clock, I had to climb bleary-eyed into a wrong-sided Toyota Corolla and begin to navigate my way out of Sydney towards the outback.
By around noon I came to my first stop of the trip. The town was called Wellington, New South Wales, and my re-introduction to the culture and environment of Australia was just beginning. I pulled over in front of the town's park because I was already seeing ghosts on the road. I needed a good stop to clear my head.
|Wellington, New South Wales, as seen from the fountain at Cameron Park.|
|Cedrus deodara, the Himalayan, or deodar cedar.|
|The closer you get to this monster, the more impressive it gets.|
|Auraucaria bidwilli, The Bunya Pine.|
"The bunya pine is the last surviving species of the Section Bunya of the genus Araucaria. This section was diverse and widespread during the Mesozoic with some species having cone morphology similar to A. bidwillii, which appeared during the Jurassic. Fossils of Section Bunya are found in South America and Europe. The scientific name honours the botanist John Carne Bidwill, who sent the first specimens to Sir William Hooker in 1843.
A Bunya festival was recorded by Thomas (Tom) Petrie (1831–1910), who went with the Aboriginal people of Brisbane at the age of 14 to the festival at the Bunya Range (now the Blackall Range in the hinterland area of the Sunshine Coast). His daughter, Constance Petrie, put down his stories in which he said that the trees fruited at three-year intervals. The three-year interval may not be correct. Ludwig Leichhardt wrote in 1844 of his expedition to the Bunya feast. The Bunya trees pollinate in South East Queensland in September, October and the cones fall seventeen to eighteen months later in late January to early March from the coast to the current Bunya Mountains. When there is heavy rainfall or drought, pollination may vary. The large festival harvests may vary between two and seven years. When the fruit was ripe, the people of the region would set aside differences and gather in the Bon-yi Mountains (Bunya Mountains) to feast on the kernels.
As the fruit ripened, locals, who were bound by custodial obligations and rights, sent out messengers to invite people from hundreds of kilometres to meet at specific sites. The meetings involved ceremonies, dispute settlements and fights, marriage arrangements and the trading of goods. The Aborigines’ fierce protection of the trees and recognition of the value of the timber, led to colonial authorities prohibiting settlers from cutting the trees in the 1842. The resource was too valuable, and the aboriginals were driven out of the forests along with the ability to run the festivals. The forests were felled for timber and cleared to make way for cultivation.
In what was probably Australia's largest indigenous event, diverse tribes – up to thousands of people – once traveled great distances (from as far as Charleville, Dubbo, Bundaberg and Grafton) to the gatherings. They stayed for months, to celebrate and feast on the bunya nut. The bunya gatherings were an armistice accompanied by much trade exchange, and discussions and negotiations over marriage and regional issues. Due to the sacred status of the bunyas, some tribes would not camp amongst these trees. Also in some regions, the tree was never to be cut.
Indigenous Australians eat the nut of the bunya tree both raw and cooked (roasted, and in more recent times boiled), and also in its immature form. Traditionally, the nuts were additionally ground and made into a paste, which was eaten directly or cooked in hot coals to make bread. The nuts were also stored in the mud of running creeks, and eaten in a fermented state. This was considered a delicacy.
Apart from consuming the nuts, indigenous Australians ate bunya shoots, and utilised the tree's bark as kindling.
Bunya nuts are still sold as a regular food item in grocery stalls and street-side stalls around rural southern Queensland. Some farmers in the Wide Bay/ Sunshine Coast regions have experimented with growing bunya trees commercially for their nuts and timber.
Since the mid-1990s, the Australian company Maton has used bunya for the soundboards of its BG808CL Performer acoustic guitars. The Cole Clark company (also Australian) uses bunya for the majority of its acoustic guitar soundboards. The timber is valued by cabinet makers and woodworkers, and has been used for that purpose for over a century.
However its most popular use is as a 'bushfood' by indigenous foods enthusiasts. A huge variety of home-invented recipes now exists for the bunya nut; from pancakes, biscuits and breads, to casseroles, to 'bunya nut pesto' or hoummus. The nut is considered nutritious, with a unique flavour similar to starchy potato and chestnut.
When the nuts are boiled in water, the water turns red, making a flavoursome tea.
The nutritional content of the bunya nut is: 40% water, 40% complex carbohydrates, 9% protein, 2% fat, 0.2% potassium, 0.06% magnesium. It is also gluten free, making bunya nut flour a substitute for people with gluten intolerance."That's a lot of history for just one tree, and you'd think would be enough for one rest stop. But there is more...here in Wellington, I was also introduced to "The Lone Pine".
|One of the descendants of the original Lone Pine, the Turkish pine (Pinus brutia).|
"The Lone Pine was a solitary tree on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey, which marked the site of the Battle of Lone Pine in 1915. Pines which are planted as a memorial to the Australian and New Zealand soldiers who fought in Gallipoli are also known as "Lone Pines" or "Gallipoli Pines", referencing the original tree.
The original "Lone Pine" was a sole survivor of a group of trees that had been cut down by Turkish soldiers who had used the timber and branches to cover their trenches during the battle. The tree was obliterated during the battle; however, pine cones that had remained attached to the cut branches over the trenches were retrieved by two Australian soldiers and brought home to Australia. The resultant seedlings were found to be Turkish pines, sometimes regarded as a subspecies of Pinus halepensis (Aleppo pine), but usually classified as a distinct species, Pinus brutia.Alec Campbell was the last surviving member of the ANZAC force that fought in Gallipoli, and his death in 2002 at the age of 103 was a national event that was commemorated widely.
I found out the next evening how deeply the Australians still feel the spirit of the ANZAC and that Turkish battlefield of a century ago. I was in an RSL club for dinner on a Sunday night in Charleville, Queensland, when all of a sudden the lights dimmed, everyone stood up, and a trumpet sounded the Australian version of "Taps". Everyone then recited an oath of loyalty, and held a moment of silence. The whole thing was quite moving...and it made me realize how special my time in Australia was going to be.
One last thing about my stop in Wellington...it gave me a hint that rain, and high water, was going to be a part of my experience, and source of concern. The season was unusually wet, even for early spring, and floods in a great flat land are a thing not to be taken lightly.