I’m delighted to welcome Rosemary Noble, Chindi’s Author of the Week. Rosemary’s article is close to my heart as she discusses Australian flora and fauna.
Thank you, Patricia, for inviting me to feature on your blog today. Knowing that you are fascinated by trees, I thought that it was time I wrote a blog about my interest in Australian flora and fauna, since three of my historical novels are set there.
Australian Flora and Fauna
The first time that I visited Australia in 2011, I was struck immediately by the different colour tones of the green, I do not profess to know anything about botany but even I could tell that these were not the colours I was used to, more olive than bright green. Not only was the colour unusual, but also the canopy. The trees reminded me of delicate ladies’ parasols. The settlers missed their British trees, so you find all sorts of British trees in gardens or avenues, hence the bright spring green on the left of the above picture.
There are many species of native eucalypts. In the upside-down world of Australia, these trees do not lose their leaves in Winter but their bark. I love the common names of these trees such as the paper-bark gum and the scribbly gum, where a grub infests the bark so that it looks like it’s been scribbled on.
Trees can also tell a story, Take a wide-girthed tree in the Adelaide wine region. The tour guide showed us this hollowed out tree, still alive, where a hundred years before a man had lived, married and brought up several children inside the tree, until at last, he found them a proper home. Should we have taken this with a pinch of salt, possibly? But people did live in the most primitive conditions. I was told of a Dutch family after WW2 who moved to West Australia and lived in a canvas sided hut for more than a year.
The above picture tells another story. We found this in a former gold mining town. Why is it so wide, so misshapen? The gold miners used to leave notes nailed to its bark, telling their friends where they had gone. Over the years, the tree has repaired all the nail holes and covered them up.
When we were in Canberra last October, there was a fabulous exhibition at the National Library about the voyage when Captain Cook visited and named Botany Bay. Joseph Banks, renowned botanist, made his name for the work on samples brought back to London. Imagine the excitement on seeing these new and exotic species, the grevillias, proteas, bottle brushes, acacias and many different kinds of tiny pea flowers.
What perturbs me is the way that settlers were not satisfied with native species, neither of trees, flowers or fauna. We all know the disaster of introducing rabbits, foxes and cats into Australia, but how many realise that they imported sparrows, blackbirds and nightingales back in the 1850s. The latter didn’t survive but I recently sat in a motel garden in northern Victoria listening to the birdsong. Along with the boom from a bittern, the warbling of the Australian magpies and the shrieking of the cockatoos came the overpowering song of birds I hear every day in my Sussex garden, all descendants of the three dozen pairs imported into Melbourne.
The oaks, the elms and the beech lined avenues of that small town could not be considered native in any way. They have effectively supplanted the native flora, just as the British and Chinese gold miners of the 1850s supplanted the aboriginals. What is done is done. One good outcome is that the mighty elm has found its refuge in Australia. I had forgotten what a magnificent tree it is since they were wiped out in Britain by Dutch Elm disease way back in the 1960s.
Each time I return to Australia, I try to use my eyes and ears more. Travelling along the road around the southern edge of Victoria into New South Wales last time, we thought something was wrong with the car until we opened the window. Billions of cicadas accompanied us along a hundred miles of virgin forest. The sound was deafening and thrilling.
Of course, Australia is both large and diverse. I have not touched upon the rainforests of Queensland nor the central dry outback. In good years the outback has its wealth of flora. The 2018 drought has wiped much of it out. Wild fires have laid waste to tropical rainforest around Mackay with such ferocity that it may not recover for decades. It’s a harsh and unforgiving country; drought, fire, flood and dust storms abound but it is also my second home.
Thank you Rosemary for that fabulous article. I’m intrigued to know the names of the wide-girthed tree in the Adelaide wine region and the wide tree in the gold mining town as they are great candidates for me to write poetry narratives to add to my myth and folklore collection.
If you have any questions for Rosemary, please leave them at the end of this blog or via her social media links provided.
Rosemary Noble lives in West Sussex and worked as an education librarian. Books have been her life, ever since she walked into a library at five-years-old and found a treasure trove. Her other love is social history. She got hooked on family history before retirement and discovered so many stories that deserved to be told.
Her first book, Search for the Light, tells the story of three young girls transported to Australia in 1824. Friendship sustains them through the horrors of the journey and their enforced service in Tasmania. The Digger’s Daughter tells of the next generation of gold-diggers and a pioneering woman who lives almost through the first hundred years in Victoria. The third in the trilogy, Sadie’s Wars takes the reader to the fourth generation and into the twentieth century. The trilogy is based on the author’s family. It tells of secrecy and lies, of determination and grit and how all can be done or undone by luck.
Rosemary is a member of CHINDI independent authors and is involved in literary events in and around Chichester. She also loves to travel, especially to Australia and Europe and not least, she loves spending time with her grandchildren, one of whom is a budding author herself.
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This is a wonderful article. So many things struck me – apart from the wonderfully straightforward names given to the trees: scribble tree!It should be adopted as an icon for writers. I loved the photo of the tree that has covered up the scars made by miner’s leaving notes. Nature is more powerful than puny us. Rosemary uses her eyes and ears more every time she visits Australia and so we should, as writers. I think writing helps connect us to our world (and beyond) and if we manage to then connect with readers, that’s the main aim – for me, anyway. If we make some pennies along the way, then, great. But how many of us make much? Thanks for this intriguing blog, both of you.