*Pic: Wilderness campaigners dwarfed by Australia’s largest eucalypt west of Geeveston
A grand cluster of 90 metre swamp gums reach for the sky in the Kermandie Forest
The splayed buttress of a veteran eucalyptus regnans anchors itself within steep terrain
The spectacular El Maestro tree has survived wildfires over the centuries of its life
I cherish an ancient forest because trees for me are the most revealing messengers from the primordial world. They are also one of most inspiring life forms upon our earth blessed with character, diversity, and ambience. I acknowledge that trees stand for more than just an emerald tapestry that predominates our vibrant planet. They, in their bounty, embody the mystery of evolutionary life itself, and there is nothing like a forest giant to stir the essence of wonder into the heart of one’s soul.
William Blake describes it perfectly –
“The tree, which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity… and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself”.
For some time I had been pondering towards an exploratory trip out west of Geeveston to seek out the last of these mysterious forest giants. There had been speculation throughout the entire forest conservation campaign that a tree of over 100 metres tall may elusively exist out in the wilds, and just a few years ago that myth was almost busted when a 99.6 metre regnans named Centurion was found near the Huon River. Centurion’s discovery almost broke through that iconic measurement, and for all we know as the years have progressed this towering giant may now have reached that noblest of heights.
Unfortunately many of the magnificent iconic eucalypts that remain in southern Tasmania these days do so in small enclaves virtually surrounded by a sea of clearfell, regenerated monoculture or plantations. It is a sad indictment to the once glorious forests that clad the extensive southern forests of this island.
When Admiral Bruni D’entrecastreaux sailed around Tasmania’s southeastern coastline in 1792 his botanist Jacques Labillardiere noted the wild stands of forested country extending across the horizon …
“We were filled with admiration at the sight of these ancient forests, in which the sound of an axe had never been heard.” Labillardiere later wandered into the forest and affirmed “Solitary in the midst of these silent woods – I felt myself penetrated with a sentiment of the grandeur of nature, which it is beyond my power to express.”
It is not known what age eucalypts have lived to through time, but an unofficial story of a fallen one in Gippsland Victoria in the mid nineteenth century was said to be measured by bushmen at 436 feet/133 metres in length. Certainly if such tree existed it would have been well over 500 years old, and definitely the tallest living thing we know of.
Wildfires have come and gone, and some of these defiant veterans have survived the most extremes of these events. There are some majestic eucalypts in Tasmania, half a millennium in age, that have weathered these regimes of natural wildfire, though as we enter the 21st century their challenge now is to defy unbridled human development and the cataclysmic climate changes that face them ahead.
A cursory glance on google earth will reveal what has taken place through Tasmania’s ubiquitous patchwork of forestry’s world’s worst practice. Even more disturbing and revealing is an aerial flight over the southern forests region, which reveals broad swathes of Hiroshima-style blackened landscape.
One can only ponder on how superlative Tasmania’s wild landscape must have been before the invasion of the saw and bulldozer. Broad-scale forests with 90 metre regnans would have been common, but now only diminutive remnants remain of what once was a vast land of primeval country prior to European settlement.
There are a few areas left in Tasmania today where giant trees flourish amidst a broad and intact ecosystem. These are certainly worth visiting before climate change makes its mark, and an even a greater imperative now is to protect what remains for posterity alone.
“In the end nothing will save the world’s forests other than a rekindling of our love and respect for trees. A new respect for trees is essential if we are to regain the understanding of the living world of forests, which will be essential for our survival.” Herbert Girardet
*Ted Mead, with a view to conservation, developed an interest in exploring Tasmania’s remote forests back in the 1980s. Over the past 35 years Ted observed some magnificent wild country fall to the insatiable woodchip industry that was callously driven by corporate greed and corrupt politicians. Ted admits that the 1990’s era was a particularly disturbing time as he witnessed the relentless rampant forest destruction when Gunns were extracting of 5.5 million tonnes of woodchip per annum. Although the Gunns woodchip behemoth is now history, we are constantly reminded that the mindless intent of the state’s politicians towards forest annihilation has not wavered. Ted is optimistic that the logging of high conservation forests is nearing its end, and in the meantime he continues to campaign for the remainder to be preserved for future generations.
• Robert Middleton in Comments: Thank you Ted, for the priceless gift of these images of spectacular trees …