Feature image: sky spiral of a living, burnt-out Jarrah, Witchcliffe.
Trees hold a very special role in the genus loci, or spirit of place.
Margaret River lies in the far south-west of Australia, in the Leeuwin-Naturaliste region. A limestone ridge runs along the coast, and fades away inland to a sand plain cloaked with forests and swamp. There are a diverse range of habitats and unique ecosystems, which combine to create one of the worlds rare biodiversity hotspots.
The Leeuwin-Naturaliste region is Wadandi Noongar country. Before European colonisation, it was heavily timbered. Noongar people rarely or never felt the need to fell a large tree, and instead favoured small scale elements such as bark, leaves, roots, flowers, sap, and branches. Many of the tree names we use are Noongar in origin. Karri, Yarri, Marri, Jarrah, Tuart, and Bullitch; ancient names that resonate with the unique spirit of place.
All our trees are endemic to the south-west. Each species has a character all of it’s own; a place, or role in a niche. Each individual tree also has its own personality, or way it has shaped itself into the landscape.
For me, photography gives a purpose for seeking them out, learning their shapes, finding faces, sensing shifting moods at different seasons or times of day. Tree imaging presents a particular array of challenges: tricks with light and shadow in the forest, and issues of scale and representation.
This gallery is a personal interaction; an incentive for getting out onto country in a meaningful way. My intent is not to produce professional quality photographs: I use only a bridge camera and a smartphone. My focus rather, is to explore the character of the trees. Noongar culture has a long established relationship with them. Likewise, in European culture there is an ancient body of lore that has been accumulating for thousands of years: deep knowledge of the oak, elder, and yew, amongst others. But in Australia, with a diverse array of newcoming cultures, we are still building our familiarity with the local spirits of place.
Most people who spend time out on country will have an instinctive impression of the character of trees; by sharing our stories, writings, and art, we can express these meanings and build our own tree lore specific to the south-west. By expanding our culture of trees, we can create a stronger connection to country, and foster sustainability and stewardship into the future.
Karri (eucalyptus diversicolor)
Karri, with their huge size and gleaming pale trunks, capture the imagination of all who see them. Many 19th century visitors waxed lyrical about this tree: meanwhile the largest were being hunted out, measured, felled, and exported for use as sleepers, road pavers, and bridge timbers. Perhaps the largest tree ever recorded in Western Australia was the King Karri of Karridale. Located within the bounds of the Davies timber empire, Davies forbade it to be felled and it was shown off to visitors. Tragically, the tree was twisted out of the ground by a tempest that struck in 1900.
These twin karris are growing close to the location of King Karri, in a stand of regrowth in Boranup Forest. Given centuries, and enough rainfall, they may one day swell to the immense proportions of the felled forest giants.
Paperbark (melaleuca preissiana)
The many tangled mouths of the paperbark swamp. Freshwater paperbarks live in micro-climates along creeklines. The papery bark has multiple uses, from wraps for preserving and cooking food, to the roofing and flooring of shelters. They have an undeniably eerie presence.
Layer upon papery layer, a multi-dimensional universe of small habitats
Jarrah (eucalyptus marginata)
Old Man Jarrah (eucalyptus marginata) These trees hold the most favoured timber in the south-west: deep red and particularly hard and dense. Most of the the tall straight Jarrah were felled before the 1930s. Regrowth is very slow, and it will be centuries before the return of large strong trees. Here and there are ancients that survived logging: twisted, hollow, or burnt out, they are fascinating characters, and the elders of the forest. My first tree gallery is devoted to the Jarrah.
Looking out from a Jarrah house. The inside of burnt-out trees have multiple textures, from the crackled glazing of charcoal, through the tempered pale hardwood, to the living shell of bark that cloaks the deadwood centre of the tree. The living skin of a Jarrah is a deep, flaky red like blood.
Bemused face in the deadwood of a living tree. Jarrah, Great North Road.
Jarrah house just a few kilometres from Margaret River. It is very rare to find a tree of this size, it measures 7 metres in girth and is proving very difficult to photograph. Effectively, it is a 30 metre high backlit black hole! (Image by Nava Wilson-Mirzaei)
The phenomenon of twist: a Jarrah in coastal woodland at Boodjidup. This is a tree with multiple faces.
Marri (corymbia calophylla)
The witchiness of an old Marri in the Wooditch river valley. The Marri is an abundant provider within the ecosystem, with it’s sweet white blossoms, bountiful nuts, medicinal red sap, and deeply textured bark.
Responding to the challenges of life grows character and resilience. This Marri I was almost afraid to approach. It stands on the edge of the Nindup Plain, in cave country.
There are a few tree species I am still working on imaging: the Bullitch (eucalyptus megacarpa), the Blackbutt (or Yarri), the Wonang, or Peppermint (agonis flexuosa), the Yate, (eucalyptus cornuta) and the rare Hamelin Bay Mallee, (eucalyptus calcicola), which grows only in a 15km stretch of coast in the Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park.
If you are interested in exploring more about the trees of the Margaret River region, you might like to join me on a Tree Hollows Tour
Jinni Wilson is an independent anthropologist working in heritage interpretation. Through writing and photography she is exploring ways to connect community and spirit of place. She has spent five years working as a cave guide in Margaret River. In 2019 she established Earth Sea Star Eco-Heritage tours, looking to share a rich cultural landscape with visitors and foster sustainable tourism.