Margaret River: a Portrait in Trees

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.

Tree face: I love the red, black and silver of Jarrah, and their elegant angular outlook on life

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 minimal editing. 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.

Boranup forest
Boranup forest

A dwarf Karri on the coastal margin of the tall tree zone at Boranup

Jarrah (eucalyptus marginata)

jarrah in margaret river

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.

jarrah
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.

treeface

Bemused face in the deadwood of a living tree. Jarrah, Great North Road.

The phenomenon of twist: a Jarrah in coastal woodland at Boodjidup. This is a tree of many faces.

Paperbark (melaleuca preissiana)

paperbark

The many tangled mouths of the paperbark swamp. Freshwater paperbarks live in micro-climates along creeklines. This variety, known as “Moonah” in Noongar, have a very different outline to the more common paperbark, growing very large boles at the base and long winding branches like arms.

paperbark melaleuca pressii

Layer upon papery layer, a multi-dimensional universe of small habitats. 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.

Marri (corymbia calophylla)

marri

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.

boranup

An avenue of marris on Point Road in Boranup.

Yarri (Blackbutt, or Eucalyptus patens)

blackbutt

The Yarri with Flare, Ten Mile Brook

Other species

There are a few tree species I am still working on imaging: the Bullitch (eucalyptus megacarpa), 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.

 

Grasstrees (Xanthorrea pressii) and Yate (Eucalyptus cornuta), Boranup

article and images by Jinni Wilson