The Giant Tingles of Walpole

The forest of the giant tingles is a jumble of shifting shadows and passing light. They stand tall, cloaked in undergrowth, huge boles and shallow roots grounding them into the ancient granite soils of southern Western Australia.

Tingles grow only in a tiny area of forest around Walpole, a small town on an inlet to the southern ocean. The Walpole-Nornalup forests are thought to be relict descendants from ecosystems millions of years ago, when Australia was wetter with a more constant rainfall. The forests are unique: there are even recently discovered invertebrates associated with the tingles that date back to the super-continent of Gondwana over 100 million years ago.

There are three types of Tingle: the Red, the Yellow, and Rates. The name ‘Tingle’ comes from indigenous Noongar language, and the three species are not closely related in taxonomic terms. It is the Red that has become famous for the size of its bole.

People are fascinated by giants, and in most cultures there is also a special reverence for ancient trees. Western Australia has many tales of forest giants: the King Karri of Karridale, the fire-tower trees of Pemberton, the boabs of Broome. The worlds fattest known eucalypt is the ‘Giant Tingle’ on Hilltop Road in Walpole, with a girth of 24 metres. The burnt-out hollow bole has more space than the rooms in many modern houses.

Long ago there was another giant in Walpole: for decades visitors marveled at it, taking selfies with their car inside to showcase the size. But the shallow root system of a tingle makes it vulnerable to root damage from compaction, and in 1990 the tree fell over with two tourists inside. Apparently they were taking a photo at the time, which appeared on the front page of the local newspaper. I’d love to see this image but haven’t been able to track it down.

Locals lamented the demise of the giant. But the loss inspired the creation of the Tree Top walk, a bridge built amongst the trees so people can experience their size and splendour with minimal impact on the giants themselves.

I ventured into the forest expecting to be amazed at the size of these trees, but was rather more enchanted with their unique personalities. Each forest glade shapes the tingles through their individual response to the gifts and setbacks of life. Knobbled, broken, hollowed out by fire: branches sidle out on the hunt for sun beams.

Tingles are truly beings of shadow and light, and refuse to conform to any human notions of symmetry. I have tried to reflect some of their presence in these images, as they stand enrobed in a wild rumpus of undergrowth.

article and images by Jinni Wilson