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Monday, January 11, 2010

Gundagai veteran

Sean has subtly reminded me that I intended to contribute to this forum, so here I am. I must admit to a degre of nervousness; when I compare myself to the excellent arborists out there I don't feel like I've much to contribute. Perhaps I should be comparing them to some of the awesome veteran trees around the place to get a sense of perspective.

In any case, during my travels I came across a fantastic Eucalyptus camaldulensis, next to Oibell Drive and the historic railway bridge in Gundagai. As seems frequently to be the case, the tree does not look so large and impressive on Google Earth images as some other - evidently younger - trees, but up close it is truly awesome.

As you can see, the canopy of the veteran (indicated by red arrow) is not as broad as some of the other local trees. It does however have significant features of veteranisation, including previous loss of apical stem, canopy senescence, and substantial hollowing.

I couldn't begin to give an accurate assessment of the tree age, and I'd be guessing if I said it was probably at least as old as the nearby railway bridge (also visible in the google shot), which was built in 1902.

I'd be interested if anyone happens to have old photos that might feature this tree - or indeed the location without the tree - in order to provide a more accurate age range. I've contacted to Gundagai library for some more leads. In the mean time, here are some pictures of the tree up close.


  1. Wow what an impressive girth on that tree Tim!

    Absolutely fabulous habitat there.

    You are right to be hesitant about aging such trees, however pretty safe to say the tree is well over 100yrs in my opinion.

    When you compare the trees next to Prince Alfred Street causeway photographed during the floods in the 1890's to the Google street view from 2009 at the end of Prince Alfred Street looking back along the old causeway...the tree closest to the timber supported road has changed very very little.

    If I had to guestimate I would think it would fall in the 250+ yrs range.

    The real importance of these trees (as you know only too well) lies in their broad age class and the increasingly valuable services they deliver to the wider environment rather than any specific age.

    The process of veteranisation that has resulted from past events in this tree's life has definately increased its habitat value to an incredible range of other organisms, micro and macro.

    Thanks so much for sharing the pics with us.

  2. What a gnarly old beast! Great to find a blog filled with people who appreciate a bit of rotten wood. Here in Britain we have a large number of veteran trees, and some of the more famous ones (e.g. the major oak Sherwood Forest) get propped and gridled to prevent them splitting. I always agreed with Thomas Pakenham in thinking it was a bit undignified and they should be allowed to age gracefully. What are your thoughts on that?

  3. Hello Henry,

    It is I think it is easy to understand the desire to retain a tree in the form that it has always been remembered when it becomes clear that the forces of age and gravity are about ot alter things forever. It really should IMO come down to considering all aspects of an individual tree's role in the local environment. Our emotional connection however strong to a particular tree is really only one aspect of a much much bigger role that tree might be playing in the ecology in which it is embedded.

    I personally don't think there is anything wrong with intervening into the life cycle of an ancient tree provided that intervention is minimal in its impact on the many thousands of other organisms that have a critical connection to that tree.

    It should be recognised that decay and fragmentation are a very important part of the ceasless cycle going on around us.

    You really do have some very very signficant ancient trees in the UK and Europe, we are just beginning to realise that a very similar resource exists here in Australia.

  4. Eucalypts in that immediate vicinity are recorded as being there when the 1852 flood happened. That broken hollow one has been there as long as I remember (since 1950s) however DECC waxed lyrical about the huge eucalypt near my home but it is just 55 years old.

    That is not Oibell Drive. Its O I Bell Drive. Oscar Bell was one of the original founders of the Gundagai Museum, not an exotic fuel brand as oibell sounds. Some maps give Oilbell Drive.

    All the trees a bit to the SE of that broken one need to be checked as there are a few huge old trees a bit further along and Gundagai merchants are eyeing the area off to put rubbish along there so they make more money when its a highly significant heritage area.

    A couple of the hollow trees down that way had people hide in them when big storms went over in the 1800s and lightning struck the trees and killed their occupants.


  5. On the western side of North Gundagai we have some big old elms planted along the old burial ground likely to mark it out. An ecology group is going along pulling out the big old trees along the streams and putting in natives for possums. I reckon natives are fine out in paddocks but why plant them in town to assist bushfires and why pull out huge old elms that are beautiful. Possums like any tree. If any of the new plantings are that smooth leafed eucalypt that has been planted all over in Tasmania, next there will be toxins in streams.

    Its handy that the old burial grounds are marked out by their traditional signifier, i.e. elms, not only for cultural heritage purposes but also for health reasons.

    At Gundagai in the 1800s privet and willow were planted to hold the stream banks which they do well but now paddock suitable, end of line eucalypts and other overgrown rubbish are replacing them turning the streams into overgrown rubbish areas. Residents are advised in the local paper by Council in conjunction with that same ecology group to get rid of privet and willow by using herbicides. Such herbicide use is really good for the environment. Continual use of herbicide results in loss of habitat trees and ground cover requiring more herbicide use. That is the reality behind that sort of chemical so people go and buy more of it. Natives curl up and die at the first wiff of that herbicide and Gundagai is often full of that awful spray.

  6. I too am always pleased to see folk who are keen on old trees. As a nurseryman in New Zealand I grew many species of Eucs but nowadays they are not so popular. Not surprisingly it was easy to identify juvenile Eucs and I struggle a bit with adult ones.
    I thought it worth mentioning that in Lushoto Tanzania there is an arboretum that was set up by Germans very early in 20th century. There are magnificent Eucs there, but I have not a clue as to the species - maybe one group is fraxinoidies. Very few people visit there, but it is worth a look. Oh there is also a very old, dust but brilliant herbrarium there.

  7. Hello Footsteps NZ-TZ,

    Thanks for your comments, I was in Southern Africa in the mid 1980's always intended on visiting Tanzania but the closest I got was a very unpleasant visit to an oil rig off the coast of Zanzibar.

    I would love to return some day and make a trip to visit the Arboretum of which you wrote.

    There is no doubt that for many people living in Africa has an eternal impact on your life, this has certainly been the case for me.

    I very much liked reading your blog.