Monday, 18 February 2013

G'day Giants

I thought I’d share with you something a little different in this blog, its all bushcraft related, don’t worry! But after spending a month in Australia, offering a little insight into the great lands flora and fauna would be a nice change from the norm.
                If you are unfamiliar with Australia, I don’t blame you. I don’t mean its existence, more what it’s about, aside from Dingo’s, Boomerangs, Corked hats and Crocodile Dundee!  Australia sits many miles from our shores and its links with us becoming thinner and thinner, and really not much exceptional goes on there that is worth being noted in our news. That’s not to say it is not an exceptional country. Far from it! It is most exceptional. To give you a brief familiarisation, ill quote an out take from Bill Bryson’s book ‘Down Under’

“Australia is the world’s sixth largest country and its largest island. It is the only island that is also a continent, and the only continent that is also a country. It was the first continent conquered from the sea, and the last. It’s the only nation that began as a prison. Its home to the largest living thing on Earth, the Great Barrier Reef,  and the most famous Rock-‘Uluru’ or Ayers rock. It has more things that will kill you than anywhere else. Of the worlds ten most poisonous snakes, all are Australian”

Zoologically its worlds apart too, Eighty percent of all that lives there exists no-where else on Earth. As an environment it is abundant with some of the worlds Driest, Flattest, Hottest, infertile continents, yet teems with life. It is thought to contain over 25,000 species of plants, whilst our small island is home to a comparatively meagre 1600. At least a third of those species have never been named or studied!
What I’d like to share with you is just one of these species, they exist in a tiny area of South Western Australia. It was some 400K from where we stayed in Perth to An area known as ‘The valley of the giants’ home to the Great Red Tingle tree along with numerous other rather large trees. Most of the trees in Australia are Eucalyptus or ‘Gum’ trees of which there are up to 700 varieties and these are no exception. They are of course exceptionally large however! Some reaching up to 70m in height and over 25m in girth and can live up to 400 years.

They gained their name from the aboriginal word for red, owing to the colour of the timber. As a resource the Gum trees are quite valuable, and to the indigenous people of Australia-The aboriginals they were highly regarded. The whole species is very fast growing, and also quite dense, most providing many medicinal and culinary uses, along with being used in carving for many tools and of course hollowed out and used as a Didgeridoo! They are all a Part of the Myrtaceae Family. The most famed product of the species being Eucalyptus oil which uses range from an antibacterial and a decongestant (If you have ever used Vicks VapoRub then you have experienced the benefits of this oil) Of course its extraction is now an industrial process achieved by steam distillation, but the aboriginals would have used infusions of the leaves steeped in hot water as a traditional medicine to treat body pains, sinus congestion, fever and colds. They are full of said oils and in so being highly flammable idea for firewood, tinder and friction methods of ignition. The Bark of many of these species can easily be peeled off in small sheets similar to our London Plane; others have an even more papery bark much like our silver birch, and like the silver birch, due to the natural oils present are ideal for firewood. I suspect although I have not tried that you could extract the oil from the bark again in a similar way to you would with silver birch bark however care would need to be taken as the resultant oil is more volatile than birch resin (if you are unfamiliar with this useful process click here) The pure oil will take a spark from a fire steel instantly. The aboriginals would have definitely used the fallen dried leaves as tinder. The nickname for the species being Gum tree is due to the sap that they extrude. Aborigines where known to chew this gum, and many of the species had gum that had high concentrations of sugars, others had very astringent qualities and where used on wounds and for the relief of diarrhoea.

 I am sure that the Red tingle had many other useful medicinal and edible properties however it is hard to say with it localised to such a small area in such a huge and diverse country, little specific information on traditional uses now remains.

 The Red Tingle struck me as an awesome tree. It easily dwarfs most other trees, it is fast growing, long living and highly use full. It is almost fire resistant yet is great to start fires, it can be wide enough to drive a car through the hollowed out living trunks. Its dominance over the forest leaves you with a huge respect for these ancient giants, yet its shallow and delicate roots mean that it is a with all it grandeur even giants have an Achilles heel  

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