On the border of New South Wales and Victoria, the great Murray River splits the land down the middle. It was the first day of spring and the wattle trees were in bright, brilliant bloom - the bush lit up in a yellowish hue.
Coming home on my university break, I had gone on my morning walk through the bushland in the town where I grew up. Enjoying the peaceful comfort of the bush not available in the city, I had tried my best to enjoy the feeling of complete calm before the week was over and uni started again.
I had walked this track - smoothed and defined from decades of people's feet, horses’ hooves and tire marks - my whole life; but that day was different.
When first hearing the term Scar Tree and seeing the gum with a deep, faintly discoloured indent in the centre – an image of my home’s bushland struck my brain. I had seen numerous trees that look just like the one in the photo. The history, the use, the cultural significance however, was something I did not know. It became incredibly important to me to discover and gain as much insight as possible before returning home. I wanted to be able to walk the track with a brand new set of eyes.
I approached a tree, a brilliant gum - rotund and sturdy, with various irregularities and grooves present in the centre of the trunk. I thought to myself – this could be the scar!
A flock of cockatoos cawed overhead, a smooth spring breeze rustled the gum's leaves.
Touching the tree, I closed my eyes to allow my fingers to fully sense the uneven textures, beginning at the very edge of the great gum. Rough, thick, sturdy. I gradually brushed my fingers closer to the centre – quickly my fingers took a pronounced dip. The bark had now thinned and was slightly smoother. I opened my eyes, viewing the dark grey edges in contrast to the very light and almost youthful appearance of the bark my hand now rested upon. I take a step back to take in the scope of the tree as a whole. The indented area I had just touched spans for about a metre vertically, an elongated oval. Is this a scar tree? And if so what was the bark used for? And when? I was excited by these questions, and perhaps a little lost.
With the river and an assortment of creeks surrounding, many of these scars could represent bark used for canoes and hunting tools. That day, I unfortunately did not have a local indigenous guide to provide me with the insights and specific knowledge necessary to determine the incredible history of these trees. I had stumbled across one that has been hollowed out at the base - a birthing tree perhaps? My memory of it looks incredibly similar to the article’s photo of the tree now shown surrounded by protesters in Djab Wurrung Country.
In the past, cutting trees down in mass would have provided more short term resources like building materials for shelters but caused long term hardship for future communities, leaving behind bare land, stripped of it natural flora. The indigenous people's compassion for nature and of generations to come resulted in these monuments of beauty, fighting their way into the age of technology and development. These practises weren’t of course without their own errors, seen through the overhunting and eventual extinction of Australian Megafauna in the past (Reference). But through mistakes like these, rose a practice reflecting both ingenuity and adaptability; a practise providing both resources at the present time and resource into the future.
Australia has lived through many changes over time. Cities have grown bigger, suburbs spread further, populations ballooned in size. But throughout all these external shifts and changes in landscapes, these trees have stood - unwavering. These trees’ cultural significance is immeasurable – their worth far surpassing any monetary denomination.
Though as trees, they are vulnerable to the development-crazed nature of our society. And whilst those guarded by the Djab Wurrung Embassy are not all specifically scar trees, the community sentiment is still the same. These trees’ protection is paramount to the conservation and acknowledgment of aboriginal culture; to witness these trees – who are integral parts of an ancient culture – at risk of removal from the land in which they have stood for centuries is an issue Australians need to face together.
The secret to the MCG Scar tree’s survival was its co-dependent relationship with community and their vocal support. Deliberate actions by the community has become the new necessity in their protection. Whilst these trees stood as a perpetual reminder of the understanding of decision makers, many ancestral trees are not so lucky.
Whilst I have obviously been in the dark on this devastating demolition threat, I am lucky many others have taken up the torch, clear from the hundreds that lined State Parliament steps to protest. The Djab Wurrung Trees were just the current in a long line of past historical sites, under threat from the growing development of the twenty-first century.
The time for making excuses is over. University work will always be there, as frustrating as it is. But these indigneous trees, like many others, need our help to survive. They need people like me to take action and need people like you to do the same.