I remember first visiting the area that subsequently became known as the Valley of the Giants as a child of about eight or nine and seeing first hand the magnificence of these trees.
Our family returned to the site at least once more around 1966. This was a time before it became widely known. I also have dramatic memories of the image of a car parked inside the gaping mouth of the tree (although I don’t believe it was this one). For some reason, I recall this image being at a grandparents’ house—although I have no idea why that might be—along with other images of tree felling in the area.
This tree has ever since held a deep fascination with me.
When we started researching for Kumakana, we visited the tingle forest again, negotiating with a local expert to find trees that were off the beaten track. The day was fascinating because we got to be among true giants of the forest and what we saw became rich fodder for Lavender Jensen’s adventure as well as the source material for the remarkable illustrations that accompany the book.
Click on the picture above and look closely at the bottom left of the image when it is enlarged. You will see a child dwarfed by the tree. This will give you some perspective in terms of the size of the tree. The composite of photographs was the only way we could capture the tree’s significant size—somewhere around 10 metres diameter at the base and 80 metres in height.
What causes the hollowing out?
Although the tree pictured above does not have a hollowed out section visible, it is the red tingle that often has a burnt out section—carberdine in local indigenous language. The red tingle is one of three different varieties of the tree; the other two are the yellow tingle and rates tingle. The tingle is a remarkably fire hardy tree and the ‘hollow butting’ that occurs in the red tingle is the result of fire entering the tree where the trunk meets the roots. The enormous bole is a vast reservoir of water and while the inside may burn out, the external trunk remains resistant to burning.
Tingle trees have thick bark which insulates the cambium (the active cells that produce new secondary growth) and produces a protective layer that gives the tree the capacity to recover from catastrophic fire events, even when the crown has been 100% scorched. It’s as though the trees keep dormant buds hidden for this specific actuality, and release the new growth in spite of the fire.
Once the carberdine has opened up, weather and insects have an opportunity to go to work and create cavernous spaces that serve as shelter for animals (and, historically, humans). You can see by the outstretched arm in the picture above just how these big openings get a start in a (relatively) young tree.
On the right is an example of an opening already formed. There appears to be plenty of animal activity around the opening. This is the tree opening on which I modelled Spot’s encounter with Wonaiea.
Spot had stayed awake, on guard against anything that might threaten them, lying with his chin on his forepaws, yellow ball in front of his nose and one eye open, absorbing the sounds and smells around the tree. The tree was alive, humming. He left the sleeping Lavender, grabbed the ball and nosed his way around it.
Every few paces, he dropped his ball to snuff the forest floor, hitting on hordes of ants, bugs, grubs and insects occupied with nature’s recycling. Some proved to be tasty morsels, others forced a grimace. A centipede came from nowhere and locked its pincers onto the septum of his nose. Spot shook his head violently and sneezed. He knocked his ball. It rolled around the tree and perched precariously at the lip of the gaping cavern formed by the tree’s split trunk, unsure about whether to enter the void or stay outside. (p.206/7)
The idea of the split tree as a portal seemed a fairly natural extension of the original ‘Alice-in-Wonderland’ moment. It gives rise to a mystery that was extended onto the cover of the book. And while there are other large trees in the world much more well-known, such as the Sequoia and California redwoods, there is probably no other so mysterious. As Lavender Jensen’s mother explains:
Her mother had told her how the trees shaped the forest—the karri, among the world’s tallest, and the tingle, with its massive girth, one of the largest. She told her that their bark hid spiders with sixty-five million years of history. Some of these trees grew nowhere else on earth. But her mother didn’t stop at that. (p. 6/7)
But it is the question of what lies on the other side that Lavender becomes most curious about.
Lavender circled the tree in search of where the animals went. It had swallowed hundreds, yet none emerged from the other side. When she peered inside, she saw their fading forms melting into the dark. (p. 229)
Much of the mystery of Kumakana lies behind the tingle tree.
To discover more of the mystery, you are invited to join me and my special guests at the launch of Kumakana: A Gronups Tale at 7pm Tuesday 7 March 2017 at Northside Books, 192 William Street Northbridge.