The recent illegal felling of the iconic ‘Robin Hood tree’ at Sycamore Gap in the English county of Northumberland sent shockwaves around the world.
The outpouring of ‘grief’ over the loss of a tree – albeit such an ancient and beautiful one – is testament to the emotional hold that trees have over us.
For grey nomads, trees are certainly an important part of the journey.
Of course, there is the practical side of things. Is it safe to camp under this tree? Will the shade offered by the branches keep the van cooler, or will it just stop the solar panels working effectively?
But trees are much more than that to travellers.
The ghostly gum trees, the giant karri trees, the unmistakeable boab trees, the palm trees, the strangler fig trees of the rainforest … they all provide the atmospheric backdrop to the Big Lap.
Many were here when Charles Sturt and other Europeans first explored the country, when Ned Kelly roamed the bush, and when the pastoralists, the miners, and the farmers built modern Australia.
And, of course – like the UK’s Sycamore Gap tree which has stood at a gap in Hadrian’s Wall for 300 years – many trees have specific significance.
There’s the iconic dig tree at Cooper Creek in South Australia which will forever be associated with the demise of Burke and Wills; the famous boab Prison Tree near Derby in WA; and the towering karri, the Gloucester Tree, near Pemberton which became a fire lookout in 1947.
While it’s pretty much unthinkable that someone might sneak up to one of these trees in the middle of the night with a chainsaw and chop it down, Australia has previously had its own headline-making tree killing.
Back in 2006, Barcaldine’s Tree of Knowledge – the 200-year-old ghost gum under which the Labour Party manifesto was first read in 1892 – was poisoned and killed in mysterious circumstances. The remains of the tree have now been preserved and placed under a timber structure, which is lit up at night giving the illusion that the tree is still alive.