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As I’ve gone along this week, scanning my notes to add entries into my new Glossary here on the blog, some strange things have begun to happen. There is one thing that there appears no notes for, and the absence of it does not signify a lack of importance. It pops up in all sorts of recipes, incenses and oils. In fact, the presence of it is becoming all consuming. I’m being haunted by it. It has taken me back to being a new student, where my Native obsession began, and every landscape and holiday and road trip across the Divide, up and down the East Coast. Every childhood story, every memory of the bush behind my parents’ house with my sister, riding our bikes, discovering the world there, play grounds at school, BBQs and swimming pools, the sea side… The terror of Nature in the raining ash over the backyard, many, many kilometers from the bush fire front, that called whole regions and states to stand in sombre awe, staring into the dying red Sun, chanting our prayers.

The Unruly Giant was there then. Always there.

Snugglepot, Cuddlepie and Little Ragged Blossom had their adventures amongst them.
The Kookaburra sits in an old one, merry king of the bush on his throne.
Once, a jolly swagman camped by a billabong under the shade of one.
Blinky Bill lived in one.
I’ve always considered the Noble Society of Puddin’-owners built their tree house in one.
If you fly, crawl, burrow, hop, slither or walk in Australia, yours is indeed a home amongst the gum trees.

Margate, TAS eucalyptus bushland – photograph by Inga Leonora

I first saw eucalyptus listed in relation to Witchcraft in The Horn Of Evenwood, (2007) by Robin Artisson, pages 26 and i, “Appendix: Table of Sourcerous Currents and Associations”. It is listed as a Lunar Herb, “Eucalyptus”.

It’s not wholly wrong. In the same was as describing Australia as “southern” is not wrong. It’s just, well, limited. My first thought was Jupiterian. My teacher posited Solar. It is cooling and antiseptic, maybe Venusian, the flowers of the Yellow Box, make my favourite honey. It burns like no other bush on the planet. Marsian is in no way a stretch. Nor for that matter, is Saturnian. It is poisonous. It grows in every environment, Mercurial…?

In the three years since that first conversation, I’ve spent a lot of time working with the eucalyptus, researching them, thinking about how we use them, how they were used by Australia’s First Nations. As I’ve worked with other plants, some things have been so clear to me, they can be described in these terms of ‘currents’ and ‘correspondences’ with ease. But the gums will not be tamed. Where the spirits of some things are quiet and require a long time to get to know, the gums are noisy creatures, and the more of them there are the noisier they are, roaring bush in the wind that sounds like great waves breaking on an ocean. We describe them in ways that seem obvious, until you list them: Oak, Ironbark, Peppermint, Ghost, Cider, Stringybark, Mountian Ash, Silver Princess, Queen, and every possible colour. Pink, red, silver, black, white, yellow, orange, grey, blue. All ever green.

Mt Wellington TAS, eucalyptus bushland in the snow – photograph by Inga Leonora

Wikipedia tells me there are more than 700 species of eucalyptus, and all but 9 of them call Australia home. They live in the cold alpine regions of TAS, the red desert center, the tropical far north rainforests of QLD. From the Indian to the Pacific. And as varied as they are, regardless, if it be a forest or a single dead specter against the unending horizon of the plains, hosting a flock of ravens, you will know one to see it. It’s a gum tree. Underneath every fragrance and scent on the breeze, across every landscape, the gum is there, deeply embedded in our sense memory, the smell of our home.

When we are sick, we turn to it, it is some of the finest hard woods available. I understand that some Nations pass their newborns through the smoke of the eucalyptus fire. Perhaps this is so they will always know their country. I have seen the dancers with didgeridoos and their clapsticks adorned in gum leaves, making them rustle. There are probably countless things I will not know in my lifetime about the gum trees. What I do know is that one can not categorize them in so easily.

I went for a walk this morning around home where the Mount Wellington National Park meets Tolosa Dam. There as many gums here as there are anywhere. How many species I don’t know. No two gums looks the same. Even as they twist and grow each to his own, I am never completely sure what species I am looking at. And it’s never much concerned many Aussies anyway. Everything is blue or stringy or ironbark, or broad or narrow leafed, a gum. There are more kinds of ‘blue’ gums than I thought it would seem. I am not a botanist, and to categorize these trees as individual species would take a lifetime, and would not always serve the individual trees. Because they are so, and we live amongst them with specific relationships with the local gums, a grove, the single specimen in the back yard. These are trees that are alike to the oak the way they change with the seasons, like the willow by the river banks with their sweeping low narrow leaves, dead trees that stand like a terrible omen, bright red flowers that court the sulfur crested cockatoos, that quiver in the wind like birch, and litter the ground with nuts like a chestnut, always green like the pines. John Muir wrote that “Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world.” I wonder if he had walked through the Australian Bush if he would have thought the same thing of the gums.

Maybe that is the lesson of the gum trees, the untamed, unruly giants that define our landscape. Know that you are one of many, many things, all of which are sacred. Be strong, yet yielding, beautiful and terrible, endure, withstand, and be what is required of you in every situation, in any place. Adapt. Rage. Be a shelter for the small things, allow the bright things to chip away at you. Heal. Fruit, flower, make honey, be an oak beam. Change your colours, let the earth and the weather mold and alter you. Be steadfast through the seasons, be evergreen. Make your song resonate, and your spear straight. Drop your dead wood with careless disregard. Be delicate. Shed. Be thick skinned. Welcome new things.  Live on like the Dead Tree.  Be so people know you immediately. Remain undefined. Burn. Grow.

I came back with this:

The mystic is a gum
or she is not one
She is blue in the morning with the rising clouds on the range
waters the rarest of things
against a rising sun.
In the late morning, a wilting river red
bending to touch the slow water.
When the sun is high and all is melting
she is a city of deep green.
Beneath her the wise woman in the red dirt
hidden within the folds of her the flock
a mass of coloured rioting
take their respite.
When the southerly comes up in the afternoon
she is gold intoxication.
A mass of blooming fire kissing the falling sun.
Between them is the ecstasy of Life.
From them the sweetest honey.
And she is Queen.
And when the sun is gone
beneath the Great Serpent she is a ghost
bone white and black cloak
mother of the nocturnal children.

The wise man is a gum
or he is not one.
For six seasons he is evergreen
at the highest point he is sure footed on the bare rock
at the sea side
the hunter’s canoe
he is a roaring legion on the hills
He is the grey wanderer across a never ending space
a pillar
a sentinel
a mirage in the desert.
The crack of gunshot
the unstoppable fire force.
He is born in the lightening.
Born again in the fire.
And in his hollow the wisdom of the Dreaming
and the bones of the wise man.

This is how we are made here.
By the gums.
When the Luminescent Serpent
slithers across the black abyss
at the top of the highest gum
He will break your limbs
strip you bare
give you an iron skin
hollow you out with fire
make you evergreen
adorn you with his fire light blossoms
fashion you the deepest roots
and you will swim in the deepest wells
and kiss the moon on the mountain.

Walk in the rainforest,
with the gums
limbs and roots of you will stretch out and endure
through a thousand lifetimes
in an endless walk-about
and all that lives will know you
a web of nerves
across the land.

White bone
red fire
black death
and greening.
The witch is a gum
or not one.

I am still working on a entry for my glossary for the Eucalyptus. There might only be one. And probably unruly. In the meantime, as the summer grows hot and the fires begin to rage, may the spirits of the gums favour you and yours.