The Gloucester Tree of Australia - West Wind Hardwood

One of Three Lookout Trees in Western Australia

All Photos by Shelley Nielsen unless otherwise noted – January 2016
An expansion on Newsletter #63 – April 2016

The Gloucester, Diamond and Dave Evans Bicentennial Trees form a triangle around Pemberton; used as fire lookout trees for decades.  These are no humdrum backyard sun-blockers. Giants in a world of giants, they tower above the surrounding forest; affording spectacular views over the surrounding karri forest and farmland.  It’s a horizon of treetops and on a clear day, it is possible to see for 40+ km.

Built in 1947, the Gloucester Tree was one of eight karri trees that between 1937 and 1952 were made relatively easy to climb so that they could be used as fire lookout spots. The suitability of the tree as a fire lookout was tested by forester Jack Watson, who climbed the tree using climbing boots and a belt. It took Watson six hours to climb 58 metres, a difficult climb due to the 7.3-metre girth of the tree and the need to negotiate through limbs from 39.6 metres up. Jack Watson, a Gallipoli veteran, was also Superintendent of Kings Park in Perth. Another forester, George Reynolds, pegged the ladder and lopped branches to facilitate climbing the tree, and a wooden lookout cabin was built 58 metres above the ground.

In the age of helicopters, they are no longer used for fire spotting and have become the ‘scariest’ tourist must-do in Australia.  There are no expert guides; no harnesses; nothing to clip on to.  It’s purely and simply a spiralling ladder of nerve testing bravado.

Currently, the climb is done by stepping on 153 spikes that spiral the tree.  Only 20 percent of visitors climb to the top of the tree; most make it only part of the way before turning back.  Thanks to our driver, Doug Beeton (and son-in-law) we visited this tree in January 2016.  Round and round. Up and up. Round and round again. How well do you think we did?

 

The tree was named in honour of the Governor-General, Prince Henry – Duke of Gloucester who visited during the site during construction.  Apparently, the Duke showed an interest in the tools used by the axemen; even trying his hand at using the auger to bore holes for the climbing pegs.  Having remarked that it did not seem too difficult a task, the axeman replied “Come off it.  You’re not through the bloody sapwood yet!”

As you travel south from Perth, everything gets bigger.  Gradually you leave behind the rather stunted growth of scrub. You come into a world of giant trees. The two main areas of forest are the Kingdom of the Karri and the Porongurup. It’s an ancient land of great quietness and stillness.

 

The Perth Basin was initiated about 300 million years ago as a rift valley when the supercontinent of Gondwanaland began to split up into the distinct tectonic plates of India and Australia. The Southwest Australia Ecoregion is a triangular corner of WA, most of which is to the west of a line drawn from Shark Bay to Esperance. It is one of the world’s 34 internationally recognized biodiversity hotspots, which have more than 1500 endemic species of plant and have lost more than 70 percent of their original habitat. About half of south-west WA’s 8000 plant species are found nowhere else, as are many animals.

Living Fossils: The Thrombolites of Lake Clifton

Designed to protect and restore the ecological integrity of land areas across south-west Western Australia, Gondwana Link is one of the largest and most ambitious conversation projects proposed in the history of Australia.  The completed link will be a continuous stretch of reconnected bushland stretching for a 1000 km from the wet forests in the State’s far southwest to the dry woodlands and shrublands bordering the Nullarbor Plain.

It is while parked at the Gloucester Tree that Jan’s vision of building a tear-drop trailer could be seen as more than a dream…and then we came home in January 2016 to censorship.  Stay tuned. Where there is a will, there is a way!

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