I have just ordered & read “Sticks and Stones” published by the Border Rivers – Gwydir CMA, a follow up to ‘’Bush Tucker, Boomerangs & Bandages”. Even though we are outside the geographical area on their map, we share much of the same vegetation and are within the Kamilaroi/ Gomeroi nation boundaries. Both books are excellent and the CMA & LLS and all other contributors & distributors should be congratulated. Published in 2012, ‘Sticks & Stones’ claims – “Aborigines were nomadic. They moved from place to place for ceremonies & to follow the bush foods according to seasonal pattern.” This thinking is now a little out of date & I have taken the following from kooriehistory.com – “Arid parts of the continent could sustain fewer people, thus a more delicate balance in managing resources was required, which meant that a semi-nomadic lifestyle was a reality for those living in such environments. However, in coastal and riverine country where the largest Aboriginal populations around the continent were based, people were not nomadic.”
I grew up thinking Aboriginal people used to be on constant walkabout building flimsy bark humpies/ gunyahs each night for shelter. How the very old, sick, injured or heavily pregnant would ever survive this perpetual motion didn’t occur to me. Obviously semi-permanent camps were essential with reliable water (river or well) & dependable food (yams bulbs tubers nardoo native fruits rodents reptiles birds etc.) Then there would be regularly visited camps that had good water catchments but they went dry in drought times. These camps would have the necessary life sustaining vegetation as well but the ‘gardens’ would not be as well tended. Further down market would be the camps at ephemeral gilgais & billabongs where campfires may have sufficed instead of shelters as people moved through.
So why aren’t the remains of these semi-permanent camps still around? The same reason there aren’t any spears or coolamons or canoes out in the bush today… they are all biodegradable. Unlike stone artefacts, the only old shields/ digging sticks/ clubs etc. left are those in collections or have been stored inside. The various styles of shelter became termite tucker long ago in places like murrumanaarr where there is no natural rock or stone. But what we do still have is many of the trees & much of the original vegetation around the old camps. The semi-permanent camps here have many scarred trees, one or more Ringtrees, plenty of TinTs and peach bush (Ehretia membranifolia) clusters. They are mostly found in boxtree swamps with sandy clearings and have a certain soft sedge growing all around like a carpet. It is these geographical & vegetation features that need to be studied as they are the only living evidence of Aboriginal habitation we have left.
So lets start with the peach bush that grows around box trees forming bunches of bright green all along the sandhills. The Peach bush is also a common guest tree inside many TinTs. I think the seeds were planted & watered inside the old humus filled box tree hollows so when mature they would in turn drop their seed on the ground & propagate. I have never seen any fruit bigger than a pin head on the Peach bush but Wikipedia tells me – Aborigines used a decoction of the wood for pain relief. They may just have served as a windbreak but I suspect the leaves had insecticidal properties as well when burnt or crushed? Whatever the reason Ehretia membranifolia is closely associated with all the semi-permanent camps here at murrumanaarr that according to Ted Fields Snr “extended for at least 5 kilometres”
Scarred trees (STs) are varied and abundant around semi-permanent camp sites. They are the most reliable indicator of Aboriginal presence and their different shapes indicate what the bark was required for. Here the ubiquitous bimblebox is the king of the scartrees because the regrowth is the slowest of all the gum trees. Redgums, coolabah & blackbox carry scars as well but they close over relatively quickly. The exceptions here are the coolabahs ringbarked by Chinese teams in the 1880s. Many of these dead gumtrees still stand and their scars are displayed like the bark was carved from the cambium only yesterday. For those interested in seeing & learning about more about scarred trees of which there are thousands here send me an email [email protected] or ring Allan Tighe 0447069958
Ringtrees are “..my special gift, my chiefest, sole delight..” (adapted from Banjo Paterson’s Mulga Bill’s bicycle) The thing I love about Ringtrees here is they are so unambiguous. Here at murrumanaarr they are always found at good camps and good camps are always found at good water. Good water catchments have altered since white settlement with the construction of tanks/dams and drainage (tank drains) built to channel water into them. Rain water has been diverted from its old natural flows and some Ringtrees are now slightly unaligned to the new tanks/dams but it doesn’t take a genius to make the connection. Coming across a Belar (Casuarina cristata) Ringtree last week made me leap out of the buggy in amazement. The amount of dedication X time required to create a living bridge between 2 Belar branches is unimaginable. The people here were masters of tree manipulation and their creations have to be seen to be believed.
Sand is the preferred soil type here for SP camps. Even away from the sandhills – along the big warrambool or near heavier clay flats there are sandy centred camp grounds. Over on Wailwun land some of the blackbox swamps contain sandy zones & its these swamps have the greatest concentration of STs & TinTs. I have been told there may be water trapped in a lens under some of these swamps as the big old coolabahs seem to indicate? I think sand made for better drainage and was therefor more comfortable in wet weather. The little soft grassy sedge known as warringaay, a Cyperus species found around SP camps would also increase the comfort factor. AKA as nutgrass the tubers could be eaten, used as medicine & the leaves woven into bags or nets.
I have left the Trees in Trees until last because of the lack of culturally corroborating evidence. Various native tree/bush/grass seedlings do germinate in old eucalypts & some exotics such as prickly pear & African box thorn as well. Genuine TinTs have guests that are at least 60 years old or their guests have seeds with delay mechanisms such as wilga that were planted years ago but only germinated recently. I don’t know of any Aboriginal places of significance here that don’t have at least one TinT. The exceptions are in farming paddocks where trees have been cleared and some camps in neighbors where there are few older hollow box trees. There are only a handful of coolabah hosts here and I don’t understand why that is. It may be due to a phenomenon known as allelopathy which is basically the chemical warfare plants use to decrease competition. Allelopathy can be defined as the direct or indirect influence of one plant on another via biochemical means.
Below is some information I found on eucalypt Allelopathy on the net
It was concluded that allelopathy is likely to be a cause of understorey suppression by Eucalyptus species especially in drier climates. An Assessment of the Allelopathic Potential of Eucalyptus FE May and JE Ash Australian Journal of Botany 38(3) 245 – 254 Published: 1990
Classified as an allelopathic, eucalyptus trees release chemicals that affect nearby plants. These chemicals can be released in a few different ways, and it may become a problem when the bark is placed on the soil without being properly composted. https://homeguides.sfgate.com/eucalyptus-mulch-toxic-plants-57519.html Only a few other plants grow effectively near Eucalyptus trees and bushes due to a toxin that inhibits the growth of other plants. Eucalyptus species also have shallow roots that draw away water from other plants. https://homeguides.sfgate.com/eucalyptus-bad-compost-65137.html
More modern research disputes that eucalypts are the bad guys in biochemical warfare – “In these experiments, we found that germination and seedling growth of the species tested were not inhibited by chemical extracts of blue gum foliage, either at naturally-occurring or artificially concentrated levels.” Two Myths of Nativism: Mutually Exclusive Relationships, and Eucalyptus Allelopathy Posted on February 13, 2018 by SF Forest Alliance
As well as some eucalypts possibly producing phytotoxic (poisonous to plants) compounds, they can also produce beneficial chemicals apparently – The chemicals secreted into the soil by roots are broadly referred to as root exudates. Through the exudation of a wide variety of compounds, roots may regulate the soil microbial community in their immediate vicinity, cope with herbivores, encourage beneficial symbioses, change the chemical and physical properties of the soil, and inhibit the growth of competing plant species – From Nardi S, Concheri G, Pizzeghello D, Sturaro A, Rella R, Parvoli G (2000) Soil organic matter mobilization by root exudates. Chemosphere 5:653–658.
There is also a theory called Hormesis that goes like this – A low dose of a chemical agent may trigger from an organism the opposite response to a very high dose. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hormesis This basically means whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger ie minute amounts of phytotoxic chemicals released by one plant may serve to toughen up another. All this botanical biochemistry is very complicated but I would really like to know why hollow bimblebox are the preferred host for TinTs. Many boxtree swamps here have coolabah in the centre where it’s wetter & bimblebox around the edges on the lighter soil. Wailwun country however has many more blackbox than coolabah and they are the 2nd most popular host. Blackbox & coolabah are very similar to look at except coolabah branches have no bark at their extremities/ends. It’s possible the hosts are only chosen for their hollows and the eucalypt species is irrelevant – I JUST DON’T KNOW ????