Camaldulensis – a poem by Rob Youl

Red gum savannahs once so vastOchre pits, and stone-axe blaze
For millennia their shadows castThen Mitchell and the bullock drays
Across the tribal hunting groundsLongboats on his Glenelg River
Amid a feast of primeval soundsMount William’s winds made riders quiver
Trunks columnar, mottled greyTwo hundred years with us around
Legions anchored in sandy claySettlers needed the red gums’ ground
Canopies a dappled greenFor sheep and crops and living space
Seasonally a flowery mienWe cleared them at a rollicking pace
Branches shed from time to timeSo much waste!
Leaving cavities – shelter primeWhat shocking haste!
For mammals, birds and batsInsensitive to their age and grace
And marauding goannas and ratsBloody base!
Those branches drying, strewnMortised for a post-and-rail
For decades perhaps, until consumedSplit and interlocked at Harrow gaol
By friendly fires of Koorie campsAnd the shearing shed at Kout Narin
Allaying hunger, cold and dampGossamer fleece and shearers lean
Harbouring insects by the swarmFence posts, light-rail sleepers
Myriad organisms were the normIt’s our land now! Finders keepers!
Under the bark, munching greeneryToday the timber’s appreciated
Part of the ecological scenery!Boutique floorboards, balustraded
And relentless fungi and ants and moreA glorious russet-coloured timber
Attacked the red gum’s woody coreFrom Kimberley to Mirrimbah
Fifty to a hundred decades thusAustralia’s most widespread tree
Ashes to ashes and dust to dust…Symbol of our superb country
The big’uns dropped seed continuallyIs it the most Antipodean tree?
A seedling survived, became a treeYet there is an irony…
One in a million, maybe lesscamaldulensis, botanists call this plant
Died a veteran – as for the restReferring to a locale distant
Grazed by ‘roos or burnt by firesCamaldule’s a monastery in Italia…
Lightning or hunter lit the pyresNot a farming district in Australia!
Of numberless seedlings that disappearedWho cares? So what!
Unfulfilled, year by yearWe must protect, extend the trees we’ve got!
The survivors dominated the plainsI trust my grandkids, as is my bent
At home in drought or heavy rainCan delight in red gums ancient
Responding as the climates changedCan sense their venerability
Subtly extending or shrinking rangeTheir strength and complex poetry
Gariwerd outwash, volcanic fumesScattered still across the landscape
Lakes and swamps and lunette dunesWest wind skews their Lego shape
Lava flows and sands windblownOuter branchlets dying back
Megafauna – wombats overgrown!A dead-end-road? Red Gum Track!
Scores of millennia passAs a boy with crosscut saw I stood
Ecosystems of gums and grassHelping Dad cut winter’s wood
Another change – along came ManI took each block and backed it off
And his ability to clan and planCross-grained red gum isn’t soft!
Stalk the emu, harvest yamsNow I work with Landcare squads
Corangamite, TarrayoukyanIs it the twilight of the gods?
Canoe scar a Koorie runeOr can we massively regenerate
Campfire sagas under the moonThe finest tree of the Garden State?