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Australian Tree Champions

By Derek McIntosh
Australian Bee Journal (October 2012)

“Trying to find some big trees are you? Not sure you will be lucky around here nowadays. I remember when ---.“ This is the whimsical response I hear from all too many people in rural Australia. They go on to recount a sad tale of big trees they remember that have been cut down, lopped, or died.

As a tree-climbing kid in South Africa, I quickly learned that the African acacias were not good trees to climb due to the thorns, and the imported, and widely grown gum trees, were impossible to climb due to their trunks with no branches. Adjoining most gum plantations were thousands of beehives. The best selling honey in South Africa was “gum”. Settling into Australia in 1981 I was delighted to find that Australia was not about branchless gum trees, but populated with the most incredible variety of trees; from the tropical rainforest giants, the sky-touching Tasmanian, Victorian, and West Australian forest trees, to the gnarled gidgee trees in the deserts. As importantly, was the enjoyment at finding the alien trees that are planted in the gardens, streets and parks of all communities.

Living in the U.S.A. for a few years, I discovered the American Forests’ National Register of Big trees [see their link on the Register website]. It is a Register of the amazing big trees in that country. It has been in existence for seventy five years. There are thousands of enthusiastic tree lovers in the U.S.A. that find and measure trees. Spurred on by this, I established our local Register three years ago.

My quest is to find the Champion tree of each species in Australia. Champions for each State will also be included. There are nearly 600 trees on the Register. The Register records indigenous and alien trees.

American Forests developed a formula that scores trees on the basis of this formula that gives a holistic Points score, and allows for objective comparisons. Trunk Circumference [inches] + Height [feet] + ¼ Average Crown Spread [feet]. [The Register includes metric and imperial measurement details.] Trees must be single-stemmed at 1.4m above ground where circumference is measured. This fact creates many unresolved issues when measuring certain trees, and certainly for the many Ficus species we have in Australia. Buttressed trees are another headache.

Making the Australian tree Points directly comparable to the U.S.A. is important. Australians can view the American Forests Register of Big Trees and enjoy comparing their Champions with ours; and vice versa for North American tree enthusiasts.

I remember when I first heard the names of the iconic Australian trees, and wondered where the Australia Champions were growing? Now I know where some of the them are: River Red Gum, 647 Points [Grampians, VIC]; Alpine Ash, 1118 Points [Geeveston, TAS – LARGEST TREE IN AUSTRALIA]; Norfolk Island Pine, 402 Points [Gerringong, N.S.W.]; Yellow Box, 364 Points [Lurg, VIC]; Bunya Pine, 385 Points [Bunya Mountains, QLD]; Tallowwood, 607 Points [Dorrigo, N.S.W.]; Bloodwood, 830 Points [Wauchope, N.S.W.]; Flooded Gum, 658 Points [Buladelah, N.S.W.]; Ironbark – all species Champ, 359 Points [Kilcoy, QLD]; Moreton Bay Fig, 912 Points [Bellingen N.S.W]. The biggest mango tree is outside the Rockhampton Hospital in Queensland.

The Register can be sorted on Common Name, Scientific Name, State, Town, and Points. This makes it easy for Register visitors to locate trees in specific areas. In the Tree Data section on the website, a document can be downloaded that lists full details of all trees on the Register.

What makes all of this possible is the amazing internet. I could never have been able to fund the accumulation of tree data and then produce a printed Tree Register. Even if produced, who would know about it or buy it? The internet allows me to publish the Register, update it every few days, and it can be viewed by thousands around the world. More important than the cost of my production, is the zero cost of access for the viewing public.

My goal is not to own the Register, but to create an incorporated association or trust that will ensure the Register remains accessible to all supporters. I do not have a horticultural background, and rely on a group of expert supporters for advice on the botanical aspects. Dean Nicolle is an internationally recognised authority on eucalyptus trees, and the principal expert I rely on. Without the tree climbing skills of Brett Mifsud, the heights of many of the enormous Tasmanian and Victorian trees would remain unverified estimates. The Register is self-funded and not well known. Publicity about the Register has been wonderful thanks to the interest of the print media, and radio – in particular the many local ABC stations. A local Champ is great news for a local newspaper and radio station.

A large part of the enjoyment in looking for the biggest trees is meeting all the people who either own, or have knowledge of where potential Champions may be lurking. They have a great interest and pride in their communities’ big trees. All wish to see the local big trees retained. Sadly, in some cases big trees and suburban houses are incompatible, and the tree usually loses.

The Register records the National Champion, the State Champion, and the Regional Champion [within Queensland & N.S.W.]. This will create a vibrant rivalry between the States and Regions. It has a practical application too; tree lovers can nominate, and visit, their Regional and State Champions without travelling across Australia. Australia has an area for 7.69 million square kilometres with only 23 million inhabitants!
A key characteristic of the tree data is a photo. I always try to get somebody next to the tree to give it scale; kids make the tree look even bigger. Look at the Redwood at Healesville, VIC. Each tree page can links to interesting facts about the tree and related matters.

The Register is not only about big, BIG, Trees. It covers all the wonderful garden, pavement, and park trees we have in our communities. The list is constantly changing as people take a good look at trees in their backyards, on pavements, in community parks, and explore wilderness areas.

Great strides have been made in preserving many of our big trees. One of the goals of the Register is to make people aware of their local big trees so that their descendants can one day say; “my nan remembers when she was a little girl that the tree in the playground next to the river was GINORMOUS. It is still there, but even bigger .”
Much as I would love to, I cannot visit and measure every likely Champion tree in Australia, please send in your nominations!

Derek is 71 years old, and lives in Manly, Sydney.

See the website for full details:

Manna Gum, Halls Gap, Victoria
Mugga Ironbark, Lurg, Victoria
Spotted Gum, Government House, Victoria
Spotted Gum
Last update 3-Mar-2017
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