How Old is Old?

A human life-span, even a hundred years pales into insignificance against the life span of some trees. It takes 100 years for a eucalypt to develop hollow branches or trunk sufficient for a bird to nest in, or to house a sleepy possum.Many quite ordinary rainforest trees live for hundreds and even thousands of years. Some quite small rainforest trees, perhaps only waist or shoulder high can be, perhaps, ten or twenty years old, just waiting in a state of limbo for a nearby forest giant to fall. With the sudden breaking of the forest canopy allowing sunlight to enter, this tree is poised ready for action growing to fill the void.At Quamby Falls Lodge, a couple’s retreat in the Gold Coast Hinterland, there is an ancient Brush Box, Lophostemon confertus, which is older than the rainforest surround it; Normally growing in the sunny marginal forests, this tree and some it it’s companions date to a different climatic period when rainfall was less and the forest more open. No young trees of the same species grow in the forest. They are all mature and ancient. This particular tree is hollow and you can enter by stooping through a narrow opening in the roots. With a girth of 8 metres (26ft) you can stand inside the hollow trunk and with arms fully outstretched not reach the sides. Looking up, 30 metres above, there is a window to the sky where the top has been sheared away by the wind at the level of the surrounding forest canopy.Six thousand years ago during the last ice-age the climate was colder and drier. Aborigines roamed and hunted on the alluvial coast plains now submerged beneath the ocean as the continental shelf, and Australia was connected to the rest of the world.Gradually, as the ice melted and the climate became warmer, the sea level rose. Australia’s mountainous Great Dividing Range became closer to the coast and rain patterns changed. Vegetation and forests changed. Rainforests gradually developed where there were none before,and receded elsewhere. Four thousand years ago Egyptians built the Pyramids at the dawn of recorded history.Two thousand years ago Christ was born. Two hundred years ago the first white settlers came to Australia and tree began to be felled.

Fifty years ago logging reached its peak in Australia with massive trees felled and milled, or cut for woodchip.Somewhere in that time, two thousand years ago, perhaps four thousand years ago when the Pyramids were being built, this ancient tree started life as a tender green seedling in a quite different forest environment. To stand inside it now, a living tree with a healthy green canopy gives a different perspective on life, history and the importance of preserving our environment. Taking hundreds, thousands of years to grow, a tree can be cut down and destroyed in minutes by the hand of man.If you examine the end grain of a log or a piece of timber you will be astounded by the number of annular rings, one for each year it grew as a tree. At one per millimetre a tree of 200mm diameter, 100mm radius could be a hundred years old; a half meter diameter, 250mm radius 250 year old. Not all trees grow at the same rate, of course, some are faster, some slower.

Examine a piece of firewood before you throw it on the fire, or the polished end-grain of a piece of furniture. You will be astounded by the age revealed. But it is more than that, it is also a calendar of climate recording the wet year when growth was rapid, and the droughts when the growth rings were close together, tight and hard.A tree is not just timber, firewood, a view, or part of a forest. It is also part of history growing long before we were even thought of, and perhaps long after we have passed. Faithfully recording climate and rainfall, drought and fire.It makes you think!

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