Sit still and watch the leaves turn
The land that is mentioned in this article forms part of the Country of the Peramangk people. The area around Tara Hills was formerly a Peramangk gathering ground now known as Native Valley. We pay our respects to Elders, past, present, and emerging and realise that there is still so much we can learn about caring for Country from the original custodians.
At a recent retreat, Peramangk Elder Ivan Copley shared stories about the importance of gum trees for his ancestors. Each family had a tree which provided shelter for birthing, with the afterbirth being buried beneath the tree. The ashes of family members were placed in the hollows of the same tree. Given the gums could live for over 1000 years, the ‘family tree’ held enormous significance and a link to the past and the present.
In the early days of my retreat work I often found myself drawn to the large gum trees on and around Tara Hills. I would feel their smooth bark or sit on a limb. My favourite one was in the valley where I used to climb up the main limb to rest comfortably in a space created by three huge branches. Doing this gave me a sense of being grounded when everything within me was being turned upside down and inside out. There was something comforting about the big old gum trees, a solidness which supported me during these sometimes confusing and turbulent moments. It is difficult to deny the solidity of a massive gum tree!
Not only are they comforting for a nature lover like myself, but they also play a crucial role in the environment. These trees provide shade, shelter, nectar, and habitat for wildlife and are part of an ecological system of incredible importance to maintaining a balanced environment. In the words of Sir David Attenborough, referring to the preciousness of age-old trees, “there is little else on Earth that plays host to such a rich community of life within a single living organism”.
Now, a few decades on from my early years of retreating, some of those beautiful old trees are beginning to struggle and their canopies are not so full of leaves and life as they once were. This is a sign that the trees are stressed and/or dying. Several factors have combined for this to happen including age, damage by grazers, fire, drought, and climate change.
In keeping with our commitment to improve the land that Lifeflow manages, a small team of volunteers is undertaking a tree renewal plan. This will provide future generations with the ability to continue to enjoy and learn from our environment. The plan is spearheaded by Lifeflow members Marne Durnin and Ian Nuberg who are applying their scientific training to developing an approach which is both manageable and sustainable.
Marne has researched the Peppertree property (the property surrounding Tara Hills and owned by Lifeflow) and found in aerial images that most of the existing paddock trees were present 70 years ago. This tells us that there has been no natural regeneration, probably due to grazing.
Marne has also enlisted the help of a University of Adelaide student, Kieran Halliday, to undertake comprehensive mapping of the trees on Peppertree with a health score for each tree. Kieran will report his findings in a talk with interested members and Friends of Peppertree. He is also working on a tree renewal plan to guide us in maintaining the land as an open grassy woodland.
We will achieve this by protecting existing and natural generated seedlings with robust tree guards (that were generously donated by the Landscape Board SA) and by planting tube stock seedlings in selected areas. Our goal is to have trees of varying ages and stages of development. Currently we have trees protected that are approximately 4-5 years old, with others that are younger.
In the areas where we are not getting natural regeneration, we are selectively planting seedlings. The tube stock seedlings are selected from the next aridity zone to protect against the possible effects of climate change. This also allows us to plant in areas to ensure a moderately even distribution, something that is often lacking in natural regeneration.
Next time you are up at Tara Hills, you might like to take a moment to sit still under a tree, feeling the solidness of the ground beneath you and respecting the need to continue to care for this little portion of the Earth.
Coordinator of Friends of Peppertree
This article originally appeared in Lifeflow’s member magazine Insight 40th Birthday Edition 2021.
Peppertree is a 65 acre property purchased by Lifeflow in 2013, as an environmental buffer for Tara Hills Retreat Centre.
Under Lifeflow’s stewardship our aim is to restore Peppertree to an open grassy woodlands and encourage land management practices that conserve and improve the soils, increase habitat for native animals and the diversity of native plants.
The Friends of Peppertree group is open to anyone interested in being involved in revitalising this property. Project events are held four times a year. If you are interested please get in touch at email@example.com.