What happened to this national relic?

This site hosts a national relic. It marks of one of the most famous events in the history of the nation. Now, it is nothing more than an empty space beside a highway bordered by construction mesh.

This small site just outside of Katoomba in the Blue Mountains of NSW hosts the Explorers Tree – or it used to. The Explorers Tree is a famous landmark etched with the markings of famous explorers Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson, who were credited with opening up the region and creating a path from Sydney through the mountains to the flat lands to the west. The three explorers are commemorated in the suburbs Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth Falls in the mountains, and feature in the Australian school history curriculum.

Of course, like most conventional historical accounts in Australia, this story ignores the fact that the Indigenous people of the mountains already knew how to travel between Sydney and the western plains; they’d been doing it for years. The Dharug and Gundungurra people have been living in the Katoomba region, and the Megalong Valley below, for thousands of years. Some accounts even go so far as to say that the explorers such as Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson ‘discovered’ the region. Aboriginal people knew it was there, they’d been living on the land for at least 50,000 years.

Where is the tree now?

According to Blue Mountains City Council, the remnants of the tree were taken to a Transport for New South Wales depot in Lawson. At least it lies in a suburb with some connection to the people who made it famous. The tree was removed in late February this year for fears that it would slide away in heavy rain and land on the highway. The tree, the degraded base and the fence were removed. All that’s left now is an interpretive display further off the highway. According to TfNSW, the tree may feature in a cultural interpretation strategy for the planned upgrade of that stretch of the Great Western Highway.

Why is it significant?

Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson are said to have marked the tree during the first crossing of the Blue Mountains in 1813. History tells us that a tree was marked by someone, at some point, somewhere near a site called Pulpit Hill, some time in the 1800s, when the region was being explored by Europeans. Pulpit Hill is just a short distance from the current site of the tree. No one can say for certain that the tree which stood proudly beside the highway for so many years, and the tree which was removed just a few weeks ago, is actually that tree. Nevertheless, that particular tree was set aside as a site of national significance, and the platform and fence were built around it, while a plaque was laid nearby detailing its importance.

That said, the tree wasn’t very spectacular before it was removed. Like any living organism, it started to age, and the Explorers Tree was looking more like an explorers stump. Most motorists flew by the landmark on their way to Medlow Bath and beyond without a second thought, and for a long time the site had been bordered by flimsy orange construction tape – it was a rather forlorn view. What’s more, the tree was mostly concrete. Many years ago, the rotting trunk had been filled with concrete in an effort to protect it, and metal rings circled its base and top.

A sign next to the site also indicates that Blue Mountains City Council had planned to take action as far back as 2012. It’s now 2021. Perhaps the councillors just put the numbers in the wrong order.

The Explorers Tree tells us a lot about Australian history. It tells us how that history is recorded, prioritised and sustained.

Generations of Australians accepted that the tree on the platform had been marked by famous explorers, despite no empirical evidence to prove this. I remember stopping to view it as a child during a family trip through the mountains. I don’t remember every detail, but I do remember that it was actually a tree, not a sad looking stump.

The tree demonstrates the prioritising of certain historical events. The preservation of the tree exalted the exploits three Caucasian males who did something Aboriginal people had been doing for thousands of years before them – crossed the Blue Mountains. The Explorers Tree demonstrates how the efforts of male colonisers were mythologised and recognised far more than the actions of other Australians.

Now, long-accepted truths are being questioned. Historians and other Australians are staring to challenge the traditional narrative of colonial history, and to ask questions such as:

Were the explorers’ achievements as impressive as we were led to believe?

If they wanted to know how to cross the mountains, why didn’t they just ask the Aboriginal people?

Why aren’t there more stories about Australians who are not white males?

Should we spend taxpayers’ money to preserve a tree that probably isn’t real?

Only time will tell what happens to the site currently sitting empty beside the highway just outside of Katoomba.

Greenfleet offers a Christmas present with a difference.

Not sure what to gift for Christmas? Sick of buying the same presents year after year only to see feigned surprise and excitement on the face of the recipient? Try a present with a difference, which will make a difference.

Make a donation to an organisation such as Greenfleet on behalf of your friend or relative.

Greenfleet is a not-for-profit environmental organisation which protects the world’s climate by restoring forests. You can help them to plant native biodiverse forests which capture carbon emissions and help fight the impacts of climate change. You can contribute to the growth of an entire forest even if you don’t have the time, space or opportunity to plant a tree. Greenfleet will do it on your behalf.

Since its inception, Greenfleet has planted more than 9.4 million trees in more than 500 forests in Australia and New Zealand. The forests generate many benefits for the planet, and for us. They address critical deforestation, absorb carbon emissions to protect our climate, improve water and soil quality, conserve biodiversity, and restore vital habitat for native wildlife.

Importantly, the forests are legally protected for up to 100 years through an on title agreement with the landowner. 

A forest guaranteed to grow for the next 100 years is better than the cheap plastic toy which will become landfill as soon as your nephew discovers the next fad. This is practical climate action. 

Greenfleet began in 1997 and planted its first trees in West Gippsland, Victoria. It reached two million trees in 2005 and combined with Scouts to plant their 1,000,000th tree for the Murray Darling Rescue project. The organisation has been a finalist in the World Environment Day awards and gained Greenhouse Friendly™ Approval for forest sink methodology.

In 2013, the organisation’s projects were registered under the Carbon Farming Initiative and it purchased its first property, Avoca, in NSW. Working with private landholders allows Greenfleet to secure guarantees that the trees planted on that land will be protected.

In 2015, Greenfleet expanded its operations to New Zealand and through donations from supporters, managed to purchase ‘Wurneet Laang Laang’ in Victoria in 2016. The latest of many initiatives is an innovative climate-change research project at Nardoo Hills Reserve in Victoria in association with Bush Heritage Australia.

Greenfleet receives Deductible Gift Recipient status and is listed on the Register of Environmental Organisations in Australia. 

Greenfleet draws upon the methodology outlined by Gold Standard for the Global Goals, an internationally recognised standard designed to accelerate progress toward climate security and sustainable development.  This methodology is based on six central principles.

Collaboration – Working closely with landholders and partners, including rangers, native nurseries, tree planting contractors, other not-for-profit organisations, Traditional Owners, local community and government. 

Location – The right place is chosen through a comprehensive assessment of each potential site to determine whether the land can support the growth of a biodiverse carbon forest. 

Species selection – Forests comprise of a mix of native species that would have been present prior to land clearing. The focus is on recreating multi-species ecosystems and not single species plantations. The Australasian Virtual Herbarium, DELWP’s Ecological Vegetation Class benchmark and other state and regional vegetation maps and classifications  are used to establish a list of native species that should be present on the site. 

Efficiency – Projects are delivered as cost-effectively as possible without compromising quality. 

Co-benefits – In addition to delivering nature-based climate solutions, Greenfleet strives to deliver additional social, environmental and economic benefits. 

Long-term thinking – Every project focusses on the lasting success in order to protect the climate, the environment, wildlife, people and the future.

One benefit of donating to an organisation such as Greenfleet is the assurance that the trees you help to plant will be protected. When a Greenfleet forest is planted, the landholder retains ownership of the land and the agreeemnt ensures the forest is secured for up to 100 years. This means the landowner must protect the forest by not damaging or removing trees for the duration of the agreement.  

Where an area of planting has failed, remedial action, like in-fill planting, is carried out.

Donating to Greenfleet is a constructive and practical way to protect the earth’s climate for the sake of the planet and the sake of humanity. A donation as a Christmas present on behalf of friends or family is also an original and long-lasting gift which is so much more beneficial than yet another boring gift from yet another boring store.

Plus, if you give your Dad socks for Christmas, what are you going to give him for his birthday?