Trees, poetic plant scientists and Big Scrub enthusiasts.


Last June I wrote about Trees and the need to get to know them better, and since then have kept finding  allies  who shared my enthusiasm from among the new breed of poetically inclined scientists writing inspiring books.

David George Haskell reading from The Song of Trees at the Byron Bay Writers Festival

One I mentioned was Professor David George Haskell from New York who has written two fine books, and I subsequently had the joy of listening to him at the Byron Bay Writers Festival in August 2017 – he spoke just as eloquently and enthusiastically as he writes, especially about his most recent book “The Song of the Trees – Stories of Nature’s great Connectors”.

In the conclusion of the book’s forward he explains that  “Each chapter tells the song of a particular tree, the physicality, the sounds, the stories that brought sound into being……… Much of this song dwells under the acoustic surface.  To listen is to touch a stethoscope to the skin of the landscape to hear what stirs below.

There is poetry in his description of the variety of language of rain drops falling in the Amazon forest – Here the rain falls in big Syllables, phonemes unlike the clipped rain of most other landmasses.  He says that here ” the leaves speak the rain’s language with the most eloquence”

He sees life as a network –  “there is no “nature’ or  “environment”, separate and apart from humans.  We are part of the community of life, composed of relationships with “others”  –  we cannot step outside life’s songs. This music made us; it is our nature….To listen to trees, nature’s great connectors, is therefore to learn how to inhabit the relationships that give life its source, substance and beauty.”

My daughter Chris and I sat together under these olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane on the edge of Jerusalem in 1990.  The olive trees of Israel are one of the 12 trees that David Haskell chose to feature in his book – The Song of Trees.

I discovered another fine book at our local library – “The Lost Language of Plants – the Ecological importance of Plant Medicines to Life on Earth” by Steven Harrod Buchner, a prolific author from Idaho. U.S.A  in which he reminds us that the plant kingdom constitutes 90 % of all life on earth.  and it  provides us with a ‘ Green print for living’ – a green model for communal living through communication and cooperation  and without relying on any form of hierarchy,

He tells us that plants have been talking to us for a long time -‘they are much more than the sum of their parts – they have purpose, intelligence and soul…. They look out for one another and they need each other for their health, citing the trees –  the lungs of the planet – often relying on the presence of a particular lichen for healing.

It is a very comprehensive book covering a wide range of issues including a brief history of how one hundred years ago we abandoned living medicine in favour of pharmaceutical medicine.  Up till that time plants wherever they grow on the planet were able to communicate their specific healing properties  to us intuitively, providing us with the natural medicine maintain health and minimize disease.

Stephen Buhner also details  the serious environmental impacts .of technological medicine including  uses of radioactivity and cautions  that “to leave a legacy that does not merely impoverish future life, but may endanger it for millennia to come” charging that to do so would constitute an act of unprecedented irresponsibility!

( I took a pause here – it was time for a quick swim – its a hot day and  it is high tide right now.  I drove down to the estuary only to see a storm cloud moving in from the ocean.  Just as I sank into the water the sky burst open and I was surrounded by an avalanche of super-sized rain drops making staccato music – loud plopplopityplop beats splattering and spitting as they hit the water surface around my head, turning into a deluge.   As quickly as it came, the black cloud-mass passed on, heading inland  and leaving a splendid double rainbow in its wake.

Now thoroughly drenched and exhilarated  – it’s time to return home, dry off,  return to the keyboard and share the story of MY rain song experience .  I’m sure the sea-plants below the water’s surface swayed and sang along with it too!! ) 

Another highlight for me at the writers’ festival was the launch of a splendid book   “The Big Scrub Rainforest – a journey through time” – an initiative of the Big Scrub Landcare group, containing a wealth of diverse locally researched topics and illustrations. – A rewarding read for anyone interested in the Northern Rivers region of N.S.W. – its history and environment, readily available in all the regional libraries and bookstores.

It is a lovingly created  account of the ‘rainbow region’, reaching far back to when it was still part of the great Gondwana rainforest, tracing the time from when the continent travelled north from the Antarctic over 40 million years ago, crossing volcanic hotspots and  creating volcanic peaks and plateaus –  what we know now as our splendid Wollumbin/ Mt.Warning volcano – and the rivers of basalt lava flowing from it forming the surrounding caldera and the sub-tropical rain forests.

Today, at the old quarry at Bexhill just east of Lismore, evidence can be read down through the sedimentary layers of its volcanic past and calculate when Gondwana, of which Australia and Antarctica were a part, became a separate continent, and on through to the present day.

You can read how some of the greatest sub-tropical plant diversity on the planet is still to be found in what remains of the original forest, even after much of it was logged .

The Big Scrub was known to the aboriginal people as GABUL, and the Widjabul people who are a part of the Bunjalung Nation, are its custodians.  ( the land of the Bunjalung  extends from Logan to the north down to the Clarence river, and inland to Stanthorpe.)  They still tell the creation stories relating to the abundant springs in the area, recognizing them as the life blood of the land by honouring the Spirit of the Water-hole.

The book tells what little remains of the Big Scrub today. I first became very aware of its story  when I lived in Clunes,  a village in the heart of the area and close by to one of its best-known remnants – the Booyong Nature reserve, and you will find more detail there.

These days many local people are involved in the care and restoration of the forest, and annually organize a great land-care community event –  the Big Scrub Rainforest Day, one of the largest of its kind in Australia.  Look out for it during Spring time.

Remaining  unspoiled sub-tropical lowland rainforest – Northern Rivers region of New South Wales.. Source: –

Yet another book on the topic of  “The Language of Plants – science, philosophy and literature”  is a combined series of essays by Monica Gagliano, an environmental scientist from Perth,  Dr. John C. Ryan, Dr.Patricia Viera and others,  with the aim of creating a fresh language for communicating the evolving  understanding of our connection to  Earth Mother and all living beings that we share her with.

These days it is often the children who are showing the way!



First post for 2018 – a family Christmas report.

Here we are already half way through January 2018 and I am  rushing to put a little report together with photos, about the wonderful family Christmas we had together last month, so that it arrives in time for our beloved Lizzie to read today – January15th – on her birthday!

Earlier last year while visiting our old home town, Bellingen, Liz came across an historic old farm  house at Gleniffer, known as Freida’s Place – 20 mins. out of town. She fell in love with it and it is now  a family country retreat and after a lot of work, is fast becoming a sought after Air B&B as well as a permanent home for Emily.

Ellie and family who have now returned from Peru and are living in Melbourne, joined them early in December, and they all pulled together to create space for the rest of us to join them for a 6 day family reunion and Christmas celebration.

I have just looked up Air B&B -Gleniffer NSW and found everything there that you might want to know about ‘Freida’. Its a lovely old historic cedar 6 bedroom farmhouse on 10 acres – we all loved being there together, though it was disappointing that daughter Julie couldn’t make it at the last minute. – it’s some time since my scattered family has managed to come together for a big celebration  and we were grateful to make the most of every moment.

I recommend reading the comprehensive description and checking the beautiful photos that Liz has put on line.  They took me back there in an instant – vividly reliving lots of little details of a special experience, winding up 2017 together and generating a refreshed sense of optimism and trust in what’s ahead in ’18!

So, loving birthday wishes to my daughter Elizabeth, and lots of love to each one of my precious family.



Time to update the story of my gardens.

Continuing to explore nature through the gardens in my life. – this time by the sea.

Three years have sped by since I was encouraged to begin a blog with a collection of letters that I wrote home  from Europe at the end of the fifties extending  over a period of two and a half years.

Once begun, it didn’t take long for me to realize that I had also created a home on the net where I could expand and branch out into any number of other topics as well in between publishing all the letters, together with photos of all the places I visited which I finally completed with the account of my special journey home on an Italian migrant ship  

This proved an exciting discovery and as a result a couple of months later I began writing a series relating to nature and what I was learning through the  places where I had lived and the creation of their gardens.

So far you will see that I have covered a period stretching from early childhood in the 1930s right up to 2005 when it was time to leave the home where I lived for a few years in Clunes.  .

In 2004 I felt drawn to move nearer the ocean, and I was blessed to find a beautiful spot on the coast. It is within a cluster of small villages where the Mullumbimby river flows into the ocean not far north of Byron Bay.

Twelve years have sped by since I moved there so its high time to bring the record up to date and reflect on the joys and challenges of creating a new home and garden from scratch and  settling in to a new community and environment.

I had the idea of sharing pictures of the friends who frequent my latest  garden by way of an introduction, so here they are, all the critters :-  just click and enjoy!  The rest of the story will hopefully follow soon ………


A Focus on the Korean Peninsula – and a visulization for Peace

A focus on the Korean peninsula – and a Visualization for Peace – It is time to think of the Children!

July 2017

The latest crisis in the very long standoff between northern Korea and the United States of America, now focusing on nuclear weapons, is again demanding a response,    And to those people who choose to work with meditation and visualization as a way of working for peace on the planet, I have a suggestion.

The peninsula has a range of mountains running from north to south, and on the northern border with China there is a magnificent active volcano called Mount Packtu or Backdu.

They call this mountain and its surrounding caldera Heaven’s Lake. It is considered by people from the whole of Korea to be the country’s spiritual home and is called “the Sacred Mountain of the revolution.”  It was the birthplace of the founder of the first Korean Kingdom BC.

Travel south and just below the southern tip of the Korean mainland and linking directly in a vertical line with the northern mountains there is a small island called Chejudo, part of which is another splendid shield volcano called Mount Hallasan. It is the highest mountain in southern Korea – ‘enough to pull the universe’ they say, its role being to protect the people of Cheju from the ocean. (see photo above)

Visualize this energy line cutting through the artificial border – the buffer zone – in the centre of the country.  I was convinced when I was there in 1994 that by focusing on the combined encompassing power of these two great protective mountains, much could be achieved to inform the hearts of the leaders and engender peace and courage and trust, and help to dispel the fear of constantly being under military threat being experienced by all the people on both sides of that cruel dividing line over so many years.

In 1994 I was heading for Europe with a friend and co-worker, and we chose Korea for a one-week stopover on the way. One place that I felt very strongly to include in the trip was the beautiful little island called Chejudo just off the south coast of the peninsula. There we found a small local hotel, not known to tourists, of which there were very few In those days, and initially they indicated the were booked out. With the help of a translator we discovered they were trying to put us off, sure that we would find simple Asian-style accomodation would be too modest for westeners!  In fact it suited us well and had a lovely ocean view.

On the first evening we set off for a walk and were attracted by the sound of a choir in a church just around the corner.  We slipped in and sat quietly for the last part of the Mass, and afterwards met the parish priest, who just happened to be the only Australian within a group of Irish priests from the Colomban Order of missionaries serving in Korea.

On hearing my surname, Father Frank asked if I was related to Father Crennan from Australia whose work was with migrants and had helped him on several occasions.  He was speaking of my uncle, and as a result of this wonderful piece of synchronicity, he spent whatever time he could spare taking us around the island and sharing its history and special sites.

We skipped the newly built flashy Chevron hotel on the promontory and were taken straight to a renowned Buddhist shrine nearby in an open cave on the south side of Mount Hallasan. There he helped me place an Australian quartz crystal in its chosen hiding place in the rocks just below.

From there we went on to meet with some little children at the local preschool — what a delight they were, full of curiosity.  We visited colourful markets on the other side of the island, and wound up the day with a very unexpected invitation to a ‘family’ dinner with the Irish Colombans.

One of them was celebrating his 70th birthday. Two of his sisters had come out from Ireland and had cooked up a splendid Irish meal of Beef and roast veg. helped down with a good flow of whiskey, lots of laughter and outrageous conversation!. The group were all elderly, had served there for years and were gradually retiring as Korean clergy replaced them.  It was a great way of completing a wonderful day!

Many times since then I have connected with that small crystal we left in the side of the volcano and sent out a call to the great spirits of the two mountains to join forces in informing the hearts of the leaders and protecting and calming the land and all living things that inhabit the whole country.

This makes more sense to me than fretting about the possibility in some linear future of Australia becoming the target of the yet to be constructed nuclear missile!  They would probably have to stop and find out where we were first!

Perhaps you might like to do the same in any way that you feel prompted, and share the idea with others.

The children we met there in 1994 would be in their late 20s now, some never having the chance to meet up with family members separated when the border barrier went up.  And never knowing what it was like, whether living in the north or south, to be free of the threat of military conflict hanging over them. We visited the wall which is just north of Seoul and it was a sad and somewhat chilling experience.

Happily, my last visual memory was in the airport lounge in Seoul. It was an enormous poster of a splendid volcano that I thought at first was Mount Hallasan. However, on enquiry, I discovered that it was its twin volcano to the north — and that is how I came to meet Mt.Paktu, bringing the story full circle


Trees – time to get to know them better!


A few months ago I heard a scientist, Peter Wohlleben, being interviewed on Radi0 National  telling us of a book he has written called The Hidden Life of Trees. The title alerted me and I was immediately interested when I realized that this was no dry scientific treatise. It was an invitation to come to really know and love trees in a whole new way.

He was speaking of the need trees have to form communities and the many ways they can cooperate and look out for one another. He was using words such as friendship, and ability to feel,  and also how they learn as they grow just as we do.  He speaks of them as social beings, capable of sharing food with their own species.

It has been observed that they can communicate via scent, using it to forewarn nearby relatives when a browsing four-legged enemy is approaching –  or to send out messages when water is running low!  And so much more!

What delighted me was that he spoke and wrote so intuitively, right and left brain so much in harmony, yet so much of thus understanding had been gathered over years from scientific observation – and with wonderful results. Trees – whole forests of trees – come alive on every page.

He explained that with trees it is the root that is the brain and is where experiences can be stored – It is in charge of all chemical activity and that these electrical impulses can be measured.  An example is when root tips hit stones or something toxic, and this information is transmitted, resulting in adjusting  the direction of growth.

The more I heard the more it reminded me of what the Spirit of Bamboo had explained to me in a teaching I received on an intuitive level some  years ago about the nature of the bamboo species, not just how we could relate to it, but also much about mutual relationships between members of the plant kingdom, using the Eucalypts as an example.  I have already included this story  in my blog;  check it out as well as reading Peter’s book to link the connections.

Another author who writes beautifully about trees is David George Haskell, a professor of biology and environmental studies  who has written “The Forest Unseen”  and “The Song of Trees  – Stories from Nature’s Great Connectors.”  I’m looking forward to hearing him speak at the Byron Bay Writers Festival N.S.W. in August. (2017)

He has written that “To be able wrap other people into my relationship with the tree, and the tree into my relationship with  other people – it is very enriching.” .   This is a sentiment that I also resonate with in relation to the plant kingdom in general, and which prompted me to write the series  on my blog which I called “growing my love of Nature through my gardens“, particularly the chapter on Bellingen in which trees feature as some of the main characters.

I also came across Professor E.O.Wilson,  a wise Elder- also a biologist, naturalist and prolific author who has identified a new genre of nature-writing located between science and poetry “in which the invisible appear, the small become larger, and the immense complexity and beauty of Life are more closely revealed.”

He has coined the word Biophilia which he describes as an instinctive bond between humans and other living systems which is in our genes, and warns us not to ignore it.

He can be listened to on the net in a recorded Ted Talk.

I believe we live in exciting times when we can finally begin to see scientific knowledge combining with an intuitive relationship with nature and all life, and matched with the ability to convey this in words!   Alleluia!


Recently a friend reminded me that In Tim Winton’s book “My Island Home” he quotes a poem spoken by Kakadu elder Big Bill Neidjie, who had been a buffalo hunter, luggerman and mill worker in his younger days.   

He was the last surviving speaker of the Gaagudju language and in his later life he was an inspirational leader.    Tim had noted that “here, surely, is a voice we should attend to.”  (p.234.) and believed him to be a mystic.

“I love it tree because e love me too.

 E watching me same as you

 tree e working with your body, my body,

e working with us.

 While you sleep e working.

 Daylight, when you walking around, e work too.

 That tree, grass….. that all like our father.

 Dirt, earth, I sleep with this earth.

  Grass ….. just like your brother.

 In my blood in my arm this grass.

 This dirt for us because we’ll be dead,

we’ll be going this earth.

This the story now.”

An ‘encounter’ with Mark Colvin

As I watched the headlines of the early breakfast news on Thursday morning, a breaking- news flash came across the screen – Mark Colvin has died –  and I felt it as a blow! –  and it was all too soon after John Clarke’s departure as well.

I had followed Mark’s career with much interest over many years, 40 in fact.   My ‘encounter’ with him occurred early in 1977, the year the Fox Commission sat to decide if uranium mining was to go ahead in the Northern Territory. I had volunteered to co-coordinate the recently formed Sydney branch of the Movement against Uranium Mining (MAUM).  The Ranger uranium mine was already functioning in Kakadu national park and another nine were applying to join in the bonanza.

MAUM began its life in my living room at Balmain until Milo Dunphy who ran the Total Environment Centre at the Rocks, (another person I came to admire), offered us free office space there, but getting media publicity for the cause was challenging and the CEO’s of the mining companies were grabbing the headlines.

I looked around for help and thought of Mark Colvin (only 25 at the time, I’ve calculated) who was already regarded as a journo. with influence. I bravely decided to ask to see him in his ABC office to make a case for more media recognition and co-operation re press releases etc.

He agreed with reluctance, which didn’t surprise, as it was early days and we were thought of, if at all, as a bunch of suburban housewives and not to be taken too seriously.

When I arrived he didn’t make it too easy for me at the beginning. I still remember the ‘let’s get this over quickly, I’m a busy man’ look, but he did listen and it was a relief to watch his attitude change, and he agreed to help where he could, and proved to be as good as his word.   thanks to his lead amongst other things, more outlets including radio, began to come to us for ‘comments’ as well and we were soon up and running.

We maintained a good campaign for the whole year – each working  day during school hours I would spend in our busy little office. Finally, the Commission made its finding against the mines and though it had been a tough year but all worth while and a great experience, and I now felt it was time to step back and find me a ‘real well remunerated Job’ once I’d recuperated. Life intervened and 1978 saw me launch into natural therapies instead. 

I have enjoyed writing this ‘good media story’ so thank you Mark and rest well.


Report on Exhibition at Botanical Gardens – Herbals: Myth, Magic, Medicine

My two week visit to Sydney last month was just as I had looked forward to — time with my family and old friends, eating delicious food I didn’t have to prepare, add in a healthy dash of culture, a sail on the harbour – what more could one ask for!

Before leaving home I had posted on my webpage about the Exhibition presented by the Daniel Solander Library of precious books containing remedies that pre-date modern medicine that I planned to see in the Botanical library at the Botanical gardens Herbarium, and I was so pleased that I did just that.

I arrived early and was lucky to have a really informative discussion with Miguel Garcia, the exhibition’s curator and librarian as he guided me through the exhibition for about an hour before other interested people arrived.

It was a beautifully presented display of amazingly preserved books and illustrations mostly from the Renaissance and mediaeval eras, that had been in constant use by physicians and their families – that is until recent times when the conventional medical world switched to pharmaceutical compounds made from chemically altered plant derivatives, taking over from traditional medicine.

Records of many of the plants illustrated and their formulae even dated back to their use in ancient times by the Greeks and Romans, and further back still, thanks to the preservation over time of clay tables etc. from ancient Egypt and Sumeria.

One that really impressed me was De Re Medica 1550  – “On Medicine ”  compiled originally by Diascoredes , a 1st century physician. They wrote that it became the most influential herbal ever written, a model for all future works on pharmacology across Europe and the middle east for over 1500 years.  Our bible when studying pharmacy was called Materia Medica!  It had been through many editions since the first one!

Another ‘Medica’ , first compiled in the time of Augustus and Tiberius, was made up of 8 books covering numerous subjects including diet and exercise, surgery, music therapy and massage, directions for making plant decoctions, salves and ointments.  It was lost until the  Renaissance, and when it came to light again in Florence, it became the first Medical book to come out in print – this was in1478.

It was amazing to see page after page of illustrations of the plants, all there to see in such fresh and  finely sketched detail – an inspiring combination of art and science and history!

There was also a register of the medicinal plants growing in the Botanic gardens from as early as 1823   During a stroll in the gardens afterwards I was also able to check out the selection of  native plants that had been collected by Solander and Banks in 1770.

A plackard in

A placard in the area of the  gardens celebrating Daniel Solander’s contribution to introducing the world to Australian flora.