Trees – time to get to know them better!


A few months ago I heard a scientist, Peter Wohlleben, being interviewed on RN 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 is 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 to learn as they grow.  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 the understanding that had been gathered over years came 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 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 and adjusts  the direction of growth.

The more I heard the more it reminded me of what the Bamboo Deva had explained to a teaching I received on an intuitive level 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 included this story  in my blog many months ago and I would love you to check it out as well as reading Peter’s book and see if you agree and 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.

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  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 often feature as some of the main characters.

Professor E.O.Wilson,  a wise Elder- also a biologist, naturalist and author, 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.”

We live in exciting times when we are beginning to see scientific knowledge combining with an intuitive relationship with nature, and matched with the ability to convey this in words!   Alleluia!


Recently my friend Jennifer reminded me that In his book “My Island Home” Tim Winton 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.   In my mind, he was a mystic.   

Tim had noted that “here, surely, is a voice we should attend to.”  (p.234.)


“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.

Daniel Solander’s Secret Botanical Library


The Sydney Botanical Gardens framed by the Opera House and a few Skyscrapers

The Sydney Botanical Gardens framed by the Opera House and a few city skyscrapers

In early September I was listening one morning to ABC Radio National’s programme Blueprint for Living and my ears pricked up when I heard that it was about ‘Secret remedies from books that pre-date modern medicine”

Michael Williams was interviewing Miguel Garcia, the curator of the small but fascinating Museum in the Sydney Botanical Gardens about the current exhibition of books which  he had co-created from the Daniel Solander Library  – the oldest plant research library in Australia.

In 1852 one Charles Moore had created a collection of 26 books  – botany, gardening horticulture etc.  and this exhibition highlights the history of the plants used in medicine going as far back as Renaissance writings, with much information gleaned from more ancient times from the clay tablets, papyruses and scrolls preserved in the 1st. century AD by the physicians and families of ancient Greece and Rome.

Cpt. James Cook, Sir Joseph Banks, Lord Sandwich, Dr. Daniel Solander and Dr. John Hawksworth.

Cpt. James Cook, Sir Joseph Banks, Lord Sandwich, Dr. Daniel Solander and Dr. John Hawksworth.  Painted by John Hamilton Mortimer in 1771

I was intrigued to learn that Dr. Daniel Solander was a Swedish colleague of Sir Joseph Banks  and who worked along  side of him during Captain Cook’s first journey to the South Pacific on the Endeavour in 1768.   They struck trouble going through the Great Barrier Reef and had to remain on shore at what is now known as Cooktown for seven weeks.

While stranded there they kept busy  collecting about 700 plant varieties

They had attempted to catalogue and record them along with 1000s of others on returning to England. Unfortunately Dr, Solander died before the work was finished.  Banks, though devastated by the loss of his friend, failed to complete and publish the record of what came later to be called his Florilegium so much of their joint work didn’t see the light of day till the 1980s.

My interest in plants used particularly for healing purposes began way back in 1952-4 when I studied Botany and Materia Medica as part of my pharmacy course at Sydney University.

Then we learnt how to make up mixtures and creams and even pillules using plant ingredients even though chemical medicine was already beginning to take over the treatment of most health problems requiring medication, and as a result much of our time in the dispensary from then on was occupied monotonously recording prescriptions, counting thousands of tablets and typing labels.

Nearly thirty years later I was able to begin redeeming much of the early knowledge and apply many of the creative skills learnt at university in a more thorough and interesting way when I studied Dorothy Hall’s Herbal Medicine Diploma course in Sydney in1978-9.  From then on I was able to build up a wonderful stock of plant tinctures and extracts which allowed me to prescribe and dispense my own healing preparations.

Just recently when reviewing the list of flower essences I had created from flowers in my Clunes garden  I noticed that the Latin name of the lovely little  Peruvian Lilly  I found growing there was Scillae Peruviana  belonging to the Squill family.  The name rang a bell and I remembered that Oxymel of Squill  was an ingredient in a popular cough mixture we often dispensed back in the 50’s.

Google was able to inform me that the Squill used as an expectorant was a cousin of my Peruvian Squill and had been in use as far back as a couple of thousand years ago. It was named  Sea Onion by Homer himself,  and they say that it was Pythagoras, a great physician amongst other things, who had created the herbal extract using the ground-up Squill root  mixed with oxymel  – a syrup made from honey.

Who would have thought!!   No wonder we speak of traditional medicine! I am proud to be a part of that tradition of apothecaries and healers and I am looking forward to a Sydney visit very soon to explore the Solander Library.

I am sure to discover exciting links between Herbal Medicine as it is evolving  today and healing knowledge linked to the plant kingdom that stretches as far back in time as Egyptian and Sumerian cultures, and many other cultures besides including that of the Australian Aboriginals, thanks to the caring preservation of  vast amounts of valuable knowledge over many centuries.








Painting in the Ocean Shores Art Expo

There was a great community gathering last night at the Ocean Shores primary school. It’s the 13th Annual Ocean Shores Art Expo – an excellent annual event with high quality exhibits drawing local artists from the whole Byron Bay region. I have been here for 11 of Art Expos.

The painting I contributed this year is based on a photo I took some time ago at sunrise from my bedroom window looking across the South Golden Beach area towards the sea.  The school is somewhere down below in the dark area near the mangroves and the water.

This year all of the art works were asked to reflect the theme  ‘What matters’.

Hanging next to each art work and listed in the Art catalogue is the title and explanation of the artist’s response to the theme.

My painting for the 2016 Ocean Shores Art Show 'Capturing the Moment that Matters'

My painting for the 2016 Ocean Shores Art Show ‘Capturing the Moment that Matters’

I chose the title ‘Its Capturing the Moment that Matters’ and wrote:

“Let’s be alert to the moment, be it the instant of sunrise, an unexpected smile, a whiff of recognition,
a cry for help, a warning shot, a flash of transforming truth or a gesture of forgiveness!”

All that before the painting was started!

Today I will go back again when it is a bit quieter to have a good look at all the entries. There are several hundred if you include the art works from all the school kids.

There will be lots of activity as the school joins in with a Festival of Creativity – stalls,  games music and good food. Its a terrific community event and a credit to the organisers who work super hard every year.

The Expo winds up tomorrow afternoon. Luckily the weather is crisp and sunny.

Check out the artworks at the Ocean Shores Art Expo website.

My latest writing – Italy, the Olympics and village life in Abruzzo

 horse riding

The venue of the horse riding events surrounded by the beautiful Villa Borghese Gardens. The Ozzie riders were the heroes of the day, winning gold despite major challenges.

Thinking of the Brazil Olympics as I reflect on my time in Italy at the Rome Games in 1960.

I  have enjoyed myself recently completing an account of my time in Italy in my twenties. It was great to think about that very special time of my life. I was winding down from my European adventure after two years by visiting Rome for the 1960 Summer Olympics and then recovering with a taste of village life in the hills of  Abruzzo with my friend Peppino … join me for the story as I shared it with my family through letters home all those years ago.

It seems just the right time to share it on my blog, only a few days to go till the 2016 Summer Olympics begin in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, with daily dramas continuing to unfold, reflecting what’s happening in the world at large.

Looking back to Rome in 1960 it all seemed  to be a much more innocent time – a great world sporting  event with lots of excitement as I remember it but without the hype,  the big money, the politics  and the media drama.

Let’s wish the Brazilians success on all levels as they strive to make us welcome, athletes and visitors alike!

It is such a beautiful country and they are making every effort to overcome considerable challenges, many not just of their own making.



Margaret and Gough

A precious memory to add to the thousands of others being shared on this day of Gough Whitlam’s Memorial Celebration in Sydney Town Hall. Wednesday 5th Nov.2014.

It was 1977, the year that the Fox Commission was deliberating on whether our uranium supplys should be mined or allowed to remain within the earth.

This issue was one of the main items at the National Labor Party Conference held in Perth in July of that year.

During the year I had been working in a voluntary capacity in Sydney with the Movement against Uranium Mining, and I was given the opportunity to fly to Perth for the purpose of doing some lobbying on behalf of the campaign – although I had little idea of how to go about” being a lobbyist!”.

On arriving there, I decided to be content with just observing to start off with.

When everyone had assembled in the large conference hall, Mr Whitlam made a grand entrance.
Everyone rose and clapped enthusiastically. This was to be his last year as Federal president of the Labor Party.

When all of the delegates were seated, parliamentary style on a slightly raised platform, proceedings began, and I was lucky to find myself in the front row of all the other people attending.

It was all very interesting and exciting, and it wasn’t until I had settled down a bit, that I realised that I was sitting beside none other than Margaret Whitlam!

She was occupying herself quietly knitting as she listened, and we had little snatches of conversation in between breaks in the speeches.

After a while, she laid down the needles, gave a big sigh, turned to me and said ” I’d give anything right now to be able to go upstairs to my room and have a good afternoon nap”

In my customary fashion, I couldn’t resist asking ” then why don’t you do just that”?

I was very moved when, after a pause, she replied quite simply ” Because, even after all these years, Gough really likes me to be present and listening to him whenever he is giving a speech, and it really doesn’t hurt me to be willing do that for him.”

That reply proved to be just as memorable a moment for me as when the conference voted to leave uranium in the ground.