Travel sketch: My backyard trees

Sometimes you don’t have to travel far and wide to see the wonders of nature. I can see one of Australia’s grandest sights whenever I go into my parents’ backyard…

Can you see him? All the way up there?

backyard trees

Great view!

That man in a high-vis jacket is a tree surgeon and he’s scaled the heights of the Eucalyptus grandis, or flooded gum tree, in my parent’s backyard.

Up there he’s cutting away dead branches or ones that could snap and fall in a storm. In Australia, gum trees are sometimes colloquially known as widow makers, and he’s making sure this mammoth suburban tree, measuring in at over fifty feet, doesn’t hurt a fly.

By the end of his acrobatics, three metric tonnes of green waste will have been cut from the canopy – leaving the tree sculpted, weather proof and still natural looking.

The bill – A$3,000. And worth every bloody cent.

The backyard trees that grew with me

The grandis has been a part of my life since I was born. It was already a small but well-established tree in the backyard when my parents’ moved into their house in Greenwood, a leafy suburb on what was then the very edge of Perth.

Back then it was compulsory for every home block in Greenwood to have three established trees within its boundaries. Here’s the second – a gorgeous Salmon Gum that draws admirers all the year round:

backyard trees

We got this tree trimmed last year – and people showed up to protest, thinking we were cutting it down – never!

The third tree fell down in a storm and was cut up and taken away. And over the years, that’s been the fate of scores of trees in Greenwood and across Perth. Cut down, hauled away and replaced with nothing but the sun.

Timber! Keeping backyard trees safe

People poison them to get better sea or river views. They chop them down so they don’t have to sweep up the leaves. Or hack them down to stumps that take decades to grow back.

This is a great shame. Whole new suburbs of my city are springing up without trees. Homes are built to the property line with scarcely any room for a garden, and even when there is room, you’ll often see scrubby palms or shadeless pine trees growing out of Astroturf that’s scalded by the sunlight all day long.

The tall, spectacular native trees are being steadily pushed to the edges of our day to day lives in suburban parks. And it’s not just new suburbs hacking down trees – even Perth’s richer areas where trees are part of the furniture are thinning them out for urban redevelopment.

backyard trees

Tree canopies block the sun and look spectacular

It seems to me that fewer people in Australia value backyard trees anymore. They are an annoyance, something that stops them having a larger home extension or takes up their time on a weekend to sweep up after. Or they were never an option to begin with – a tiny backyard is no place for a eucalyptus.

The value of backyard trees

The grandis eucalyptus in my parent’s backyard sheds an astonishing amount of dead leaves and bark every year. It drops massive branches every now and then – fingers crossed it missed the roof!

backyard trees

I had to lay down on the ground just to fit this much of it into the frame!

But what it gives us in return in invaluable. Flocks of native birds make it their home every day and every night, filling the air with birdsong, colour and spectacle. It’s a magnificent tree to look at, to shade beneath, to feel the power of. It is Australia – and to my mind, to cut it down would be treasonous, pun intended. Think of all the wonderful film you can get if you installed an outdoor trail cam from shooting authority on your tree! Backyard trees should be celebrated, not removed.

Oh, and if you need a dollar value of the grandis? The tree surgeon estimated it at A$250,000 of intrinsic value.

Not that you can put a price on this:

backyard trees

A living sculpture

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About the author

Dave is the co-founder of Double-Barrelled Travel and has been nomadic since May 2013. When he's not busily working on a novel, he can be found exploring a war museum, sailing a yacht (unfortunately not his own), or hiking up a mountain.

2 comments on “Travel sketch: My backyard trees”

  1. mags Reply

    Great and timely article (our local council allowed the culling of lots of old trees to build another footie oval for the Eagles). I often lament the demise of the suburban trees; the canopy decreases with every new subdivision or new owners who don’t appreciate the value or necessity of such magnificent trees. We watch as the tree canopy around us shrinks till our garden is easily noticeable from a distance; a little oasis in a desert of brick and Colorbond. And, yes, the poor birds too, struggling to finding nesting spots when once they were so plentiful.

    I am glad you and some others still appreciate and care for their suburban trees.

    • Carmen Allan-Petale Reply

      Thanks Mags, and goo on you for keeping the bush and trees and greenery going – it’s the most valuable thing. It’s sad to see so many homes now built to the property line with no garden, and trees restricted to parks and tiny reserves. Hopefully future generations embrace the canopy and restore it, and you’re showing them the way.

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