Trees I've Loved

Sunday 17 November 2013 10:05AM (view full episode)

As Australia gears up for a summer of bushfires, it is not only property which is lost.  Lovingly nurtured gardens, and great tracts of our forests, the trees and the birds, insects and animals they house are also consumed, and with the intensity of the fires they’re often burnt beyond regeneration.  

This program is a meditation on the human connection with trees, and is in part your response to a callout for your stories of trees you’ve loved.  We found a multi- branched and leafy passion for trees in the 550 contributions, which came in from all directions all around the country - uploaded to our website, emailed, face-booked and good old fashioned snail mail.  And you'll find all 40 of our curated stories here.

The relationship between trees and people goes right back to the forests of the first humans, and our ambivalent relationship with trees can be traced through to the here and now, via fairy tales, mythology, and science, as producer Gretchen Miller, and sound engineer Russell Stapleton found.

The program today was written by Gretchen Miller, Jackie Jay, Ian Holland, John Bennett, Tini Cook, GC Smith, Jutta Pryor, Fiona Vaughan and Cameron Semmens. The striking 'war' music at the end of the program is by Michael Atherton from his Ankh cd. And thanks to Maureen Clifford and Jutta Pryor for all their support of trees contributors.

Supporting Information

  • Enter the canopy of a rich and beautiful forest of trees and listen to some of the wonderful audience contributions to the Trees I've Loved project.


View comments (15)


Professor Robert Pogue Harrison
Rosina Pierotti Professor in Italian Literature in the Department of French & Italian at Stanford University
Professor Lesley Head
Professor, Australian Laureate Fellow, Australian Centre for Cultural Environmental Research, University of Wollongong
Professor Tim Bonyhady
Tim Bonyhady is one of Australia's foremost environmental lawyers and cultural historians, and is Professor of Law at the Australian National University
Alexander McKenzie
Uncle Roy Alexander
Yorta Yorta man and a member of the Stolen Generations.
Peter Cochrane
Federal Director, National Parks, Parks Australia


The Colonial Earth
Tim Bonyhady
The Miegunyah Press at Melbourne University Press
Forests: The Shadow of Civilisation
Robert Harrison
University of Chicago Press

Further Information

Trees I've Loved project
40 stories of trees RN listeners have loved, plus links to other features from our special Tree week.
Alexander McKenzie website
Robert Harrison website
Tim Bonyhady website
Lesley Head website
Ankh: The sound of ancient Egypt by Michael Atherton
From the start, Canberra has had a love affair with trees - how trees played their part in the development of the national capital.
You may enjoy this feature about the human connection with birds - with contributed content by RN listeners
The forest man - EHF Swain
The story of EHF Swain, born 1883, woodsman and forester, and his alternative vision for a forested Australia

Comments (15)

Add your comment

  • Julianne :

    15 Nov 2013 6:27:15pm

    We live in Beaumaris, Victoria. Banksia Integrifolia (Coastal) is a common tree on what remains of the coastal path. There is one tree that has an age of over 400 years on Beach Road. It is no longer a vibrant tree but lives nonetheless. While the local council but more importantly its contractor do the best it can to keep the tree alive the reality is it is close to death. We've collected cones as they drop from the tree in an endeavour to keep this monumental tree alive in suburban Melbourne.

  • Dr Teri Merlyn :

    17 Nov 2013 10:22:23am

    Two Poems on Trees by Teri Merlyn
    Christmas Tree
    The Stringy Bark in my backyard
    is in a slow dance of dishabille, decorating all about with bronze streamers
    as it has, at this time, every year, here. ~
    In the fecund moistness of our northern origins
    Life slumbers, sequestered beneath a chill cloak,
    and our ancestors celebrated the persistent evergreen of pine
    at its darkest moment, as the cycle turns towards the sun.
    Two millennia past, in a distant, desert land,
    the dream of a kinder kind of human lifted roots in
    a dance of angels and air, with each spin spreading, taking
    us further from Nature’s pattern, into the pulse of Man. ~
    In the Stringy Bark’s home, ancient rhythms call seasons to us in a quieter, deeper note,
    in their gentle shedding, a stately waltz of renewal that has taken two centuries for us to recognize.
    Ancient flowers that ate the ‘Eat Me’ cake,
    but never found the ‘Drink Me’ bottle. Instead, reconciled to tallness,
    as a way of life, Spread arms wide and with their foliage,
    breathed our world into being.
    That canopied munificence, providore of shelter and fare for all; womb and grave for all.
    Hub of deep ecology, slow scribe
    of planetary sentience
    Chronicling their Earth’s seasons
    in rings under skin.
    O Tree, my ancestors knew your names, built a worldview around you; spelled their days
    in your blood, and with their blood;
    knew you for the seed
    of all that is good and beautiful;
    all that we love; all that we are.
    Teri Merlyn October 2012

  • John Croall :

    18 Nov 2013 2:18:06pm

    In the last 30 years I have germinated and planted a few thousand bushes and trees - about a thousand have survived. A few are 50 feet tall.

    Is this enough to make up for my carbon footprint - if not, what would be the required number for the average Australian

  • Margaret Millar :

    18 Nov 2013 3:04:59pm

    I have loved trees for all my born days. Surely it is inbuilt into our DNA to be ever thus?.I live where stately feminine angophoras grow--with their pink twisted branches raised up in a heavenly dance. Their trunks and roots climb and bend over soils and rocks. They spring up in the most difficult places. They will grow wherever they can grip our soils and reach up to our Australian skies!It is
    lovely to read everyone's comments
    marg millar

  • Marcello R Serini :

    18 Nov 2013 4:37:36pm


    It looks as if what has been started by the ABC about trees is catching on. Why don't we carry the idea to its logical conclusion, and initiate an Australia-wide movement of planting trees? They did it in Israel, they are doing it in India with each school child making a promise of planting at least 5 trees in their life time. They did and are still doing it in China on a truly nation - wide scale. They did it here, in the 1930s, by planting Wattle trees to affirm their bond with the country and as a symbol of their Australianess. Why not do it again? We need trees. We have the ecological expertise as to what and where to plant; and above all we need to bond with the land. Let us make a fresh start... Let us plant and/or sponsor the planting of at least 5 trees! Let us give this ancient and sacred land a 'fair go'. Let us initiate a formal movement of planting trees for the benefit of our great-grand-children and the upliftment of the Earth.

  • Smithy :

    19 Nov 2013 9:17:15am

    Hail to Gretchen and her team of techies!
    Trust you are getting many plaudits. Add my name to the list. Beautifully done Ma'm!
    As the week draws on I'm struck by two things:
    Firstly, what a varied, sensitive and articulate lot we RN folk are. So many touching, awe-inspiring, amusing selections. I loved "we smoked our first cigarettes, measured our dicks..." - that's the whole male thing right there, really.
    Second, How much work you've had to put in, to create but an augenblick of airtime. An extreme distillation indeed. I guess we go into the crypt soon, to await a possible brief exhumation years hence. Am proud to have played a bit-part in so worthwhile a thing.
    In closing, there's another meaning-laden organism that occupies a significant part of many folks' lives, a "strong, brown god" of a thing. Mine is called "The Murrumbidgee". If you ever decide to do "The River", I'm in.
    Go well, Smithy.

  • Brett Cowan :

    19 Nov 2013 9:58:47am

    If trees could talk
    They would tell you not to walk
    Slow things down
    Connect with the ground

    Remain upright and steady
    When storms are breaking ready
    Knowing all this will pass

    Drop your old habits and branches
    Create the soil that enhances
    Grow towards the light
    Be flexible humble and do what is right

  • Donna Rankin :

    22 Nov 2013 9:51:28am

    Trees Ive Loved

    7 years ago we lost our beautiful 11 year old daughter. My life was shattered (and still is). We lost Shannon in March and my birthday was in May. Shannon loved frangipanis. For my birthday my husband was at a loss of how to bring happiness into my life.

    At the time we were out of our house renovating. My husband called me up to the house on the eve of my birthday. To my surprise he had brought a 6 metre high, ninety year old frangipani tree to our home and planted it in our front yard.

    The tree was destined for destruction on a development site. My husband and two friends had walked it with a crane for 3 klm to our home.

    Placing it in its own soil and same compass bearing it stands in front of our house giving shade in summer and allowing sun in winter. Being of such age it is an amazing piece of sculpture. In summer our courtyard is covered in frangipani flowers and the scent wafts into our home.

    This tree brings a constant beautiful reminder of what our daughter Shannon loved. It emits serenity, peace, memories and strength.

      • Gretchen :

        22 Nov 2013 3:13:18pm

        Dear Donna,
        what a comforting story, in a sense, that the tree can bring you some peace and strength and sweet smelling memories. But it is heart breaking to hear of your loss... and I'm so sorry for it.
        best wishes,

      • jeffg :

        06 Dec 2013 3:58:37am

        yey for a great husband
        thanks for telling us the story
        now i need a glass of water to wash down the lumps in my throat

  • Julie Harding :

    22 Nov 2013 10:28:44am

    Fig tree by Julie Harding

    Stepping out on to the back patio to assess the discordant spring weather I survey my somewhat unruly garden.

    It is dominated by a ubiquitous fig tree of an undetermined origin. Speculation is rife that it is a hybrid of an Adriatic white fig and something else, but it is way too giant for real life.

    The figs are abundant but mostly inedible, messy and in the two seemingly prolonged fruiting seasons of spring and late summer, drop masses of figs in varying stages of decay. It is a wild tree and way too big for the small city garden.

    Irregular attempts to prune it just seem to spur it on to shoot out more and more limbs of the longest length. It defeats control every time.

    The fig's saving grace is not just that it is a tree usurping the urban trend of paved court yards devoid of living green things, but it's layers of giant bright green leathery leaves, which on the hot forty degree days that Adelaide's climate sporadically tosses in to test our mettle, acts like an air conditioner. On those days it is cooler under the fig than in the old stone cottage.

    Foraging bird life abound in its limbs, wattle birds, honey eaters, lorikeets, rosellas, pigeons, magpies, blackbirds all seek refuge and food in its generous canopy. At times a cacophony of squawking parrots echoes in the early mornings and late evenings, leaving behind a mess of bird poop and half eaten figs carpeting anything underneath.

    This fig, I fear for it, I am irritated by it, but most of all I love and admire it. A bit of uncontrolled wildness and a tenacity to survive and live. There’s something in that.

  • Andy :

    24 Nov 2013 6:58:55am

    In my native country there is a special relationship with the forest, which is considered to be the man's eternal friend. I'll share with you a poem I love, written by our great poet Mihai Eminescu: Forest, o, my forest dear

    Forest, o, my forest dear,
    What dost thou so lonesome here?
    For since I have seen thee last
    Many weary years have passed,
    And since I have gone away
    In the world I much did stray.

    - O, I do as in the past,
    Listen to the winter's blast,
    Which my branches tears and breaks,
    Chains with ice my streams and lakes,
    On my paths snow-hills will lay,
    All my songsters drive away.
    And I do as long ago,
    Listen when the women go
    Singing their old doina song,
    As they walk the path along,
    To the fountain, where they still
    Come their water pails to fill.

    - Forest dear with quiet streams
    All in this world flowing seems;
    Time goes past, but only thou
    Still art young and younger now.

    - What is time, when every night
    Shines for me the stars' still light!
    Be the weather good or bad,
    Be it sunny, be it sad,
    Winds through rustling leaves still blow
    And the Danube's waters flow.
    Man alone is wavering,
    Changeable and wandering,
    While we all the same remain,
    Mountains, rivers, the great main,
    As we were so we abide,
    This great world with deserts wide,
    Sun, moon, stars, eternal things,
    And the forest with its springs.

    (Transl. by Petre Grimm, 1888-1944)

  • jeffg :

    06 Dec 2013 3:40:51pm

    i nearly gave up on this program
    i have a huge load of podcasts that i try to listen to each week for personal reasons, professional reasons
    i don't have time to listen to everything so i'm pretty brutal with programs that i don't like

    did i say brutal?
    i nearly gave up on this program
    at the two mins mark?
    two mins??

    i had my finger on the "next podcast" button until i heard "Have they even noticed that i'm missing?"

    for the rest of the show i was hooked
    great work everyone!!!!
    i'm glad i stayed :-)

  • Paul Neugass :

    10 Dec 2013 10:15:02am


    On a hot steamy day a few years ago I am visiting my son on the outdoor movie set of 'Meet The Fockers'. His job is adding water to their artificial lake, keeping it at the same level. Every few hours he measures the water level,then opens a high-pressure filling pipe into the lake.

    My son is also a highly skilled artist and is carving beautiful neck pieces during the hours between fillings.

    Today he has time to carve a piece of Woolly Mammoth Tusk - ivory - legally obtained from an ice cave in Siberia, and yes, Woolly Mammoth Tusk pieces are available - if you know where to look. And Woolly Mammoths are not an endangered species - any more. After drawing a pattern onto a flat piece of the ivory he uses fine jewellery saws roughing out the unique shapes, then fine chisels and files sanding and buffing the surface to a premium lustre.

    And this finally brings me to The Tree - a magnificent old mature English White Oak with lush leaves so thick light hardly reaches the ground, high and wide, dense, thick. It's root systems are vast and deep. It is old, very old - hundreds of years old? Thousands? Can a tree this old be wise? If wisdom and earth understanding exist in an ancient tree, deeply residing within the heart, surely it lives and thrives within this magnificent green being, even if so very long ago the thought is but an ember!

    My son must be careful, very careful with bits of trash and garbage on this movie set. Said son has accumulated a small pile of Woolly Mammoth Tusk debris, particles, and dust - perhaps as much as a whole quarter cup and he is about to throw it into the bin when I say, "Hey, stop, don't throw that rare stuff away for EVer! - we'll give it to the TREE!"

    And the two of us walk solemnly under the tree, debris in hand, wondering if Woolly Mammoths ever roamed right on this very spot ten or fifty thousand years ago. Could this wise tree's ancestors somehow have gained knowledge of the hairy behemoths and passed the knowledge on to small saplings? Somewhere in the tree's roots was memory of Woolly Mammoth DNA bellowing, mating and roaring, and then, gradually or suddenly, the weather changed?

    Anyway, he and I quietly walk around this tree thinking these deep thoughts, solemnly sprinkling detritus and dust onto the earth beneath, silently wishing, hoping ancient knowledge of past ages would reawaken something in this now weathered oak, slowly dredging it up through the roots as dissolving Woolly Mammoth Tusk dust feeds thirsty branches and leaves - bringing back long forgotten memories of yesteryear, invigorating leaves with ancient memories to bring a truly rare and deserving treat to this ancient Oak.
    We hope so!

    PS - I have a great voice, a bass one, and would love to read this to your audience.

  • Paul Neugass :

    10 Dec 2013 10:24:03am

    Thought you'd like this tree story by Tom Waits

    “My kids are starting to notice I'm a little different from the other dads. "Why don't you have a straight job like everyone else?" they asked me the other day.

    I told them this story:
    In the forest, there was a crooked tree and a straight tree. Every day, the straight tree would say to the crooked tree, "Look at me...I'm tall, and I'm straight, and I'm handsome. Look at're all crooked and bent over. No one wants to look at you." And they grew up in that forest together. And then one day the loggers came, and they saw the crooked tree and the straight tree, and they said, "Just cut the straight trees and leave the rest." So the loggers turned all the straight trees into lumber and toothpicks and paper. And the crooked tree is still there, growing stronger and stranger every day.”
    ― Tom Waits