The other day I had a post on my photoblog called What do Tree Surgeons do on their day off? It was about guys with climbing gear, looking ultra-cool as they climbed to the top of a huge Karri gum tree to measure it. Well, Karri gums are not indigenous to South Africa, they actually come from Australia. And climbing and measuring them isn’t unique to South Africa either – the Australians did that before us too.
In fact way back in late 1940s already the Australians had selected several of these giant gum trees, and built fire lookout platforms in them. For those of you who don’t know what a fire lookout is here is a brief explanation: One of the best ways to detect a forest fire, has always been to have a human fire lookout, positioned in a high location or elevation above the trees, with a good view of the surrounding terrain. The fire lookouts stay in specially constructed fire lookout towers. Their chief job is to spot and report any smoke indicating the start of a wildfire. More info on Wikipedia . . . As you can imagine, with a forest of trees this tall, and no mountains around, the best place to position the lookout tower is in the highest trees.
Isn’t the Karri forest above beautiful? In South Africa Karri gum trees are planted, so they don’t have that dense “forest-y” feel about them.
In Western Australia, there is one particular Karri tree which is reputed to be the world’s tallest fire-lookout tree.
According to Wikipedia
The Gloucester Tree is a giant karri tree in the Gloucester National Park of Western Australia. At 72 metres [236.2 feet] in height, it is the world’s tallest fire-lookout tree, and visitors can climb up to a platform in its upper branches for a spectacular view of the surrounding karri forest. Read more . . .
Below is a close-up of the Gloucester tree. Note the metal spikes that have been placed in a spiral around the trunk of the tree. Not the prettiest sight I’ve seen. However, it doesn’t look as if it’s harming the tree, and I guess for fire lookouts taking several hours to climb the tree with climbing harnesses and ropes, would be a little tedious and tiring.
Members of the public are allowed to climb the tree, although apparently only some 20% make it to the top. I wonder if that is because of the physical effort involved, or whether they discover they have a fear of heights.
So this is what you see if you climb the Gloucester tree and look down. Just looking at this view in a photo makes me realize my fear of heights is still alive and well!
Reading about the Gloucester Tree, reminded me of a story I’d heard on a podcast of the ABC’s (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) Ockham’s Razor programme. In this episode Roger Underwood (described as “a forester, who likes trees” – I have never met one who doesn’t!) tells the story of how they went about measuring the Gloucester Tree. Don’t you think “Underwood” is an appropriate name for a forester?
A short excerpt from Roger Underwood’s tale:
There was a sign at the foot of the tree. On the sign, and in the pamphlet put out by the Tourist Bureau, and on the postcards of the tree sold in every shop in town, and in the literature issued to visitors by the Forests Department, was the incontestable and incontrovertible fact that the Gloucester Tree fire lookout was ‘212 feet tall [64.6 metres], measured to the floor of the cabin’. It was a figure I had confidently quoted on numerous occasions, not the least to Lord Casey, the Governor-General of Australia, who had inspected the tree (from the ground) under my expert guidance earlier that year. Lord Casey had evinced mild interest in my explanation but the tree had been named after one of his predecessors, the Duke of Gloucester, who had visited the tree in 1948 during its construction.
But to return to our day of tree measuring in 1969. Not only did Jack and I know with confidence that the exact height of Gloucester Tree was 212 feet to the cabin floor, but there were advantages for our purpose.
You just know from this piece that things are not going to go according to plan! If you want to listen to the podcast or read the transcript to find out the rest of the story click here. The story is told with that dry wit which most Australians seem born with.