The Unnatural Tree at Happy Creek

The leaves at Happy Creek - itself long since abandoned - crackled under my feet. It's only 2:45pm on a clear autumn day, but the valley is so steep that the sun is almost 'setting' already. Around me tiny reminders of the old gold mining settlement peeked and poked their way through the dense undergrowth. It had been nearly one hundred years since the last of the gold miners had left this place.

The hungry Australian bush had gradually and carefully reclaimed most of the space. Jagged eucalyptus clinging to the sides of the v-shaped creek valley; their branches seemingly defiant of neat geometry. Random angles in the lower branches, followed by total angular chaos up the top. Symmetry lost the battle with our native gum trees long ago.

The leaves at Happy Creek were yellow and crunchy. And symmetrical. They were almost exactly the same size and shape as a human hand. They covered the narrow bush track in a golden carpet, just begging the children to run through.

Hang on. Australian trees are evergreen. At best they drop their bark; their leaves are not prone to falling off, once per year, in some sort of Northern Hemisphere mass leaf suicide. I looked up.

In the middle of nowhere, surrounded by jutting gum trees was the golden sprawl of a majestic oak or maple tree. The exact species doesn't matter - I don't even know myself - but the fact is it wasn't Australian. A hundred years ago something alien had been brought here. A little piece of home in a calico bag, carried in on the good ship Red Jacket.

Around the growing sapling, Stringers Creek and Happy Creek gradually gave up their gold. The men, with their picks and waterwheels, arrived then departed; most without those magical specks. The valley then fell silent, except for the yearly flutter of those yellow leaves.

Today a small train takes tourists along that same steep valley. It ends its journey at Happy Creek where passengers, with funny accents, can stretch their legs with a walk along the bush tracks. The soothing smell of what seems like menthol is everywhere; it's the gum trees way of letting us know they are working.

That oak (or maple) tree just seems to fit in. It doesn't make a big thing about its presence; just retains a silent dignity. Standing there, all golden and symmetrical, leaves quietly suicidal. It is very different from our green and pale and stringy eucalyptus, but it adds rather than subtracts from the whole.

The pretty tree at Happy Creek is not from around these parts. It is different. But that really doesn't seem to matter. If you close both eyes you can clearly see it.

Copyright © 2004 David Sidwell (Artwill Services) Back to Freelance Writing