Despite her proclaimed anxiety about climbing this vast tree, Meaveen is one of the bravest people I know. She is a pioneer. Here is her story:
The Gloucester Tree
Around 10 years ago, when i first arrived down-under, i had a few days spare in western Australia and went on a little tour of the south west coast, part of which included ‘the Gloucester tree’, of which i knew nothing, except that our tour guide had said we could climb it if we liked. Apparently, it was the highest look-out in the southern hemisphere, but despite its vast trunk, there was no real sense of its staggering height from the base because when you looked up, all you could see was the trunk disappearing into dense hues of green foliage. There was a rule that only 3 people could go up or down at any one time, but the tree-climbing police were not in evidence that day, and there were a good few more than 3 up the tree.
The pins looked sturdy but slippery, and about a metre wide, and there was a thin mesh of chicken wire circling the tree and pins, which presumably was to stop people projecting outwards if they fell, and giving them more of a chance to grab a lower pin in their tumble.
I was thinking at this point that climbing it seemed rather a risk-laden endeavour, but at that moment an elderly woman emerged from the leafy ceiling, descending the iron pins spiralling round the trunk, seemingly unperturbed by the experience. I decided to go up. It was like climbing up the far-away tree, green leaves everywhere, no sense of how high i was, round and round and round and round and round and round, concentrating, trusting the tree, gripping the pins hard, moving hands one at a time, testing the foothold on each pin before putting weight down, and still round and round, and sometimes there were people coming down, and it was a very careful crossing of pinned paths every time. Eventually i looked up and saw a platform above me – the top! But no, it was just the half-way resting platform. I climbed on. Round and round and round and round, i felt dizzy with all the roundings, but at the same time the tree was so big and strong it lent an air of protective benevolence to the ascent. Finally i arrived at the top, and it was magnificent – great swathes of leafy littler tree tops stretching out below, with views for miles of the surrounding countryside. In the past, before helicopters, planes and satellite images were widely used, this tree had an exceptionally important role to play as a fire watchtower, and as i looked around i thought how this one immense, tall, strong and generous tree must have helped save many lives and livelihoods (and its fellow trees) from incineration. i felt proud of the tree.
I made a very cautious and respectful journey back down to earth.
(i just googled it – it’s 61 metres high)