After years of admiring and speculating about these scartrees, I have finally gotten around to
photographing ( and geotagging ) most of them. I spend many days in the paddocks mustering sheep and some of these trees are like old friends. They are an important link to our Aboriginal past and a reflection on how innovative and resilient these people were. Surviving out here west of Walgett with our unpredictable climate of harsh droughts and random floods is still tough but these people managed their environment and thrived.
The people that lived here were called the Yuwaaliyaay , who like the Yuwaalaraay ( Yularoi ) were all part of the Gamilaraay (Kamilaroi ) kinship and language group. There is a wonderful account of their lifestyle & culture published 1905 in Katie Langloh Parker ‘s – The Euahlayi Tribe : A study of Aboriginal life in Australia – that you can download for free from project Gutenberg .The forward by Andrew Lang is better ignored for its racist 18th century views but Katie’s work as an amateur ethnographer is remarkable.
To appreciate the huge array of styles and dimensions of scarring you see on this website you need to understand the scarring process itself. When a tree is struck by an axe ( originally made of stone ) the damage leaves an area of exposed sapwood which dries out and dies. This is called a “ dryface “ and the bark won’t grow back but the tree tries to seal the wound with new tissue called “ overgrowth “. This growth is faster along the sides then the top and bottom of the scar and the dryface appears elongated. Due to dieback and the uneven healing process these scars often look nothing like the original wound.
Another feature of living scar trees is the “ epicormic sprouting “ which happens when the flow of hormones from the crown of the tree is disrupted by the fresh wound. These hormones act to prevent the tree branching out all over so when they stop flowing new shoots quickly appear at the bottom of the scar. This is how I often spot a very old scar tree …these ancillary branches can be very thick indicating how long ago the scar was made. I have seen a few very old box trees surviving with massive scars on two sides with only two small strips of intact tree in between keeping it alive.
The best information available on scar trees is by Andrew Long… Aboriginal scarred trees in NSW – a field manual produced by the then NSW Dept. of Environment and Conservation. However I have been unable to find explanations for the frequent burnt & grooved scars I find and some of the stranger shapes and markings. Due to the presence of an underground river here that is close to the surface at places marked by redgum trees or wells, this land probably once supported a large permanent population . If you share an interest in Natural or Aboriginal history you could read Bruce Pascoe’s “Dark Emu Black seeds” on agriculture in pre-colonial Australia.
So I dedicate this website to Freddie Walford, an Aboriginal stockman we had who taught us some bush lore and like many of his people, died too young. I will always remember his natural affinity with livestock, his love of polocrosse and his quiet humour and grace. He never spoke much about the scar trees but did say if I was ever to see bones inside an old coolabah, I should go as fast as possible in the opposite direction! If you want to share photos of information about scar trees you are welcome to email me – firstname.lastname@example.org. This website aims to increase knowledge and record these trees but not to display any pictures or information that is culturally secret or sacred.