In the land of the giants

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It’s a challenge to photograph big trees well.  From beneath, all it’s possible to really grasp is a Kardashian-like butt and a girth you can’t see past.

Big trees reign above an understorey of other trees that don’t permit you to stand back and gain perspective. Instead you are rooted at the bottom, feeling the full force of their footprint, their weight, the air around them, the majesty of their mass and how small you are in their shadows. You look up at the lower branches that are themselves big trees and wonder about the metropolis of the wildlife they cradle.

A big tree will not let you take it all in. Or hug it.You must just press your chest against it, let it hug you, feel it, be small in its presence. Allow it to look after you because that is how it has survived. But photograph it?

A new path to seeing big trees has been opened recently. The 2.4 km Blue Tier Giant Walk, designed by legendary trackmaker John “Snapper” Hughes, is an Environment Tasmania project dedicated to the Friends of the Blue Tier; its $180,000 budget allocated by the federal government. The gently sloping track (so smooth-as-chocolate I reckon you could walk it in high heels if you wanted to) takes you through sassafras and myrtle rainforest, tree fern glades, and into the shadows of not just one but several big trees that share this patch of the northeast with the biggest of them all: a 60m tall swamp gum saved by the loving tenacity of the Friends of the Blue Tier over decades. Sensitive signage tells you how one of the tallest flowering plants in the world started from a seed.

It’s been a long road for the local group who first came together in the 90s as friends, mothers and neighbours sharing a love of the land. Lesley Nicklason, a fourth generation Pyengana resident and Scottsdale nurse, says the story of how the Blue Tier Giant was saved is “as long as a book”.

Big trees create stories, myths and legends because they are ancient and survive. People who want to find them save them because they listen.

Locals first heard about the Blue Tier Giant in the 90s. It was in a coupe destined to make way for plantation. They set out to find it. In the past, even Forestry Tasmania has found it hard to pinpoint giant trees but thanks to new technology called LiDAR they’ve located 13 giants in State Forest in recent years, including Centurion, the tallest, at 99.6 m tall.

Imagine trying to find a giant swamp gum without the help of a helicopter, road, or path without even much of a clue, just a rumour on the wind.

Lesley says they heard that you “just drop down over the bank and you’ll find it near the bottom of the valley”. When they finally did, after hours, days, weeks, with a GPS and maps, Lesley remembers the understatement in Dave Ransley’s voice:“I reckon this is it…”

“It was the start of how the rest of our life was going to be,” recalls Lesley.

Friends of the Blue Tier went on taking people in, each time trying to re-trace their steps. They learnt that was the way to save trees like this from their previous experience with Halls’ Falls. A hundred people went on the first big tree walk in November 2002. The late Jeremy Ball helped organize it and came up with the phrase “See it, save it”.

One day, Lesley and three friends, all mothers, went in for a picnic and found a road had been built.They knew if a road had gone in to native forest it wouldn’t be long before the coupe would disappear. They didn’t go home that night. They didn’t go home for 5 weeks. Four hundred people visited them at their camp on the road.

“We only went home because we got arrested,” says Lesley. “We never intended to but we made our point by being there.”

For some years the small walking track was in dispute – locked to visitors. Friends of the Blue Tier talk about that era as the dark days. The Blue Tier Giant Walk is on the map now, and still part of a working forest. Signs on the access road on the way to Lottah off Weldborough Pass, remind visitors the road is shared with logging vehicles.

“We’re not really sure we’ve saved it,” says Lesley, “except that track has to have done it.”

This track opening reminds us of the global importance of Tasmania’s role in looking after big, tall and giant trees. According to the UK-based New Phytologist Journal, trees greater than 70m tall are one of the world’s rare phenomena, and most of the tallest species are either conifers from the west coast of North America or eucalypts in Tasmania.

Surveying over 455,000ha of northeast Tasmanian forest, Forestry Tasmania found 388 tall trees more than 74m tall, and lists more than 100 trees on the Giant Trees register (trees measuring more than 85m). They all have names and GPS coordinates, listed on Forestry Tasmania’s dedicated website http://www.gianttrees.com.au. Visitors are invited to explore the forest and discover them for themselves.

For more information on the Blue Tier Giant Walk, visit Environment Tasmania at http://www.et.org.au or phone 03 6281 5100

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