A Book on Aust. Trees, by W. A. W. de Beuzeville

The Land, Review by Peter Snodgrass

 2 April 1954

Here is an extraordinary story involving a gentleman named W. A. W. de Beuzeville, who was pointed Ecologist to the Forestry Commission of New South Wales many years ago, so many years ago that you and I were comparatively unimportant people at the time, and there is an excuse for us for forgetting.

An Ecologist, by the way, is a person devoted to that branch of science which deals with the habits of living organisms, including trees, in relation to the environment in which they live.

After & lifetime in the service of the Forestry Commission Mr. de Beuzeville retired some years ago. He died last weekend, but he has left as a legacy, not only his accumulated knowledge, but the manuscript of a book entitled "Australian Trees for Australian Planting,"

That book has been published by the Government Printer, and it was issued last September.

Our friend, Guy Moore, of Moore's Bookshop, Sydney, who is himself a Vice-President of the Forestry Advisory Council of this State, and whose interest in tree planting can only, be described as impassioned, sent me & copy to review.

Unhappily, Calliope and I must have had a minor altercation at the time, and she pinched it. She has had it, by her for the last, few months, and it has had a profound effect.

She tells me, most reproachfully, that no person earning a living from the soil or dealing with it in any way should be without a copy, and that every page of it will yield dividends far greater and more enduring than any other kind of investment.

But fancy a man, having devoted his entire life to the study of trees in relation to their environment, bequeathing the manuscript of a book to a people who, only a few years ago, were notorious for the destruction of trees! I am quite certain that there could be no more extraordinary story.

In the days of my respectability, I used to be invited to speak at the meetings of the Forestry Advisory Council and if my memory serves me well, I came to know Mr. de Beuzeville, and the work that he and the other members of that most enthusiastic organisation are doing.

One of their very distinguished members,; Mr. Swain, has just been over in Abyssinia advising the Ethiopians how to recover the devastation of wanton tree destruction.

Fortunately the Ethiopians are not fully informed as to our own record in that regard, and it is to be hoped that Mr. Swain did not enlighten them beyond minimum requirements.

This book, "Australian Trees for Australian Planting," is the measure of a remarkable reformation. Thirty years or more ago every tree seemed to be the enemy of nearly every farmer.

I have very vivid recollections of a discussion which took place among my friends over the ring-barking of trees on roads adjacent to arable land under cultivation.

The view was advanced that it was utterly impossible for any farmer to make a success of his business if trees on the road were to be allowed to de- stroy half-a-chain of crop along the boundary fences.

That view was supported by bankers, businessmen, and even experts from the Department of Agriculture.

It was contested by a handful of stout-hearted shire councillors representing both the Illabo and Coolamon Shires, and they were literally threatened with electoral disaster if they persisted in such a stupid attitude.

When it was suggested that the day would surely come when every farmer would be planting trees, the answer was a loud and majority "Rubbish!"

The incident was impressed on my mind by the fact that one of the disputants went straight home, got an axe, and worked feverishly until he had rung every tree along half the width of every road around his property, and defied the Council to take action.

The Council took no action, for the matter was lamentably unimportant at the time, but I lived to see the day when that particu- lar farmer, and all those who shared his views, did, actually, plant trees, and their heirs and successors have been planting trees ever since.

I know of no other reformation which has met with such universal success in such a short space of time, or that is likely to be more enduring.

The conversions did not come from preaching, or even reading, but from practical experience and the slow thinking that is inseparable from it.

MR. W, A. W. de Beuzeville opens his book with a quotation taken from a tree in a Spanish park. Thirty years ago that quotation would have been the cause of ribald laughter among those of us who were clearing land at that time.

I speak of those who might have been in a position to understand it, for the rest of us it would have been a complete and senseless mystery.

Here it is:-

"Ye who pass by and would raise your hand against me, hearken ere you harm me.

"I am the heat of your hearth on cold nights, the friendly shade screening you front the summer sun; and my fruits are refresh- ing draughts quenching your thirst as you journey on.

"I am the beam that holds your house, the bed on which you lie, and the timber that builds your boat.

"I am the handle of your hoe, the door of your homestead, the wood of your cradle, and the shell of your coffin. I am the bread of kindness and the flower of beauty.

"Ye who pass by, listen to my prayer: Harm Me Not."

It is beautiful, isn't it? And it is true, isn't it?

Of course, we have always had people who have appreciated trees at their true worth. That has been our saving grace right from the very beginning, or the whole place would have been converted into a desolate wilderness long ago.

Poor George Weir, he who spent a miserable few years in the State Parliament to become Minister for Conservation, and who has now escaped to a Judgeship, has written a Foreword to "Australian Trees For Australian Planting," and I venture to say that he never had a happier task.

"When there is a generation of Australians, who, like Mr. de Beuzeville," writes George Weir, "can 'find tongues in trees, books in running brooks, sermons in stones and good in everything,' then, truly, the era of Conservation in Australia will have arrived."

Mr. E. H. F. Swain, who was Commissioner for Forests in N.S.W., and who is the very distinguished gentleman who has just returned from Ethiopia, has this to say in an introduction to "Australian Trees for Australian Planting."

"Mr. de Beuzeville makes a comprehensive survey of the unique vegetation which became our heritage a hundred and sixty years ago; he analyses the conflict that has gone on during that century and a half, between Nature's achievement and man's 'development'; he explains the dominant part that climate plays in deciding what shall grow where; and he hopefully indicates his belief that public opinion has, in fact, moved from the concept of exploit- tation to that of conservation ..."  

I know hundreds of farmers who will like this book just as much as they like machinery catalogues, and farmers' wives who will like it just as much as they like fashion books, and farmers' children who will read it with the same delight as they read stories; for this is a machinery catalogue, a folio of fashions, and a story book.

If you want to know how Narrandera got its trees, what they have done for Narrandera, and what they look like, it is all here, and Narrandera is only one place - although it is a very beautiful one.  

Guy Moore should know that we are indebted to him for drawing our attention to "Australian Trees For Australian Planting." It is most unfortunate that it came at a time when Calliope and I were not exactly on speaking terms.

That does not excuse her for pinching it, nor am I attempting to excuse her. It is the kind of book that anyone might be tempted to pinch, because it has the same kind of fascination as the Queen's tiara, or the Duke's wretched brown bonnet.

"Australian Trees for Australian Planting," by W. A. W. de Beuzeville, 15/9 posted from Moore's Bookshop, 264 Pitt Street, Sydney.