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Behold the mighty bunya pines


Behold the mighty bunya pines

Stately bunya pines can grow to 30m high and whether singly, in lines or in clusters, are a sight to behold with their symmetrical branches and immense crown. AUDIENNE BLYTH looks at their place in local history as bunya nuts come into season this month.

Andrew Petrie, who came to Moreton Bay in 1837, was the first white man to encounter bunya trees growing in the district around the Maroochy River.

Petrie (1798 – 1872) was appointed Supervisor of Works to the convict settlement of Moreton Bay and in the early 1840s began exploring bunya country, the area now known as the Sunshine Coast.

Petrie named the river on an exploratory visit in 1839. Although we no longer see flocks of black swans on the river, Petrie was impressed with their numbers and named it Maroochy from the Aboriginal word Muru-kutchi meaning red-bill.

It is surprising that the bunya tree was not named after Petrie, who was the first to return with specimens to Sydney, but was called Araucaria bidwilli after John Carne Bidwill, a government botanist.

Bidwill (1815 – 1853) explored and collected botanical specimens in both New Zealand and Australia and as Commissioner of Crown Lands in Wide Bay, returned specimens of the bunya tree to Kew Gardens in London –  and the tree was named after him.

Petrie saw that the trees had much significance and value as a food source to Aborigines. He persuaded Governor Gipps to make the following proclamation in the New South Wales Government Gazette: Colonial Secretary’s Office

Sydney, 14 April, 1842

It having been represented to the governor that a District to the Northward of Moreton Bay in which a fruit bearing tree abounds, called bunya or banya bunya, and that the Aborigines from considerable distances resort at certain times of the year to this district for the purpose of eating the fruit of the said Tree:

His Excellency is pleased to direct that no Licenses be granted for the occupation of any Lands within the said district in which the Bunya or Banya Bunya Tree is found. And notice is hereby given that the several Crown Commissioners in the New England and Moreton Bay districts have been instructed to remove any persons who may be in the unauthorised occupation of Land wheron the said Bunya of Banya Bunya Trees are to be found. His Excellency has also directed that no Licenses to cut Timber be granted within the said Districts.

By His Excellency’s Command, E. Deas Thompson

The effect of the proclamation was to create a reserved area where the trees grew abundantly, from south of the Maroochy River to the Pine River and east of the Blackall Range

However, after Queensland became a separate state in 1859, one of the first Acts passed by the Queensland Parliament repealed Gipps’ 1842 Bunya Proclamation.

Squatters and timber licences were then available. The Crown Lands Alienation Act allowed closer settlement and these events marked the end of an era, the bunya trees included, as settlers cleared the forests to make way for farms.

Thomas Petrie recorded his visit to a First Nations’ gathering in the Blackall Ranges in 1845 when many different groups feasted on the nuts and took part in sporting events, singing, dancing and storytelling.

He is possibly the only white man to record seeing such an event.

Towering bunya pines can still be seen in the landscape of the Sunshine Coast hinterland.

The nuts are contained in large knobs which fall in February each year with a larger harvest every three years.

Bunya nuts can be eaten raw, roasted or boiled. There have been many programs recently on the ABC about their nutritional value. Recipes are featured and some of us need our seasonal fix.

 Audienne Blyth is a member of the Nambour Historical Museum, open Wednesday to Friday, 1pm-4pm and Saturday 10am-3pm. All welcome.

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