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Literary Imaginings of the Bunya

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 February 2016

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By the time that Europeans became acquainted with the bunya, the gum tree was already well established as the iconic Australian tree. The genus Eucalyptus, with all its locally specific variants, was both distinctive to the continent and widely dispersed throughout it. In contrast, the bunya tree (classified as Araucaria bidwillii in 1843) grew in a small area of what is now South-East Queensland and was seen by few Europeans before the 1840s, when Moreton Bay was opened to free settlement. The physical distinctiveness of the bunya tree, and stories of the large gatherings which accompanied the triennial harvesting of its nut, aroused the curiosity of early European explorers and settlers, and in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the bunya tree achieved a special status in local civic culture. Although heavy logging had largely destroyed the great bunya forests, the tree was planted extensively in school grounds, around war memorials and in long avenues in parks.

Special Issue: On The Bunya Trail
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1 Aboriginal understandings of the bunya are addressed elsewhere in this issue of Queensland Review. Google Scholar

2 George Mitchell's story as reported to Allan Cunningham, in J.G. Steele, Brisbane Town in Convict Days 1824-1842 (St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1975), 109: Cunningham's rough notes on the bunya focus on its botanical character and the preparation of the nut for eating. Cunningham is more closely associated with another local Araucaria, the hoop pine which bears his name (Araucaria cunninghamii). Petrie's interest was primarily commercial in nature.Google Scholar

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6 Leichhardt, Letters, vol 2, 707. Leichhardt's descriptions of the bunya were well known to early Queensland colonists through their publication by John Dunmore Lang in Cooksland in Northeastern Australia (London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1847).Google Scholar

7 Leichhardt, Letters: Leichhardt to Lynd, 7 August 1843, 666; Leichhardt to his mother, 27 August 1843, 671; and Leichhardt to Lynd, 9 January 1844, 708.Google Scholar

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35 An extant example is the alternating planting of bunyas and cottonwood trees around the perimeter of the Graceville Memorial Park.Google Scholar

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