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Opening address by Paddy Jerome, Jarowair elder and Bunya Mountains custodian, to the Bunya Symposium hosted by the Queensland Studies Centre and Global Arts Link for the On the Bunya Trail Project at the ECO Centre, Griffith University, 24 April 2002.
The bunya pine (Araucaria bidwillii Hook) is one of the most interesting species of the family Araucariaceae, a typical Southern Hemisphere conifer (Table 1) family that includes three living genera: Araucaria de Jussieu, Agathis Salisbury and the recently described genus Wollemia Jones, Hill and Allen. Araucaria bidwillii is traditionally classified in the Section Bunya of genus Araucaria. In addition to the section Bunya, there are three more sections in the genus Araucaria: Eutacta Endlicher and Intermedia White from Australasia, and Araucaria (=Columbea) Wilde and Eames from South America.
Much publicity has been given over the past decade to the discovery of the Wollemi pine (Wollemia nobilis) north of Sydney and its status as a ‘living fossil’. It is not generally realised that the bunya (Araucaria bidwillii), a unique part of Queensland's forests, has a similar status. The tree is the last surviving species of the section Bunya of the genus Araucaria. This section was more diverse and widespread during the Mesozoic, (Table 1), with some species having cone morphology similar to A. bidwillii appearing during the Jurassic with fossils extending into the northern hemisphere.
The bunya pine was given its scientific name Araucaria bidwillii in 1843 by Sir William Hooker, the director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. Hooker named the tree after John Came Bidwill, a colleague who had been in Australia and who provided Hooker with a detailed description of the tree and specimens of a young plant and samples of a branch and nut. Controversy has surrounded the ‘discovery’ and naming of the bunya, not the least that Andrew Petrie was the first to identify the tree and it was tentatively called Pinus petrieana. This controversy is discussed briefly elsewhere in this journal by John Huth. The purpose of this paper is to examine Bidwill's role in identifying the bunya and whether Hooker was justified in his decision to honour Bidwill in the nomenclature.
You literally could not kill an Aborigine with an axe.
Toowoomba Chronicle (1919)
Idyllic accounts of South-East Queensland's triennial bunya festivals - invariably written by Europeans - seem to float like beckoning mirages above a relative historiographical desert.' The story of the bunya gatherings in the coastal Blackall Ranges or in the Bunya Mountains, at the north-eastern periphery of the Darling Downs, is largely cut adrift from the intricate race relations history of these districts, its aura of ‘romantic reminiscence’ conveniently unsullied by surrounding patterns of colonialism, racism and violence which punctuate the extended process of European intrusion and displacement.
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.
The most popular painting in the Queensland Art Gallery Collection is R. Godfrey Rivers Under the jacaranda 1903. The blaze of the tree's mauve so dominates the canvas that the figures of Rivers and his fiancée taking tea under its shade appear quite secondary. It is, in essence, a portrait of the tree. The scale of this painting is quite exceptional but during the twentieth century the striking colour of the jacaranda inspired a number of artists, Charles Lancaster in particular. The striking cone-shaped canopy of the bunya pine is as commanding in its formality as the jacaranda is in its colour, yet where are the equivalent paintings of this tree? They are scarce indeed.
Eight kilometres south-east of Ipswich, along the banks of Deebing Creek, lies the site of a former Aboriginal mission reserve which, from 1892 to 1915, accommodated Aboriginal people from across Queensland, displaced from their lands by encroaching white settlement and government intervention. Some came from faraway places – Normanton, Burketown, Cooktown, Townsville, Barcaldine, St George, Alpha, Mitchell, Cunnamulla, Roma, and even New South Wales. Others were from regions adjacent to the mission such as Logan, Beaudesert and Boonah and from nearby Ipswich, Purga and Deebing Creek itself.