My friend, Mel’s mother lives in a place called the Southern Highlands which is about a 90 minute drive from Sydney. It is a beautiful spot, full of native forests and an abundance of wildlife. June has quite a bit of land down there. It is full of trees, hundreds of them, yet she has honed in on just one of them – an enormous brush box. It must be at least fifty feet tall and the spread of its canopy is immense. It would be impossible to estimate how many creatures lived in it.
Every time I visit June takes me out to the tree. We have coffee and cake beneath its spreading branches. ‘I can’t tell you how much this tree means to me,’ June says. ‘It gives me clues to the secrets of eternity. Generations of birds live in its branches. It possesses a quiet assurance humans are unable to attain.’
June has stipulated in her will that the tree never be cut down. That Mel do everything in her power to keep it hale and hearty after her mother is gone. That tree means the world to her.
She is not alone. I have a tree as dear to me as any human friend. She stands in the local park. A dear old girl, facing the bay with branches that touch the water’s edge. She knows my deepest secrets and the longings of my heart. My dear old Moreton Bay Fig.
Even on drizzly days when the water is grey I can sit here without getting wet. If I sit very still I can catch sight of the birds huddled in the branches. They sit in groups – gulls on one side, low down, closer to the water; wood pigeons on the other, cooing even as the rain speckles and bends the leaves. Above the gulls sit the mynahs, cheeky, bossy, constantly flapping their wings and rearranging their position. Above the wood pigeons sit the lorikeets, chortling softly to one another, bright daubs of rainbow paint. The tree is big enough to house them all without too much squabbling.
I met a schoolgirl there one day. She was writing poetry. ‘It’s really bad poetry,’ she said,’ but it helps me make sense of things.’ She often came and sat in the late afternoon to do her homework.
I met a tourist from Tokyo who had never seen a tree this big. He was used to concrete and neon lights. The tree was solid and dependable. He had taken over a hundred photos of it which he had emailed to his mother. He took photos of the Opera House, the Harbour Bridge, Centrepoint Tower. ‘Send more photos of the tree,’ his mother said.
I met a pregnant lady just sitting and feeling the innate strength of the Fig. ‘I have lived opposite this park for years,’ she said. ‘Not once have I walked here and looked at the trees. I work and work and work in tall office blocks full of metal and glass. I want my baby to feel the earth. To know it. I don’t want him to be tied to a desk.’
She provides sanctuary, this old tree, branches soaring like hands raised in celebration. I would be hurt if she were lost, if some man without a heart came and cut her down. I hope that long after I am just a shadow she will stand, silent and majestic, gazing out like a sentinel over the bay.