Abstract

Celebrating Red Gums is a community-founded movement to facilitate connection with the past, present and future River Red Gum landscapes of Australia. One of the projects emerging from this initiative is an Eco-Arts Trail.  Through the use of technology, innovation and artistic mediums, the project proposes to immerse trail-goers in a journey which deeply connects people with Australia’s iconic Red Gums.

Introduction

Originating in Southwest Victoria in 2015, Celebrating Red Gums began with a question:

“Could we, as a community, benefit from coming together to celebrate our affinity with these magnificent and iconic trees, and could this in turn help to ensure the endurance of Red Gums in our landscape?”

In answer, the community of Cavendish, on the banks of the Wannon River in the heart of the Southern Grampians ‘Red Gum Country’, developed and delivered the inaugural Cavendish Red Gum Festival in April 2018. The festival showcases “all things Red Gum”, inspiring the stewards of our landscape, and the wider community to celebrate and value the many ways in which Red Gums enrich our lives.

Now scheduled as a biennial event, festival-goers are invited to grow and share their knowledge of environmental and habitat values, the Aboriginal cultural significance of Red Gums and the use of the sturdy timber by colonial settlers. Red Gum-inspired art, poetry, photography and music is featured, along with wood crafts and furniture, produce from the Red Gum landscape, and community creativity and wellbeing themes are explored.

Underpinning the Celebrating Red Gums initiative, is the concept of bringing to community consciousness, the largely uncelebrated notion that our ‘Red Gum Country’ bestows upon us a much greater gift beyond the tangible assets; it inspires us in a myriad of ways, and for many, it provides us with a sense of place, a sense of belonging…

 A Sense of Home

In majestic isolation the mighty Red Gums stand

With roots intertwined throughout the fabric of our land

Heeding not the flying embers nor prevailing Southern winds

Their girth a living testament to fortitude within

 

They succour our marsupials, and shelter our prime flocks

Flourishing in clay and floods they seed amongst the rocks

Their canopy and crevices a home for birds and bees

Their snaggled roots prime habitat for native fish species

 

The lifeblood of an ecosystem flows within their veins

And when the life-force ceases, the fortress still remains

The pulsing of the ancient past echoes from their core

Scars depict the ancestry of those who came before

 

A living, breathing entity their graceful splendour reigns

Monumental in our landscape throughout times of recent change

And as I stand beneath and gaze into the peaceful dome

The mighty River Red Gum, gives to me, a sense of home

Sam Middleton

 

Why Red Gums?

Throughout the Celebrating Red Gums journey, it’s a privilege connecting with a diverse range of people. Unsurprisingly, not once has anyone ever asked, “what’s a Red Gum?”  There’s often a point in conversation, where a person ‘lights up’ and begins to tell their story of connectivity; about a particular tree in their yard, neighborhood or paddock, or a painting they love, or a piece of furniture they’ve admired. The significance of River Red Gums was so great to one gentleman, that he asserted they should be featured on our National Flag.

In 2016 and 2017, in addition to the Celebrating Red Gums social media page, a monthly e-newsletter provided another platform of opportunity for all who expressed a passion for the Red Gum landscape, to share their story of connectivity in a way which was meaningful to them. The newsletter had only a relatively small reach, but the stories submitted by landscape residents and custodians were unique and powerful representations of the core intent of the initiative.

 

“There’s just something about a River Red Gum that makes you step back, take a moment and say, ‘wow.’  Just look at that tree!”

Excerpt from ’Omeo Park’, David and Lyn Davis, Coonawarra, S.A.

 

“The old Beal are temples in the landscape. They are part of our country’s spiritual heritage. They carry the memory, and true history of the land, and if we are ever to belong in a deep way, we must learn to listen to what they say.”

Excerpt from ‘Beal: Defining the Landscape’, Neil Murray, Australian singer, songwriter, author and poet.

 

“Now after more than 40 years, the magic of the Red Gums still provokes deep emotions. The gentle giants are present with me each day.  Reassurance that no matter what happens in life, life goes on.”

Excerpt from ‘Romancing the Red Gums’, Jo Tully, Melville Forest, Victoria

 

Ochre pits, and stone-axe blaze

Then Mitchell and the bullock drays

Longboats on his Glenelg River

Mount William’s winds made riders quiver

Two hundred years with us around

Settlers needed the red gums’ ground

For sheep and crops and living space

We cleared them at a rollicking pace

So much waste!

What shocking haste!

Insensitive to their age and grace

Bloody base!

Mortised for a post-and-rail

Split and interlocked at Harrow gaol

And the shearing shed at Kout Narin

Gossamer fleece and shearers lean

Excerpt from ‘Camaldulensis’, Rob Youl

“For people like me who grew up amongst them but have moved away, nothing says ‘home’ like being back in the beautiful Red Gum country. It is wonderful to see Red Gums being rightly celebrated as one of the world’s great trees.”

Cavendish Red Gum Festival Ambassador, Professor Andrew Campbell, FAICD.

 

“I just love the gnarly, twisted shapes and the size of the trees standing in the paddocks and on the roadside, like guards over the countryside. There is always something reassuring when these trees come into view.”

Ian Patience, Metamorphic Design

 

“As they bend around each injury, our Red Gum monuments show us how accommodating you have to be to endure and become a living antiquity. A lot of things in our museums are not as old as these ancient trees.”

Excerpt from ‘The vulnerability of an ancient landscape’, MairiAnne Mackenzie, Ararat, Victoria

The Eco-Arts Red Gum Trail

Our vision for the Eco-Arts Red Gum Trail is an immersive, Geographic Information System (GIS) enabled, customisable trail network across the River Red Gum landscapes and assets of Australia.

About the Trail

To be piloted in South Australia, The Trail will employ artistic mediums to showcase, signpost and inspire participation via the creation of an interactive, educational and emotionally-connective self-drive, ride and/or walking trail network encompassing public roads, parks and spaces.

The project aims to immerse trail-goers in a journey which deeply connects people with Australia’s iconic Red Gums. The trail experience will be GIS-enabled and App-delivered, with experiential inclusions in both the physical and digital realms. People may be inspired to engage with nature in ways which not only support their physical, mental and spiritual health and wellbeing, but which instil or reawaken a commitment to nurture our landscape and provide for the future.

By way of practical example of a potential trail inclusion:

Via the App., you elect to visit ‘Significant Red Gums’, in the Mitcham area, and from the available options, you are inspired to be guided to Brown Hill Creek’s ‘Monarch of the Glen’.  At the tree, your iPhone/iPad then takes you on a journey of discovery, depicting the growth of that tree from a seedling to its current age. Through visual storytelling, as the tree matures, the landscape changes accordingly, portraying the Aboriginal and later colonial settler connection with the immediate environs.

A featured link provides access to further information on the history of the area.

You are then invited to photograph ‘Monarch of the Glen’, caption your experience, and share to a prescribed social media platform.

The benefits are boundless.

The Trail:

  • Can grow organically; suburbs, towns and regional areas can nominate and develop/showcase their own Red Gum assets;
  • Will appeal to many people in different ways, with a wide range of opportunities and experiences; people can engage in a way which “speaks to them”;
  • Enables individual, family or group engagement;
  • Opens the door to cross-border collaboration and partnerships across landscapes;
  • Value-adds to existing leisure, tree and produce trails, nature parks and reserves, galleries, museums, and Red Gum assets;
  • Taps into emerging innovative technology, providing a platform of opportunity for creative expression and inclusion;
  • Promotes community pride-of-place, community resilience, and wellbeing;
  • Inspires nurturing of our landscape, and promotes knowledge and understanding of our environs.

The scope of the initiative encompasses the Environment, Arts, Tourism, Technology, Education and Health sectors, providing a platform to engage a diversity of talent in the development, delivery and maintenance of The Trail, with benefits back to our ecological infrastructure, economy, and community.

While The Trail will be perpetual, it shall also be dynamic and as unique as the Red Gums themselves.

 

Bringing the vision to life

Progressing from the preliminary conceptual phase of the project in late 2020, to the “let’s nut it out” stage in 2021, the Eco-Arts Red Gum Trail has continued to inspire and engage the interest of a diverse range of subject matter experts, community members and organisations; with volunteers proffering their skills and knowledge to help grow the initiative.

 

Governance and Planning

As we move toward the establishment of Celebrating Red Gums as a legal entity, the initiative has the support of TREENET Incorporated to act as an auspicing body and ‘banker’ for incubation funds.

  • ForestrySA have generously provided sponsorship support, funding the costs of two workshops in 2021.
  • The Awesome Foundation (Adelaide Chapter) have recognized the merit of the Eco-Arts Red Gum Trail project concept with a grant, and
  • Effortless Web have kindly offered to build the Celebrating Red Gums website, at no cost.

An initial stakeholder workshop was held in late May 2021, facilitated by Vicki-Jo Russell AM, Chair of Nature Festival (SA) and Revegetation Services Manager at Trees For Life. Following this workshop, a Development Group has been formed to progress The Trail project in ‘phases’, as we explore opportunities to demonstrate the scope and benefits, and test the design, technology and content. The group are currently working on an initial Project Plan and investigating funding opportunities.

A large-scale workshop is scheduled for September 2021, bringing together a wider group of potential stakeholders, development and delivery partners and community members to further explore the way forward.  This workshop will be professionally-facilitated by Matthew Wright-Simon, founder and Principal of Ecocreative, and hosted by Flinders University at their Victoria Square Campus, Adelaide, SA.

 

Developing the on-line infrastructure and content

As a community volunteer-based project, the Eco-Arts Red Gum Trail qualifies as a Flinders University Community Outreach Project, eligible for significant in-kind support. Flinders University’s GIS Specialist and Spatial Database Manager, Rob Keane is leading the project’s GIS Team in the development of both a crowd sourcing platform for data entry/collection, as well as aiding the development of a phone App for delivery. Flinders University will also host the data at no cost to the project, and student involvement will bring additional expertise and energy.

Development Group member, Dr Paul Koch, Future Ecosystems, is liaising with cutting-edge App developers and contributing to defining the desired attributes and functionality of the delivery platform.

Melbourne University’s Christie Widiarto, Lecturer in Animation, Film and Television, VCA also envisages potential collaboration with her students. As well as expertise in creative content, Christie brings to the project a wealth of experience in successfully facilitating funding for community collaborative arts projects.

Enthusiastic project participants and community members are volunteering some wonderfully innovative content possibilities, and the large-scale workshop shall enable us to explore these suggestions, as well as capture further ideas.

Conclusion

What has been apparent from the outset is that this ambitious initiative has truly captured people’s imagination, inspiring their support and participation; and even in this fast-paced world of juggling a multitude of commitments, people are stepping up to celebrate the past and present, and volunteering their energy to help shape the future of our extraordinary and iconic Red Gum landscape.

We look forward to your feedback and potential involvement with the development and implementation of The Trail over the coming months and years.