Contributed by Ken Dorey, Committee Member, Big Scrub Landcare

If you feel overwhelmed by the beauty, the complexity, of the Big Scrub, don’t panic. Resist the frustration of feeling like a tolerated outsider in a world of mystery. Enjoy the journey. Enjoy the discovery. Getting to know your rainforest is worth the effort.

Who hasn’t walked through a rainforest and marveled at the smells, admired the textured trunks, the buttressed roots or, perhaps, the dark interior of a vine thicket? If you wish, you can stand quietly until even the curious bird and the leaf-rustler on the forest floor accept your presence. You feel humbled to be accepted into a mysterious ‘other-world’ and, for a moment, be privileged to be part of that place.

My moment of Zen came quite unexpectedly. I’d been unsuccessfully chasing cattle through a stony gully on a new property and, in exhaustion; I sat on a rock to catch my breath. What were these trees that I was sitting under and sharing this place with? What kind of guest would I be if I didn’t enquire after my host’s name?

Within a few days I found myself on the edge of the forest with botanist Mark Dunphy, pen and paper in hand, naivety personified, ready to write down the forest’s secrets.

Mark knew each tree, and each tree had a name and a story. I scribbled quickly, asking Mark to hold for a moment, and then repeat what he had said. Every sentence from Mark brought new revelations; I was overwhelmed by how little I knew of what was happening all around me.

I have not forgotten two things that Mark told me that day. “Ken”, he said. “Stop writing! After today you will remember just two trees. From them you will know five and then 10 – the names will come.”

Perhaps the most profound statement from Mark came, when I asked him to spell guioa again, and, just how rare were these guioas? Mark hesitated, turned, and with a hint of frustration, said, “Ken, these trees used to cover these hills – they’re all bloody rare!”

I put my notebook away. This was too big a story for scribbled notes and instant understanding. Mark was right, I had remembered just two trees that night, and that these trees, and our Big Scrub forests, are rare.

It has been 25 years since I first met Mark. I’ve come to know five, then ten, then dozens of trees in my forest – not just their names but their history and what makes each special. With the help of field guides, apps and glossy picture books I’m learning the birds, the butterflies and the fungi.

With help from Mark’s nursery I’ve planted thousands of new trees and, as the years fly by, my forest has grown in size and complexity. Almost every walk brings a new bird, a new fruit or a new space under an ever-changing canopy.

In no time at all you will find yourself, as I have done, sitting in that special place, not a guest but the privileged guardian.