A contribution from Big Scrub Landcare member, Ken Dorey. Photo by Iain Stych.

In a recent blog post, I featured a Northern Star article from 1924 that described the Big Scrub and the “heroic” efforts of building the village of Bangalow. I also considered the monumental implications of their actions and wondered if they were aware of the value of the forest they were clearing. 

From this newspaper article, and other accounts that I’ve read, it seems they knew they were clearing a big forest, but saw it as a gift from nature they had an obligation to utilise. While most of the Big Scrub around Bangalow was being cleared in the 1880s, the author of the above article wrote retrospectively and doubtless typified the attitude of 1880 and 1920.

However, there was at least one Bangalow resident who saw things from the point of view of nature. In 1927 Stella Snow published the insightful poem, ‘The Song of the Forests’: 

I sing a song of forests,
Of tall and stately trees,
Where tang, of eucalyptus
Was wafted on the breeze.
Where maple, pine and hardwoods
With cedar, teak and beech
Were ever climbing skyward
As though the sun to reach.
A man could try at climbing
A hundred feet up one,
Yet never reach the branches
Or even see the sun.

I sing a song for forests 
Low moaning on the breeze;
The hills have caught and echoed
The death-knell of the trees.
A ruthless devastation
Has lain the giants low;
The axe and saw and firestick
Have helped them all to go.
And all the birds are mourning
For great big greenwood friends
And little creeks go sobbing
In sorrow round the bends.

I sing of hope for forests,
Of young trees growing high,
All planted close together
And climbing to the sky.
And now we hear soft lilting
A new song on the breeze,

‘Tis “Reafforestation,”
The ‘birthday’ of the trees.
The birds will soon be finding 
A leafy paradise,
And great majestic forests
Will once more greet our eyes.

In the first verse Stella describes the forest as it was and in the second she describes the land after clearing. I was particularly moved by the lines, “And little creeks go sobbing… In sorrow round the bends” and thought immediately of the significance of our landcare group, and others, planting trees along Byron Creek.

But it is the last verse that gets me. Stella foresaw the need for a landcare movement and it saddens me to think that it took 60 years for all of us to hear the sobbing of the creeks. 

I’m so proud to be a member of Big Scrub Landcare. We have acted to save our precious remnants and are returning the rainforest to the landscape. The settlers failed to see the full significance of their actions – we should not underestimate our moment in time and appreciate what we are achieving.