Boundary trees

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5 October 2020

For years I’ve had an idea to start a project documenting Canberra’s colonial history by way of its trees. Specifically, the great, gnarled, old remnant trees which used to mark boundaries of settlers’ properties.

The white explorers who arrived in Canberra in the early 19th century described a landscape of open plains alternating with hills “furninshing the necessary timber for the construction of huts and sheep yards of magnitude” (Alan Cunningham, quoted in Sarah Ryan, History of Canberra Nature Park, 5). Extensive settlement occured in the subsequent decades with land grants for agriculture and timber felling. This resulted in a degraded and denuded landscape. One photo from this period shows Black Mountain to be almost completely deforested.

Throughout this period, one particular class of tree had a higher chance of being spared: those that marked the boundaries of settlers’ alotments. These trees served as reference points for surveyors, and were often scarred or marked in some way to indicate where one property ended and another began.

The landscape of Canberra today is again one of forested hills as a result of a century’s worth of reforestation efforts, and active protest against further encroachment. Despite this, the history of colonisation is still inscribed across the landscape, in the form of rotting fence posts, lengths of tangled wire, and erosion gullies, and boundary trees.