The Tree of Knowledge at Barcaldine

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August 4th 2014
Published: August 17th 2014
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The Tree of Knowledge at BarcaldineThe Tree of Knowledge at BarcaldineThe Tree of Knowledge at Barcaldine

The tree became a symbol of the struggle to get better working conditions and to build a better society after the shearers met under it during the strike. Someone poisoned it so it now has a wooden canopy, which looks lovely at night.
Barry left me to sleep in today after staying up half the night trying to finish the blog typing so it was a late start. It is really windy and I thought I heard rain during the night. Turns out it was the seeds and twigs from the tree beside us dropping onto the roof. This can create a problem when retracting the slide-out as they get caught in the seals. While I was getting the inside ready for travel, Barry hooked the van up and readied the outside. Then I came out to help him as he wanted to clear the slide-out roof. I was surprised that he’d hooked the van up as last time he’d used the tray of the ute to climb on so he could see above the slide-out. He decided he wasn’t going to unhook so he climbed on the generator box at the back. Only problem was it is too far back to properly see without leaning over the side, which he did. He used the broom to drag some stuff off but he leaned too far and over-balanced. It is a long way up and a big drop to the ground! I couldn’t stop
Inside the Tree of Knowledge CanopyInside the Tree of Knowledge CanopyInside the Tree of Knowledge Canopy

The tree was preserved after it died and given a new life as a sculpture. There are nearly 3,500 wooden "leaves" hanging down and gently banging together. They sound and look lovely.
him but he managed to turn the fall into a jump – but heavy- and then a roll onto the ground. When he picked himself up his heel was hurting because it had taken the brunt of the force when he landed flat-footed. Luckily, he doesn’t seem to have hurt his spine but we’ll have to keep a watch on it and his foot. One lady nomad saw it happen and came over to make sure he was OK, which was kind.

After all that excitement, Barry felt well enough to set off, after we’d done the usual dump. The drive was straight forward and made easier by the strong wind, which was blowing against the tail of the van and helping us along.

The landscape was scrubby much of the time with a few sections that had taller trees. We also kept seeing small clusters of Wattle trees and some short trees with beautiful deep golden flower spikes all over them, which I found out, later, were a type of Grevillea commonly called a Golden Parrot Tree. They lookd wonderful, in the brief glimpses I got as we sped past!

We arrived in Barcaldine, went straight
Inside St Helena Gaol, near BrisbaneInside St Helena Gaol, near BrisbaneInside St Helena Gaol, near Brisbane

This is a replica of the jail that the Shearer's Strike leaders were sent to serve 3 years hard labour each.
to the Homestead Caravan Park and set up for the day. The owner told us that there would be a concert of Australian Ballads at 4.15pm and he was cooking free damper and hot Billy tea for all the guests afterwards.

Next, we went into the small town centre to find some water hosepipe so Barry can do some modifications to the water pump, which has become extremely noisy. The plumbing supplies had something that might work (for a whole $3 so it’s not a catastrophe if it doesn’t) so we bought it. We then found a bank and withdrew this week’s money.

Boring stuff now finished, we walked across the road to have a look at the “Tree of Knowledge”. This old Ghost Gum was the site of the meeting of shearers during the Shearers’ Strike in 1891. The strike was an industrial dispute between the Queensland shearers and the pastoralists. The shearers’ union wanted the right to say who could work in the sheds and that they should work to the union rules, whereas the pastoralists wanted “freedom of contract” to allow them to take on anyone and negotiate the conditions (which would often be very unfavourable). The leaders of the strike were arrested and the strike was eventually called off. The unions realised that any lasting and significant changes to working conditions would need to be made in Parliament so they would need elected representatives there. This led to the formation of the Australian Labor Party and the election of the first Labor representative to government.

The old gum tree came to be a symbol of this struggle to improve working conditions and to create a better society and so was held in special affection. When it got attacked by insects and a fungal disease in the 1990s, a tree surgeon was called in who managed to save it but it never looked the same again. It stayed healthy until 2006 when someone fatally poisoned it (they never found out who did it). It was cut down and taken to Brisbane where it underwent the world’s first preservation process to protect the wood from insect and fungal attack.

It was eventually brought back to Barcaldine and placed under a structure specially designed to protect it but also be an interactive space and yet maintain the feeling of the tree still existing.
Billy Tea and DamperBilly Tea and DamperBilly Tea and Damper

The Homestead Caravan Park, where we were staying had a get-together with a country singer followed by delicious damper and tea. The damper was spread with golden syrup, which is what they're doing here. Delicious.
It has a veil of 1464 charcoaled timbers with a glass roof around the top of it and then inside it has 3449 suspended pieces of timber, with leaf like end. These were knocking gently together in the strong wind today and sounded lovely. The root ball of the tree is set below ground under glass so it can be seen. We went back later, after dark, and it looked magical as it had green lighting gleaming through the veil and spotlights highlighting the suspended “leaves” inside.

We then went to the Australian Workers Heritage Centre, a museum celebrating workers and the Union Movement. It is made up of 14 buildings full of displays (we hadn’t realised when we entered just how big it was – there was no way we could do it all in the hour we had before closing! Luckily we were told we could come back to finish it tomorrow using the same tickets.

Inside we first looked through the Railway Workers section, which was the old Karawala Station and a carriage from the 1920s (very much like the old “Red Rattlers” that were still being used in Melbourne when I arrived from UK.
The Fire PitThe Fire PitThe Fire Pit

The damper was cooked in the pots in the fire embers and you can still see the billie cans for the tea hanging over the fire.
One of the rooms had a games machine “The Rocky to Barcy Express” which was a large board similar to Snakes and Ladders, with bonus moves and hazards as you land on specially marked squares. We each had a cardboard train and moved them forward the number of spaces that came onto the electronic die when you pushed the big green button. Barry kept getting low numbers while I consistently got 5s so I was steaming ahead (and Barry was pushing the button for us both). Watching me race ahead, he said if he landed on the return to start square he was giving up. We played a few more pushes and then, oh dear, he DID land on the return to start and withdrew so I guess that means I won! (We did need to move on, too, as there was a lot to see)

The next building was the old Police Lockup with a couple of cells that were full of stories of bravery and duty, as well as some artefacts like handcuffs and truncheons and the hard bed and metal trunk the prisoners used.

After that was the Australian Bicentennial Theatre tent, like a circus big top, which was huge inside and had a wide range of exhibits. The most interesting were the details of the trial and sentencing of the Shearers’ Strike leaders; and the replica of part of the St Helena Gaol including one cell which you could enter and was pitch black inside so you had to feel your way around. It would have been awful to be stuck in such a small dark space for most of the day! There was also a 45lb iron ball that prisoners who were being given extra punishment would have to pick up and carry for an hour while walking up and down the yard. It was on a stand so you could feel how heavy it was – and it WAS. I can’t imagine holding it for 5 minutes never mind an hour. This was where the leaders of the Shearers’ Strike were sent when they were convicted. Seems excessive for trying to improve working conditions!

We then started to head out as it was nearly 5pm, passing a tree labelled “The Young-Un”, which is the direct offspring of the “Tree of Knowledge”. It was only small but was very healthy looking.

As we passed the AWU Hall we stuck our noses in for a quick look. It had more details of the strike and of the beginnings of the Labor Party. We’ll have to come back tomorrow and see it.

We left through the side gate and headed back to the Caravan Park to get our cups and join the “Damper” eating group. We arrived to find the lady was still singing “Waltzing Matilda” in a few versions and explaining how they came about. One was much livelier and I preferred it. Then the damper (a type of bread) had finished cooking in the ashes of the fire pit and the billies (tin cans with handles over the top) hanging on the hooks were brewed so we all went to get some. It was thick but not too heavy (he uses some oat bran in the recipe) and spread with golden syrup. It was very nice so we had another piece each, pleasantly washed down with the strong tea.

We had not done the shopping I needed so we decided to go for a $10 pub meal we had seen advertised at the Artesian Hotel, the oldest of the five pubs in town, built in 1887. Unfortunately, the kitchen was closed today so we went to the Shakespeare Hotel a few doors down. It was offering Chicken Parmigiana on special today at $32 for two people so that’s what we ordered. It was very nice and filling (I could only manage half and took the rest home for tomorrow’s dinner). We had Lemon, Lime and Bitters with it as neither of us felt like alcohol, which was just as well as we’d been stopped by a very bored policeman as we drove into town and Barry was given a Breath Test (he passed OK, of course).

Then back to the van just as it started raining again. The locals will be happy. Oh yes, and Barry noticed a really big bruise starting to form on his foot as he was getting ready for bed so he’s going to be sore and walking carefully for a few days.


18th August 2014

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20th August 2014

Glad you liked it.
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