Picture a place called ‘Honeysuckle Creek’. I hope it looks better than this.
I wrote a post a year ago on vanishing honeysuckles; about the tree form of Silver Banksia (Banksia marginata), which was wiped out across much of south-east Australia. The story was one of the most popular I’ve written, and prompted lots of feedback. Many readers had collected seeds and planted seedlings to save the last of their local trees.
What do vanishing banksias and eroding gullies have in common? I found the photo above by chance on Trove. It is from a glass negative, perhaps 100 years old, and is labelled ‘Gully Erosion’. The depth of the gully is hard to fathom until you notice the footprints. The photo is striking but not remarkable; the next photo in the series is more interesting.
The lone tree on the crumbling pillar of soil caught my eye. It’s unmistakably a Banksia, as shown in the close-up below. And it’s presumably among the last of the honeysuckles on this deathly creek. I wonder if the photographer knew?
The photos were taken by Gabriel Knight, who lived from 1876-1946. Knight left 182 glass negatives and photographs to the State Library of Victoria. His Town and Country Views in Victoria, ca. 1890-1921 collection can be seen online.
Knight was a school teacher, and taught at Cressy in western Victoria, Welshpool in South Gippsland and Towong in north-east Victoria. He took photos in each region, including well-known shots of she-oak woodlands on Mt Elephant in western Victoria. Those woodlands too have since disappeared.
According to the label, the photos of the eroding creek were taken in the period 1890-1896, over a century ago. But the date, like the locality, may be wrong. Knight was just 14 years old in 1890.
Where was the Banksia?
The full label of the erosion photos reads, ‘Gully erosion, possibly taken near Beechworth’, but I doubt the photos were taken there. Only four photos in the Knight collection are from the Beechworth area, and all are labelled ‘possibly taken near Beechworth’.
My guess is that they were taken in the upper Murray River region near Towong. The hill behind the eroded gully resembles the background in a few of Knight’s photos (here, here and here), including this picture of a herd of cattle.
If the gully was near Beechworth, then the lone honeysuckle would definitely be Banksia marginata. If it was in the Upper Murray area, it may be Banksia canei (Mountain Banksia), which was split from B. marginata in the 1960s. Either way, the photo epitomizes the tragedy of the once-majestic, honeysuckle woodlands.
Have you worked hard to save the last of your local tree banksias from a fate like this? Then pin this photo to your wall to remind yourself – and everyone else – how your great work is saving a once-abundant tree from extinction.
Hopefully one day we can all visit a Honeysuckle Creek that looks way better than this.
Have you helped save your local banksias? Please write a comment below to inspire others by your recent achievements. And, of course, keep up your amazing work.
I have increased the contrast and sharpness in the photos above. The originals can be seen on the State Library of Victoria’s web page.