The Kalatha Giant and the Mossy Stump

July 29th, 2013 | Poems for adults

I had a wonderful day yesterday, attending the opening of the boardwalk for the Kalatha Giant – a huge, ancient mountain ash in the forests north of Toolangi. (Toolangi, by the way, is an Aboriginal word meaning ‘tall trees’.) We were told the tree is 400 years old.

Many people do not know this, but mountain ash are the tallest trees in the world, and the forests of Victoria are as tall as any in the world.

Karena Goldfinch has posted some photos of the occasion on Facebook.

I wrote this poem this morning.


The Kalatha Giant and the Mossy Stump


I went for a walk in the bush today, with a bevy of like-minded souls.

We all want to rescue the bush from the loggers, all have quite similar goals.

We were seeking a very large eucalypt tree – they say it’s four hundred years old.

It goes by the name “The Kalatha Giant”, and we were drawn into its fold.


There’s a walkway that leads in a circuit around this example of Nature’s wonders;

A monument, too, to the forest we’ve lost, to the endless succession of blunders

We’ve made as we’ve struggled to fashion this land, to turn it to fit to our ends;

A reminder, as well, that it’s still not too late if we want to now make some amends.


Yet it wasn’t the giant that reached to the sky that struck the most deep at my heart,

Though I’m sure, with its girth, and its fire-blackened base it played, in its way, its own part,

But there by the path stood a moss-covered stump, three – perhaps four – metres high,

A monument, too – to an era of logging that time’s well and truly passed by.


There stood the slots for the planks for the men who stood there to swing a broad axe.

That was the way in the era before that we carried out all our attacks;

A man and a tree, a handle and head, in work that was honest and pure,

And needless to say, the percentage of trees that were felled in the forest was fewer.


And there, to one side, there was even a plank, all rotten, and covered with moss.

It spoke to a whole way of life that is gone. Surely, in this, there’s a loss?

For mighty machines fell a tree now in minutes, and where is the drama in that?

Could anyone gaze at this symbol of old and not feel dejected and flat?


I marvel at men who could raze such a tree with only the sweat of their hands.

It seems, though we walk the same earth, they are travellers, coming from far distant lands.

They are stronger than me. They are purer than me. They are stouter of limb and of heart.

Felling a tree now’s a matter of science, but then it was craft – it was art.


The giant Kalatha stands mighty and proud. I hope it stands many years yet,

And I trust, with its seeds, in the fullness of time, it will many young saplings beget,

But the tree that struck deep in my heart as we walked, with its fungus, its moss and its mould,

Was that ragged old stump, with its slots, and its planks, that spoke of the axemen of old.


©   Stephen Whiteside   29.07.2013

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Prior to the boardwalk opening, Taungurung elder Uncle Roy Patterson performed a smoking ceremony at the Tanglefoot car park.

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The Federal Minister for the Environment, Mr. Hon Mark Butler MP, opens the boardwalk, cutting green tape with green scissors. Standing beside him are Steve Meacher, local environmentalist, and Cindy McLeish MP, Member for Seymour.

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Here is the stump that I wrote the poem about. You can see the plank on the right of the upper photo, and the slots in the lower photo.

So what is all the red stuff, you ask? Well, unfortunately I opened the back of the camera to remove the film before re-winding it. This is a trap with film. The red colouration is due to UV exposure. Fortunately, most of the photos were still OK, but a few were completely ruined – including the photos of the Kalatha Giant itself, which were at the very end of the film!