December 29, 2013


Casuarina (she oak). It’s eerie when the wind blows through a stand of casuarina. The sound is a mournful whistle, and the branches clack and creak. Some Indigenous groups believe this is a sacred tree with the ability to communicate in an ancient language. The sound stirs my soul and I always feel alive and awake when in the presence of Casuarina.

Who hath lain him underneath
A lone oak by a lonely stream;
He hath heard an utterance breathe
Sadder than all else may seen.
Up in its dusk boughs out-tressing,
Like the hair of a giant’s head,
Mournful things beyond our guessing
Day and night are uttered.
Even when the waveless air
May only stir the lightest leaf,
A lowly voice keeps moaning there
Wordless oracles of grief.
But when nightly blasts are roaming,
Lowly is that voice no more;
From the streaming branches coming
Elfin shrieks are heard to pour.
While between the blast on-passing,
And the blast that comes as oft,
Mid those boughs, dark intermassing,
One long low wail pines aloft.
Till the listener surely deems
That some weird spirit of the air
Hath made those boughs the lute of themes
Wilder, darker than despair.
Darker than a woe whose morrow
Must be travelling to an end—
Wilder than the wildest sorrow
That in death hath still a friend;
Some lonely spirit that hath dwelt
For ages in one lonely tree—
Some weary spirit that hath felt
The burthen of eternity.
Charles Harpur 1880 (The Voice of the Swamp Oak)
Here is a link to a booklet containing the Dreaming stories of Prospect Creek. On page 33 is one mob’s story of why the Casuarina makes the sound that it does.




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4 Comments on “she-oak”

  1. greenmackenzie Says:

    What a beautiful post…I would love to hear the song of this tree.


  2. Beauty Along the Road Says:

    The poem is a bit eerie and dark… I wonder what it would be like to sit underneath the tree and just listen, then write whatever comes…


    • tree girl Says:

      Hi Annette.

      The poem is a good representation of what the she-oak sounds like. I get a shiver down my spine every time I think of the sound. I think this is one of Charles Harpur’s best poems.

      I have added a link to the post. A booklet that I found quite by chance. Each clan (or mob) would have their own story about why the she-oak sings the way she does.


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