Ex­plore the grounds of Beech­worth’s former lu­natic asy­lum, built af­ter the 1850s gold rush.

North East Living Magazine - - Contents - Words & pho­tos

YOU hear them be­fore you see them. It’s a rusty noise, like an old gate shift­ing on its hinge in a shy wind.

It car­ries – ris­ing and fall­ing, in its way con­ver­sa­tional – through the lower park of Beech­worth’s former lu­natic asy­lum.

The gen­tle racket is not far off, but you have to step out from un­der a long av­enue of oaks, heavy with a dense canopy of late sum­mer green, to find its source.

Then there it is – four pairs of slate-grey gang-gang cock­a­toos, the males dis­tin­guished by their co­ral combs, ‘caw­caw’-ing as they gather and claw in and out of a hol­low limb high in a brit­tle gum.

The grand old pow­der-trunked tree stands with its smaller sib­ling and has proved a fine choice in which to hatch and raise the sea­son’s fledglings – and not just for the se­cu­rity it of­fers.

It is one among nu­mer­ous Eu­ca­lyp­tus man­nifera sub­species man­nifera through­out May­day Hills’ 102 hectares of parkland, gar­dens and farm pad­docks.

The trees grow alone or in stands, rem­nants of the wood­land that pros­pered here be­fore it was cut over for fire­wood, shacks and mine tim­bers when thou­sands came to Beech­worth in the quest for gold from 1852.

That any re­main may be down to miss­ing the ax­e­man’s bit, but there seems lit­tle doubt that the choice of May­day Hills as the site for one of Vic­to­ria’s colo­nial govern­ment asy­lums in 1864 – and the care of the park’s later hor­ti­cul­tural stew­ards, in­clud­ing pa­tients – has led to the trees’ con­ser­va­tion.

Their sheer size and aes­thetic value has won the hard work of Beech­worth Treescape Group and the sanc­tion of the Na­tional Trust, which two years ago in­cluded them among 62 in­di­vid­ual trees and sets at May­day Hills – a to­tal of 214 trees – in its sig­nif­i­cant tree reg­is­ter.

The de­ci­sion marked the first ad­di­tion of E. man­nifera ssp. man­nifera to the Vic­to­rian in­ven­tory since col­la­tion be­gan.

The trust’s en­vi­ron­men­tal her­itage ad­vo­cate, Anna Fo­ley, says that one tree – reach­ing more than 30 me­tres and sport­ing a canopy spread of 28 me­tres – achieved recog­ni­tion for its sig­nif­i­cance to the state be­cause it is an “out­stand­ing ex­am­ple” of age, size and aes­thetic ap­pear­ance and for its con­tri­bu­tion to the land­scape.


The hard work to plot and iden­tify May­day’s trees – which make up al­most one per cent of the trust’s na­tional 25,000-tree reg­is­ter – was car­ried out across 18 months by Beech­worth Treescape Group vol­un­teers, in­clud­ing Stan­ley chest­nut grower Dave Mcin­tyre, former Can­berra econ­o­mist Har­vey Anderssen, hor­ti­cul­tur­al­ist and former May­day grounds’ man­ager Colin Glad­stone and Beech­worth pho­tog­ra­pher Vivi­enne Har­vey.

The names of nu­mer­ous oak species planted in the park roll off their tongues – Quer­cus species alba, robur, acutis­sima, ca­narien­sis, leu­cotri­chophora and palus­tris.

A dou­ble plant­ing of English oak Q. robur – de­scribed by the trust as “one of Vic­to­ria’s most aes­thet­i­cally pleas­ing drive­way av­enues” – num­bers 25 trees.

There are also rare maples – Kash­mir or Hi­malayan Acer ob­longum, Ital­ian A. opalus ssp. ob­tas­sa­tum and Ja­panese A. pal­ma­tum, in­clud­ing one of out­stand­ing size and again planted by pa­tient-gar­den­ers.

An 11-trunk Law­son’s cy­press Chamae­cy­paris law­so­ni­ana has been in­cluded for its state sig­nif­i­cance be­cause – while com­pa­ra­ble in its 24-me­tre height to another of the same species on the reg­is­ter and grow­ing at Nar­bethong – it has a larger spread and cir­cum­fer­ence.

The park is also home to a Bunya bunya pine Arau­caria bid­willii planted in the 1870s by an asy­lum pa­tient-gar­dener. The trust thinks it likely has the largest trunk cir­cum­fer­ence of a Bunya bunya in Vic­to­ria.

A brochure show­ing May­day Hills’ three self-guided tree walks is avail­able from Ge­orge Ker­ferd Ho­tel, in the grounds, or Beech­worth Vis­i­tor Cen­tre. For the Na­tional Trust tree reg­is­ter and app, go to­

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