INTO THE WOODS
Explore the grounds of Beechworth’s former lunatic asylum, built after the 1850s gold rush.
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 TREE COLLECTION AT BEECHWORTH’S FORMER LUNATIC ASYLUM RANKS WITH THOSE AT THE ROYAL BOTANIC GARDENS MELBOURNE AND GEELONG BOTANIC GARDENS. TAKE A WALK.
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 www.trusttrees.org.au.