Christine Klimek


I live here at Lune River (the Lune), on its quiet riverbank, near tidal sway...I fossick and find gemstones, then tumble them and tithe my way; I watch clouds and pause for beauty; I grow food and enjoy the feast; I prefer to write a letter to connect, and to read, words or spoor or country; big skies, mossy glades and open fires do me good; I like to roam, but can nestle down and watch the world go by; friendship and laughter and love sustain me, mostly, and dawn is my most favoured time.


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Discovering the Woodwork of Poland

I entered the room and rekindled the night fire; coals small, but glowing. Smoke thickened and rose as the newly added wood felt the heat below and within a few seconds, that gentle-sounding whoomph, soft and unspellable, announced the arrival of flame. I sat and watched the golden sinews of fresh flame, wicker and flow up and around the rough split logs. How many mornings have I sat just so in this house, with a fire to warm me? How often have I looked at these timbered walls, the brown, horizontal boards with their milling scars like small, parallel waves, travelling, yet somehow still, along the timber’s grain? I thought I knew something about timber, about wood, from a life lived in the Australian bush, particularly after thirty-five years in Tasmania.

But it was in Poland that I came to glimpse the full blessing of wood, a forest’s heart. Travelling there in 2014, I went from the embrace of newly-discovered family and through city scapes; seeing towns, churches, castles and museums; walking old streets, laneways and old cemeteries. I think of that country’s vast forests, how once they might have formed a giant green girdle through central Europe, woven from a blend of spruce and larch, oak and hornbeam, birch and pine. My short Springtime foray into the old, now reserved forest region of Bialowesia in N.E. Poland, impressed upon me, not only the natural ‘collective’ state for these northern hemisphere trees – grown back home as singular ‘ornamentals’ – but also the historical legacy that this once immense forest has given to its people.

It was a visit to a skansen* in Lublin, that really opened my eyes to the close connection a people and its culture can have to trees, and the sum of all its parts. I wandered around and through the centuries-old buildings, many of which were rural homes, with densely-thatched roofs, hemmed closely by barn, chook-shed, hay-loft and wood store. It was the theme of wood that united all things and it was in these very buildings and structures that again and again, the grain and strength and sap of wood flowed onward and throughout every single built thing.

There, on one wooden table, stood a jug, its straight but tapered staves, designed to hold any liquid, perhaps once pouring milk. And all around me as I walked, the steady silent presence of wood, revealing a constant and intimate connection between plant and person. A spoon for the stirring; a table, a crib, a coffin……a carpenter’s bench, a rake, a wagon…..a water trough, a drill-plough, a weaving loom….a plate, a bed, a staircase…..a cup, a wind-mill, a scoop….a castle’s framing, a pickling barrel, a milker’s stool……a wash-tub, a window-frame, a gate…..a bath, a carving, a potter’s wheel…….a church statue, a church itself, a boat…..a toy, a door knob, a window’s shutter or a cross……all made from wood, all come from fibre of the forest.

Everywhere you chose to look, there was wood, laid bare, carved, polished or painted; capable of lasting centuries or disappearing in a moment’s flame. This most immediate and useful material, guided and altered by the crafter’s hand, able to be grown again. Linking the needs and imagination of people, to an intimate understanding of a trees individual, own woody nature. From all manner of woods, all manner of things were created.

Here in Australia, though indigenous people have long evolved an intimate knowledge of bush and country, our European imprint has only a two hundred year’s time-line. Places such as Poland, can trace a defined ancestry back over a thousand years or more, considering the fluid nature of borders; a land infused with a mosaic of cultural influences, through invasions, migration and wars, that still displays a direct and personal connection to wood.

Everywhere I travelled, mostly in southern and south-eastern Poland, trees grew in gardens, along railway edges, in plantations and parkways. Small copses of trees, often birch, were staggered around orchard and cropland, and many a high-rise area had well established deciduous trees or surrounding park-lands, to let in a Winter’s light and shade all creatures during a Summer’s heat; a forest recreated. I noticed too, the way people moved through these urban areas, responding with a natural take upon the land, their footsteps forming tracks and trails much like any other animal travelling through a forest. Not there, the misguided bureaucrat’s plan for a city’s park, with straight paths and geometric guidance, but rather a display of people’s affinity with the lay of the land and how best to traverse it. Some city parks left areas of grass unmown, a sense of ‘wild’ forest for the town-dweller.

In rural areas, I sometimes came across forests that may have been communal, as in my father’s early childhood. He told me that each family in his small town, was allotted an area of forest from which to harvest wood for fires and building. I was told that people are still permitted to collect fungi from forests, including some protected reserves, such is the time-honoured tradition, where the forest is not far from a people’s cultural consciousness. Perhaps with younger generations, removed from any direct physical link to forests, this connection and honouring of wood may be diminishing.

When I think of all the travelling I did, the train journeys, the mile upon mile I passed of cultivated land, all tilled and sown into rows of contoured crops, with the curved-edge of pasture, I have to wonder at how large the original forests must have been. Viewed from the sky, the land seemed like some colourful, floral mosaic, spreading in all directions. These vast and seemingly endless swathes of cultivated land must once have been clothed and covered in all manner of foliage, frond and trunk. Of course, when one considers the passage of human history in Poland, the need for wood has been constant: timber for homes, towns and castles; to transport and sustain armies; for fuel to cook and be warm for a winter’s survival. When one thinks of the wars and their destructive mark upon the land and its people, and the renewed need for wood in all the many town and city reconstructions – especially from the damage due to the Second World War – then is there any wonder that so much area of original forest has been cleared?

My trip to Poland brought home to me the valuable legacy of a forest, on both a personal and a cultural level. When I look to my own country and see our collective relationship with our own forests, I cannot help but think how tenuous is our understanding of earthly matters. I am grateful to Poland, the land of my father, for the glimpse it has given me, into my own heritage as well as a ‘middle distance’ view over a grand, exotic forest of trees, with its inherent wealth and cultural store. Allowing me to see how people may travel through generations, and in seeking sustenance and safety from their surrounds, evolve an intimate knowledge and appreciation of what grows around them. This we can all learn from, and be encouraged.

*Skansen: an outdoor, cultural museum, set with garden or simple, open spaces, featuring old buildings, either domestic, religious or civic; a type of living documentary of Polish ‘architecture’, either transplanted, reconstructed or restored.

Lune River Tree Fern Fossicking- A Jurassic Discovery in the Far South

Fossicking in the Field:

It’s not every day that we step out of our front door, into the bush, and ‘discover’ a new piece in the scientific jigsaw of understanding. Such was the experience for Boris and myself, when one day, back in 2002, we wandered into our local gemfield south of Lune River, along the Leprena Track, which had recently been cleared of forest.

Though enthusiasm and the hope of a great find always accompanies the fossicker, we had no inkling that something unusual was to happen. This particular area, located between the adjoining Southern Ranges in the South West National Park (WHA) and the Southern Ocean itself, is one hundred kilometres south of Hobart and reflects a rich variety of geological earth history. Past glaciers have scoured the area, caves have formed vast, labyrinthine underground networks in the surrounding hills, with limestone found in high outcrops and occasional deposits of shell fossils. Indeed, five earth-ages occur in the surrounding country – Triassic, Permian, Jurassic, Ordovician, Pre-Cambrian.

Relevant to this story is the narrow but extensive North/South-oriented deposit of basalt, the result of magma (molten lava) that erupted through the earth’s surface, resulting in the formation and preservation of colourful agates, quartz crystal, jasper, petrified wood and rare fossil fern. This gem and fossil abundance was formally acknowledged by the creation of two Public Fossicking Areas (PFA) at Lune River, zoned within State Forest. In such areas, people can fossick and hand-dig, without the need for a Prospector’s Licence.

Earlier Aboriginal people of Llylequonny tribe would have most certainly made use of the hard chalcedony and enjoyed the beauty of these gemstones. Enthusiastic collectors now come to the area, in the hopes of finding their own stones and fossils. The gemstones that formed in that cooling magma, along with the trees and ferns that were buried, and later fossilised, were broken up over time and settled into gravel layers, buried beneath soils and clay. The earliest conjecture as to the age of this ‘deposit’ ran from Tertiary through to Jurassic.

Back to that particular day, when out for a morning’s fossick, we found ourselves, early sun on our backs, walking up one of the access tracks created during logging. We had already checked most of the eastern slopes over some months, noticing a distinct tendency for fossil wood occurring at about the same altitude. As we climbed higher, nearing the identified ‘zone’ of woods, our attention was caught by some unusually light-grey coloured segments of fossilised limbs, between 10-50mm long and around 13mm diameter. Also scattered here and there, exposed by winter rains, were some fragments of fossil fern leaves. To find a petrified limb is rare enough, but to come across a number of them over a few square metres, is an indicated something unusual.

We returned to the area over a number of days, carefully scanning the ground, trying to pin-point where they had come from. Our efforts finally drew us to one spot, and we began to dig. This is when fossicking starts to get really interesting. Over some hours, our digging revealed an upright, 30cm ’round’ of fossil wood, which gave the distinct impression of being ‘in situ’, that is, found in the position in which it actually grew.

Finding fossils ‘in situ’ had not been reported at Lune River, so we were very excited at such a possibility. Over many months of working the site, more of the petrified wood was revealed and, until we knew more, all excavations had to be carefully re-covered at the end of each session of digging. We were hoping to discover if our first impressions of an ‘in situ’ tree were accurate or perhaps it was a large, isolated block of Jurassic sediments. Hoping to establish the context of what we were revealing, the proliferation over time, of fossil limbs, fern leaves and stems of understorey plants told us that this was a significant site.

Finally we decided it was time to involve others in this discovery, and initially the University was contacted. What followed over the next few months, were a series of meetings, involving various government departments and authorities, with the aim to further explore the site. It was finally agreed to excavate the site, using a small excavator and operator provided by Forestry Tasmania over a two day period, under the direction of a student from UTAS, who would write her thesis on the dig and the resulting research.

On the first day of the excavation, a number of people gathered at the site, keen to participate. Once underway, the excavation work itself was slow and methodical, as science dictates. Much of the machine-work involved the removal of soil ‘over-burden’, and when more delicacy was required, people moved in with hand tools. What was eventually revealed was a fallen fossilized tree, lying in a NE angle down the slope and what Boris and I had first thought to be a tree trunk, turned out to be a cross-section of a large root. Amongst these root structures were deposits of volcanic/sandstone sediments, with pockets of fern and plant fossils – leaves, stems etc. From these volcanic sediments, it was hoped that zircons could be found, to accurately date the gemfield*. Many samples were collected and carefully catalogued and photographed. Later, back in the UTAS laboratory, zircons were indeed found and tested and were able to establish an age of 182 million years old, establishing the ‘field’ as Early Jurassic in age.

The excavation study resulted in an Honours paper**, science was given more to digest and Boris and I were personally rewarded just by being involved, from beginning to end..If such things ever end!

This tree, with its palaeobotanical skirt of fossil ‘memorabilia’, is now reburied and the area has received special status as a Fossil Site, and, for its greater protection, is no longer included in the surrounding Public Fossicking Area.

The site is listed with the Australian GeoHeritage Data Base and it is hoped that further research will one day be possible, to reveal more of this Early Jurassic earth history. Much will continue to lay hidden, unknown, till the next person, eyes open and curious, will notice something…..there, on the ground….and another discovery happens!

 

*Bromfield, K., Burrett, C.F., Leslie, R.A. and Meffre, S. (2007) –
‘Jurassic volcaniclastic – basaltic andesite – dolerite sequence in
Tasmania: new age constraints for fossil plants from Lune River’. Australian
Journal of Earth Sciences, 54:7, 965 – 974.
** Bromfield, K. (2004) – Palaeoenvironmental Reconstruction of Jurassic
Lune River. Unpublished B.Sc. Honours thesis. Department Of Earth Sciences,
University of Tasmania.

Images courtesy of Lunaris Gemstones, Lune River:
Lunaris Gemstones,Tasmanian Fossils,Tasmanian Minerals,Crocoite,Stichtite