THE LUCERNE TREE
One of my favourite childhood books was The Magic Faraway tree, by Enid Blyton. It actually belonged to my sister. Who could not be enchanted by The Saucepan Man, Mr Moonface, Mrs Washalot et al.
The story resonated with us because we had our own special tree on our farm near Ulverstone, in north west Tasmania. It was an enormous Lucerne, growing just outside the house. Where better to sit with a book and some lollies? It was easy to imagine that our chocolate covered Cobbers might turn into Mr Moonface’s Toffee Shocks and grow larger and larger. There was a lot about food in that story, I still long to try a Google Bun.
I visited Enid Blyton’s home Old Thatch some years ago, while walking The Thames Path. The journey down the river led to my book, All Along the River; Tales from the Thames. I made another pilgrimage to Old Thatch after the book’s launch. It was appropriate, because Enid Blyton had encouraged my love of reading, stimulated my imagination and was no doubt a factor in me becoming a writer myself.
We had never heard of anyone else having a Lucerne tree. Very recently I discovered the real name for it is Tagasaste, more usually grown as cattle fodder. It normally only grows to about 5 metres, so our giant must truly have had a bit of magic about it. The photo below was taken circa 1953. Why it was taken from the back of the old place, I have no idea.
My siblings and I spent much of our childhood in that old tree. Note the similarity of the photo below and the cover of Enid Blyton’s book.
The closer I look at this photo, the more I see. It truly encapsulates our childhood. In the background is the outline of the Dial Range. When we shouted or clapped the noise bounced back from the range, amusing us for ages.
Just visible at bottom right is a wire netting fence surrounding the old chicken house. If we hit the ball over this fence in our cricket matches we scored six runs. The iron rimmed cart wheels at bottom right provided a narrow ‘blackboard’ for playing teachers with a piece of chalk. I wonder what those wheels originally belonged to? I never thought to ask.
There was one occasion when a branch’s dual role was disastrous, though it could have been much worse. My father had put up a block and tackle for raising the carcasses of sheep. Later he put up a rope swing for us ,….oh dear! I think you know what’s coming. One day my sister was flying high when the iron block fell and struck her on the head. Thankfully it was a glancing blow, but she dropped like a stone. Mind you, farm kids are pretty tough, and she soon hopped back up .
My own tree accident was less serious. I’d been to collect the eggs, which I put in the pocket of my cardigan. On the way back to the house, I forgot I had them and clambered into the lucerne. What a mess!
In spring, the pea flowers of the lucerne tree opened, attracting thousands of bees. The branches would fill with sparrows’ nests. The sound of humming and chirping meant approaching summer, Christmas, and weeks of school holidays.
During a protracted dry spell in 1959, my father employed a local water diviner (Mr Allan Gould ) to locate the best place to dig a well. Mr Gould snapped a forked twig off the lucerne tree and walked around the homestead. Just behind the house the stick swung to earth. Yes, he told dad, there should be water at twenty feet. Now there was a dam further down the hill, so it seemed logical that the diviner had located a spring. Dad started digging, assisted by a neighbor. What happened? Hmm, that’s another story! THE WELL
After I had grown up and left home the dear old tree developed rot and had to be cut down. In a rare show of sentiment my father established a flower bed around the stump and called it ‘The Monument’.
You can see the remains in the photo below. Yes, I had returned home. My flares and little Honda Life car tells me this was 1975. A few sparrows could have nested in my hair!
NOTE – Since I published this story on Facebook, many people have shared their memories of loving Enid Blyton’s books and having enjoyed their own ‘faraway’ tree; apple, laurel, oak, beech, gum chestnut etc. Whatever the critics may say about the literary quality of Ms Blyton’s work, children around the world still adore her stories. May she rest in peace.
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