The climbing tree I grew up with was a giant lucerne. It provided as much delight for our family as that fictional ‘faraway’ 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 Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton
Faraway Tree, Mrs Washalot
Our mother seemed to wash a lot too.
Faraway tree illustration

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.

Enid Blyton's Home, Old Thatch
Old Thatch
Pauline Conolly at Old Thatch
Afternoon tea in the garden of Old Thatch. Sadly, that’s not a Google Bun.

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, soon after we moved there.. Why it was taken from the back of the old place, I have no idea.

Farm homestead Tasmania. tThe lucerne tree is visible behind the chimney.
The original homestead, with the  lucerne tree visible behind the water tank.

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.

Three in a tree. My siblings and I in the Lucerne 'faraway tree'.
Three in the tree. From left…Paulie, Laurie, Robbie.

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.

The pea-like flowers of lucerne  are loved by bees.
The pea-like flowers are loved by bees.

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 that hair!

Posing with the remnant Lucerne tree in the background.
RIP poor old tree.

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.

Enid Blyton
Enid Blyton (Wikipedia)


  1. What a beautiful tree your flowering Lucerne was; and a perfect ‘climber’ too! Growing up in London and living in a flat, the first thing my youngest brother, sister and myself did each time we visited my grandparents in Gloucestershire, was to run down the lane at the very first opportunity and climb ‘our’ tree, an Oak. It was our right of passage.
    I LOVED The Magic Faraway Tree and its sequel the Folk of the Faraway Tree – and believed every word of them! I re-read those books so many times. They were my son Philip’s favourites too, and I have a set ready for Gaia when she too is reading fluently.

    • Pauline

      I just knew you would love the Faraway books, Marcia. Do hope Gaia finds them as magical as we did. I think everyone has their special tree.

  2. I’m sure Gaia will love the stories. She already has a very good imagination. She also likes climbing trees!
    I loved Enid Blyton books and when a bit older, was engrossed in one the Famous Five books, sitting in an armchair next to the fire with my feet resting up on the mantlepiece. Due to the angle, the skirt of my school uniform had slipped backwards. My mother came into the room and said something to me. I knew she’d spoken but had no idea what she’d said. Instead of interpreting my look as BLANK she said I looked at her INSOLENTLY, and because of it, came across and slapped my bare leg. She hadn’t noticed our family dog was lying under the window, but protecting me, he flew across the room and bit her for slapping me! I’m trying not to laugh, even after so many years!

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