How the tree has survived is a mystery. How, in all its 200 or so years, it has not succumbed to the wild axe of human progress. When the blue gums fell and the jungle was torn from the ground, the Leichhardt tree remained. When the great cyclone of 1918 came through, the wind stripped its leaves but the trunk was not damaged. The tree persisted as the warehouses flourished. And when, in the 1980s, the Pioneer River Improvement Trust constructed a levee wall along the river, the tree’s roots were avoided by a sharp dog-leg in the bricks. Somehow the Leichhardt tree, in its quiet, mysterious way, has demanded our subservience as if a transcendental power flutters softly above its crown.
The tree survives as a guardian of the river, a watchful eye whose gaze may never cease. Perhaps its survival is down to nothing more than its importance as a post, a trunk to tie ropes around. Its scientific name is Nauclea orientalis, which translates roughly as ships from the east. In what must be one of the few instances of binomial servility, the tree served, during the second half of the nineteenth century, as a docking point for ships arriving from the east, from islands such as the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, New Caledonia and New Guinea.
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