Dispersed throughout the bushland that hugs Callala Beach, are the most beautiful smooth-barked white gum trees that stand like pointers to an ancient world. During the day, their ethereal forms captivate and at night they stand conspicuously amongst their brothers and sisters of the bushland world.
The Scribbly Gum is in complete contrast to the rough, scraggly limbs of the revered Old Man Banksia. They stand shorter and slimmer than the robust Swamp Mahogany. The Scribbly holds out its limbs, smooth and glossy and often forms ‘wrinkles’ where the boughs meet. Each of these beautiful trees are an essential contributor to the endangered Bangalay Sand Forest.
There are a few types of eucalyptus trees fondly named Scribbly Gums and they each received their title thanks to the Scribbly Gum Moth. These trees are constantly shedding their bark to not only reveal the smoothest of ‘skin’ but the signatures of a moth larva.
So how does this graffiti artist tag the bark of these magnificent trees? The eggs of the moth are laid between the old and new season’s bark. The moth’s larvae tunnel in loops and zigzags just below the bark’s surface. The tree sends out scar tissue which the caterpillars love to devour. They reach maturity quickly, growing legs before turning around to eat their way back out. Next, they leave the tree to form a cocoon and pupate. Not long after this the gum tree sheds its bark to reveal the secret signatures that make the Scribbly iconic.
These scribbles have been recorded by the first botanists that visited Australia’s shores as well as artists and writers. The graffiti artists of the bush have found a place in Australia’s culture.
Judith Wright’s poem called Scribbly Gum reveals an ancient language:
I peeled its splitting bark
and found the written track
of a life I could not read
Late Blue Mountains poet, Graham Alcorn wrote a poem: The Scribblygum Moth
Some chew up and some chew down,
This the philosophers might explain,
But the thing that causes me to frown,
The thing I’d dearly love to learn
Is what makes every Ogmo turn?
Off to the left, then to the right,
Another about turn, very tight,
Chomping a track, Forward and back,
On various species of gum tree.
And who didn’t love Snugglepot and Cuddlepie as a child? Their little gum-leaf banners were inspired by the secretive scrawls of the artist.
A few years ago, a young school girl named Julia Cooke was obviously captivated with the scribbles on the bark in the bush. With a little help she discovered there were very different dialects amongst these scribblers and other researchers took up the chase! As a result, eleven new Scribbly Gum Moths were discovered, with three of them having an ancestor with a species that lived on the ancient supercontinent Gondwana.
All of this goes to show there truly is so much more to discover out there in that beautiful bush we are fortunate to have surround the coastal villages of Callala Beach and Myola.