Keelbundoora Scarred Trees and Heritage Trail

RMIT'sBundoora campus has six scarred trees that are rare and fragile reminders of the resource harvesting techniques practised by hundreds of generations of Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The tree scars tell us a great deal about the Wurundjeri clan, the traditional owners of the lands in and around Melbourne.

Keelbundoora is named after a Wurundjeri clan ancestor. As a child in 1835 he was present at the signing of the Batman Treaty, which marked European colonists’ arrival. Keelbundoora’s descendants helped create this trail.

Walk the trail

Start the walk at the Peppercorn Tree outside Building 202 near the cafe, and follow the decorative poles.

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1. The Heritage Peppercorn Tree

Peppercorn trees, originally from South America, were often planted around homesteads in the early colonial period. The White and Clements families ran a dairy farm called Flora Vale in this area from the 1840s until the early 1970s.

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2. The Relocated Scarred Tree

Scars on living trees are from Aboriginal people deliberately removing bark or wood.

Bark was readily available in the grassy woodlands before European settlement. Aboriginal people used it for shelters, weapons, watercraft, tools and containers. There are few scarred trees left today. This one was salvaged and preserved as a reminder to future generations of the Aboriginal history of this land.

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3. The Possum Tree

Not every scarred tree has been deliberately damaged for cultural purposes – sometimes scarring is from disease, branch loss, fire or lightning. Sometimes fire masks evidence of deliberate damage.

Years ago, major limb loss, fire and decay in this ancient river redgum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) created a large opening with nooks and crannies for possums and birds to shelter.

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4. Lakeview

Wetlands are home to aquatic and semi-aquatic indigenous plant species, water birds, frogs, fish and invertebrates. Wetlands were a major source of food, fibre and medicines for Aboriginal people.

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5. The Fused-limb Tree

This tree has two major limbs crossed and fused together. This can happen naturally but Aboriginal people made it happen by deliberately manipulating a growing tree. Either way, the trees are thought to have special significance. This one may have marked a boundary between clans, or simply been a landmark.

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6. Burls

This old redgum has a number of bulbous woody growths near the base of the trunk, called lignotubers or 'burls'. The Wurundjeri people sometimes removed the burls and crafted them into water containers called tarnuks.

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7. Triple Scar and Redgum Grassy Woodlands

Some of these redgums are well over 400 years old.

This tree shows evidence of three different scarrings. The original scar may have been of cultural origin, but later scarring – probably caused by fire – has obscured the evidence.

This woodland used to have a sparse cover of redgums over scattered wattles, with a dense ground layer of grasses and forbs, such as kangaroo grass and yam daisy. Yam daisy tubers were a staple Aboriginal food.

The area once had kangaroos, goannas, snakes, birds of prey, ground-dwelling birds, and invertebrates such as beetles, ants and grasshoppers. The local Friends of the Bundoora Redgums group is currently restoring the area to its original appearance.

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8. The 'Canoe' Tree

The scar on this tree is probably from bark being deliberately removed to make roofing material or a small food-collection canoe. The ovoid shape of many scars suggests a canoe but sometimes it’s just the tree’s natural regrowth pattern after the bark has been removed.

The process of building a canoe began with outlining the bark and then making small cuts using a stone axe. The bark was then carefully levered off so it wouldn’t split. Once removed, it was soaked in water and then scorched over a fire to prevent decay.

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9. The Resource Tree

Trees were major food sources for the Wurundjeri people. Birds, eggs, honey and possums could all be harvested from trees. Some trees are scarred with holes for smoking an animal from its refuge and sometimes access holes are cut higher up.

It looks as though an access hole may have been cut into this tree. There is also a massive scar on the reverse side, probably from losing a major limb, followed by subsequent fire damage.

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10. The Rectangular Cultural Scar

This is a highly significant tree. The scar’s size suggests the bark was used to build a shelter. If a scar is rectangular and extends to the ground it usually means Europeans took the bark, perhaps for weatherproofing in a building. But the amount of healing regrowth around this scar suggests a large slab of bark was taken by Aboriginal people well before European settlement in the early 1840s.

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11. Frogpond

There have been six species of frogs recorded in Bundoora, most of which need the wetlands to survive. Frogs have been around for 190 million years and are known to be an accurate indicator of environmental wellbeing.

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12. Woodland View and Re-vegetation site

The Friends of the Bundoora Redgums Inc, a volunteer organisation, has begun the long process of restoring the Redgum Grassy Woodland to its former glory. They are planting indigenous species including the next generation of redgums.

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The Keelbundoora Scarred Tree and Heritage Trail was proposed by RMIT Student Services Group and the Ngarara Willim Centre to show due respect to the Wurundjeri people and their history on the land now occupied by RMIT University Bundoora campus.

We are grateful to the Wurundjeri Land Council and their representative, Annette Xibberas, for expert guidance with developing this trail and creating the brochure and signage.

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