In the council's pamphlet, it said that this huge gum tree is more than a hundred years old and is legendary for the fact that the tree was plaited as a sapling by the local Aboriginal people. Apparently, the tree was used as a meeting place and a shady spot to sit and get respite from the intense summer sun.
I was so intrigued by this tree that my friend Helen and I drove a long way out of our planned trip home to find and photograph it.
So, just what does a gum tree look like a hundred or so years after its branches have been plaited? Well, to me it kinda looked like any other tree at first. If the signpost hadn't pinpointed the spot, we probably would have driven straight past it.
The tree is intriguing - when you start to look at it, you can see that the limbs do seem to follow a style or pattern. We took a few photos, marvelled at the tree, then continued on our way home.
I was fascinated by the tree and its history and wanted to know more. When I got home, I did quite a bit of Googling on the subject of plaiting trees but could find nothing that was relevant to Aboriginal culture.
This email only created more questions than answers, so I set off in another direction of search and contacted Sam, the editor of Celebrating Red Gums. She promptly put me in touch with Trevor who is a eucalypt enthusiast and has an extensive knowledge of gum trees.
Although not familiar with the tree in question, Trevor said that the tree appeared to be somewhere in the region of 400 years old which definitely ages it prior to white people settling in the area. The twisting, or plaiting, could have been man-made or it could have occurred naturally during a big flood. The swirling waters surrounding a young tree could have twisted the limbs in its early growth stage.
In 2014, ABC Rural News published a photo with the following caption: "An Aboriginal marker tree at Chowilla Floodplain, South Australia. The flexible branches of the young tree were deliberately intertwined so they would grow in a distorted, readily noticeable fashion. Such trees were signposts for important landscape features."
It seems that The Plaited Tree could actually be a Boundary or Marker Tree. More research on Google showed me that there are quite a number of "Boundary" or "Marker" trees in Australia.
These Boundary/Marker trees are our living history and show the ingenuity and skill of local Aboriginal people. While not knowing exactly how it was done, it's a guess that the branches were tied or fused together to signify a meeting place, a place of significance or to mark a tribe or clan boundary.
So is this beautifully twisted tree man-made or naturally occurring? Or neither? All I can say for sure is - the next time you're passing through the South-East, take a little detour and have a look for yourself.
You'll find the tree (and a scar tree in a field approximately 100m further up the road) on Black Joes Road at Mundulla, west of Bordertown. Black Joes Road runs off Cannawigara Road. It's a dirt road but is a well looked after dirt road.
The landscape around Mundulla is big tree country - there are massive blue gums all through the area and the early white pastoralists to the bushland called it "the good country".
Tatiara was the name given by the Aboriginals to this patch of 'good' country, which lies between the Bangham bushland north of Naracoorte and the lower heath of the Ninety Mile Desert east of the Adelaide Hills. Having heard about "the good country" from the Aboriginals, pastoralists sought out the area and first settled there in 1846.
The Tatiara region today includes the highway towns of Bordertown and Keith plus the townships of Mundulla, Padthaway, Willalooka and Wolseley. You will experience this 'good country' as you turn off the Dukes Highway at Wirrega or Bordertown and find yourself in the Big Gum Country where the hundreds-year-old majestic gum trees grow to great heights.
The name Mundulla is derived from "mantala" an Aboriginal word meaning "place of thunder". The area is undermined with caves which rumbled when walked upon and spooked the local Aboriginals who believed that the rumbles were evil spirits.
Aboriginal cultural heritage places, sites, and objects (including culturally significant trees) are protected by Commonwealth (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984) and State legislation. This protection applies equally on Crown and freehold land and does not depend upon any listing or registration process. By Law, Aboriginal heritage places, sites and objects cannot be damaged, disturbed or destroyed without the prior written consent of the relevant local Aboriginal community organisation, as specified under Part IIA of the Commonwealth Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984.