No matter where you look in Australia, you're more than likely to see a eucalyptus tree. Scrawny or majestic, smooth as pearl or rough as guts, they have defined a continent for millennia and shaped the possibilities and imaginations of those who live among them.
Australia's First Nations have long knowledge of the characters and abilities of the eucalypts. And as part of the disruption wrought by colonial Australia, botanists battled in a race to count, classify and characterise these complex species in their own system – a battle that has now spanned more than two hundred years.
Gum: The Story of Eucalypts & Their Champions tells the stories of that battle and of some of the other eucalyptographers – the explorers, poets, painters, foresters, conservationists, scientists, engine drivers and many more who have been obsessed by these trees and who have sought to champion their powers, explore their potential and describe their future states. Eucalypts have fuelled this country's mighty fires as readily as they've fuelled so many arguments about the ways they might be thought of – and yet they are as vulnerable as any other organism to the disruptions and threats of climate change.
This new edition of Gum, from award-winning author Ashley Hay, is a powerful and lyrical exploration of these transformative and still transforming trees.
Ashley Hay is a novelist and essayist whose awards include the Foundation for Australian Literary Studies' Colin Roderick Award, the NSW Premier's Literary Awards People's Choice, and the Bragg UNSW Press Prize for Science Writing. Her most recent novel is A Hundred Small Lessons. She is the editor of Griffith Review.
Reviews of the first edition:
"Ashley Hay's words fill you with the same kind of awe and wonder as a crushed gum leaf held to your nose: Gum is a heady, intoxicating and powerful exploration of the extraordinary history and relationships between people and the iconic eucalyptus. Since reading this book, the sight of gum trees has filled me with a new level of reverence and gratitude to know these sentient beings, and to know Ashley Hay's writing."
– Holly Ringland, author of The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart and co-presenter of Back to Nature
"Gum is one of my favourite books, I return to it often. Ashley Hay's curiosity ranges wide, her research skills run deep and she's a beautiful writer, thinker and storyteller. To have all these skills brought to bear upon a tree as deserving, as iconic, as the eucalyptus: well, I'm in heaven."
– Sophie Cunningham, author of City of Trees and Melbourne
"A classic of Australian environmental writing, Gum offers a startling new perspective on Australian history, suggesting powerful new ways of seeing the past and revealing the complex and often surprising ways trees shape both our physical and imaginary worlds."
– James Bradley, author of Ghost Species and Clade
"As this beautifully written and evocative book makes clear, we are tied to the gum tree in ways we can't even imagine."
– Eureka Street (2002)
"Ashley Hay writes with heart, head, energy and passion. She understands the natural world as we must all experience it, with deep love and respect. To preserve Country and to save ourselves we must live with and in a treed world. They are our champions, just as Ashley Hay is for them."
– Tony Birch, author of The White Girl and Dark as Last Night
"Hay brings these peculiarly Australian trees to life, describing a slice of our colonial history in the process."
– The Sydney Morning Herald (2002)
"Hay's Gum is like a gum itself: it is made in equal parts of light and leaf; of music and matter [...] [It is] a sturdy, shapely book of fact, animated by wonder."
– Mark Tredinnick, The Canberra Times (2002)
"The book's great strength comes from the unfolding sense of Australian national identity that somehow crystallizes around the eucalyptus tree."
– Tim Flannery, The New York Review of Books (2002)