The ferns are lush, but it there something missing?

I met some Germans on this hike, students from Bavaria. It was their first time in Australia and their first time in the Blue Mountains.

‘There are lots of forests in Germany,’ I suggested.

‘Yes,’ they said, ‘but they are not smelling like this, or sounding like this.’

I was glad they were enjoying it. I certainly was. Does anything smell better than eucalyptus after rain? Do any bird calls sound better than the clear notes of those bell miners? Yet I’ve also met people who hated the Australian bush.

I once walked in the Blue Mountains with an English family, recent arrivals in Australia. It was hot, we were all tired, the track was steep and the youngest child had to be carried. They were polite enough to pretend to be having a good time, but when I got to know them better, my friend was able to explain what he really thought of the walk that day.

On first impression, he found the Australian bush harsh, threatening, unattractive and grey compared to European forest. Eucalyptus trees had too little foliage for their size, and their peeling bark made them look damaged. There were few colourful flowers on native Australian shrubs. There was nowhere to sit and relax, for fear of planting your backside on something thorny, prickly or deadly poisonous.

And evergreen forest was boring because it never changed with the seasons.

Do these trees look straggly and sick to you?

I felt similar alienation when I first visited North America.

I was driven up to Banff in the mighty Canadian Rockies on a quick day trip from Calgary. The Rockies seemed too big to be true, like some oversize film set thrown up as a backdrop to a tourist town. Pointed conifers reflected by a lake looked almost kitsch, like illustrations on the cover of a Sunday school textbook. It took some time to get used to it.

In Californian redwood forest I’m impressed by the size of the giant trees, of course, but they have a musty, thick smell that never quite lets me get comfortable.

Tropical forest in Asia can be lush, exotic and exciting, but I’ve seldom found it beautiful. Perhaps that’s because I find the humidity oppressive.

European landscape is easier to like straight away. I suspect that we Australians of European descent have a sort of race memory of green fields with stone walls, woods of oak and beech, purple heather, field and coppice, all that stuff. I loved it the moment I saw it.

I can imagine that Australian bush takes some getting used to, but if you look for details in it there is much to marvel at.

Angophora costata - Smooth-barked apple or Sydney Red Gum.

Lichen on rock.

Old Man Banskia. Not the most colourful flowers, perhaps, but you have to love the shape.

The Federal Pass track.

Look at the colour, and the size, of those cliffs!

What do you think? Have other non-Australians taken some time to get to like our bush, or perhaps never come to terms with it?

Are there other beautiful places in the world which we Australians will never appreciate the way locals do?


Filed under Hiking, Travel-Australia


  1. Jeroen

    Hi Richard,
    Interesting reading. Thanks for so many great stories about your adventures.
    I loved the Australian bush straight away when I arrived, and still do. It is for sure much more exciting than anything I’ve ever seen in Holland, though there are some nice forest areas there as well. I also love the redwood and sequoia forests in California, the massive woodlands in Pennsylvania, Lake District forests in the UK, tropical and mosquito invested swamp forests in Florida, etc. so maybe I’m just a forest lover in general. Your English friend on the other hand sounds more like a park lover.


    • Glad you like our bush, Jeroen.

      I love the man-made Dutch landscape, but I can’t get as excited as some do about the dunes and beaches of the Wadden Islands or the heath and forest in Drenthe.

      I may also have a problem with Florida’s mosquito (and alligator!) infested swamp. I must give it a try some time.

      • Hello Jeroen,
        I live in Minnesota, A state in the USA
        we have grasslands and a mix of deciduous and coniferous forests, in the spring, everything turns vibrant green and the air is very wet. In the summer, we have large rainstorms, and some places are comparable to a savanna.

        One time in the Autumn, My family and I were driving up north and we were going through mixed deciduous conifer forest, it was rainy and cool as well. The combination of red leaves, conifers, and light rain made for gorgeous scenery.

        There are two things I complain about with Minnesota

        1. occasional dry periods in the summer make plants lose their color, although dry periods can be followed by wet periods, which turn the plants green again, Last summer in fact, June and July was drier than usual (summer months in the northern hemisphere), Then it rained a ton in August and the plants turned lush green

        2. My last complaint was small, but this one we face most years, The winters here can be biting cold, and the only green in the winter is the occasional conifers.

        I haven’t been to any far away place yet, But I will be going to Arizona next spring, and that is just two different biomes of the earth, with still many more to explore. I have yet to make judgements on our planet’s biomes

  2. I love the Australia bush, particularly the smell, there is nothing better. I love the peeling bark and the gorgeous gum trees and the banksia. I also love the spring in Europe, something we just don’t see in Queensland. How lucky I am to be able to enjoy both.

  3. That was such an insightful post, Richard. I have never been to Australia, so I cannot compare your forests with our local ones. I have however been to Europe – Germany and Ireland – and agree with your observations that there must be some sort of ancient genetic memory of the type of lush countryside one gets there, because I immediately felt at home.

    South Africa has a range of forest environments, from pine tree plantations where pretty much nothing else lives in the undergrowth, to very dense riverine forests with lots of moisture and fungi and mosses, to more shrubby and dry savannah-like country with thorn trees. Although I know what all these smell like, I cannot compare them easily to forests in other countries because I have not seen much else.

    • I haven’t been to South Africa, Reggie, though I’ve seen a bit of other parts of Africa.

      The few times I’ve been out in wilder areas, the animals dominated my attention of course. A river safari in Uganda was a fantastic experience, though the landscape was the thorny savannah you describe. Not particularly beautiful to my inexperienced eyes, until the elephants appeared!

  4. I think the reason that I’ve never really warmed to Melbourne is that I arrived there after two weeks in Cairns, the Daintree, Alice, and Uluru. The trip had started in Sydney, where we toured out to the Blue Mountains. And then suddenly to be in Melbourne andout of the bush was just wrong. The only thing I hated were the flies. Still do.

    • Yes, Will, those Victorian flies can pick you up and fly off with you – much worse than any I’ve found in Sydney. We were down there at Christmas, however, and for some reason there were very few around.

      And the forest of the Dandenong Ranges just outside Melbourne is some of Australia’s most beautiful, I think.

  5. An interesting post, Richard, raising some curious questions about where our taste for countryside and contours actually comes from. I suspect it is in our genes and acquired while we are growing up. So, for me, it is the Rockies that seem “right,” and not the Dandenongs. Still, I can appreciate the beauty of same, as well as the Redwoods of California and the great trees of Australia’s Southwest. Come to think of it, why am I living in a city?

  6. boromirandkermit

    G’day Richard,
    We have always thought the Australian Bush was something special at our house. I grew up bushwalking through the Dandenongs, so it will always be special to me.
    I found your blog while searching for a good photo of ferns in the Australian Bush and I was wondering if I could ask permission to use the top photo of this post (the one with the ferns) as the background for an image in a rulebook for a boardgame I’m working on? (its about creatures that are found by a small boy in the Australian Bush and the top photo is perfect for what I was after).
    Please just let me know what you think / how much it would cost etc…
    Thanks for your time mate. šŸ™‚

  7. Pingback: inspiration | today I did this for me

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