Listening to the Wise Woman’s call: healing for jarrah trees

Listening to the Wise Woman’s call: healing for jarrah trees

Book review of “Shades of Green: finding a middle path through the forest”

I’m sitting in the bush reading “Shades of Green: Finding a middle path through the forest”, the final opus of Chrissy Sharp, co-founder of Balingup’s Golden Valley Tree Park. A friend and I snuck away not long ago to a quiet campsite in the south-west of Western Australia, the very part of the world that Chrissy advocates for in her work. It feels apt to be reading this book here.



What can we learn from author Chrissy Sharp, who dedicated her life to study, and advocacy for our south west forests?

Interweaving stories from her life and career as an activist and Green’s Member of the WA Parliament, “Shades of Green” walks us through the present state of our jarrah forests, extending from near Boorloo Boodja (Perth area) across to Kincannup Kinjarling (Albany area). I’ve learnt a lot from Chrissy’s book; it’s powerfully resonant, presenting complex environmental issues in ways I easily absorbed and understood.

In this special blog for International Women’s Day, I’ll share the key concepts I picked up reading “Shades of Green: finding a middle path through the forest”, and personal reflections.

The call to action is made all the more powerful given sadly, Chrissy has now passed on. In its essence, it calls us to steward young regrowth forests. Heal our jarrah.

Chrissy’s call to heal jarrah, and steward South Western Australia’s regrowth bushlands

Chrissy dedicated her life to study and advocacy for forests. Her most pressing concern, voiced throughout her book, is for areas of bush that have already been logged. It’s the regrowth bushland that direly needs our collective care and attention.

Most of us from this part of the world have a relationship with the jarrah tree, whether we’re conscious of it, or not. And given how far jarrah travelled, many people around the world will have benefited from the gifts of this timber, too.

Where it’s been logged, the bush is growing back, yes. But it’s growing back in a very different way to how it grew prior to the disturbance of colonisation and industry.

So what’s the problem? Here’s a few key points from the book.

  1. Regrowth stands are dense – too dense, like thickets
  2. This makes growth stall – there isn’t enough light and water to go around
  3. Drier, dense bush is likely to burn hotter and faster (increased wildfire and firestorm risk)
  4. Water stress is compounded by our drying climate
  5. Bauxite mining – what I learnt deeply disturbed me. Best read in depth in the book.

Previously logged areas are growing back, but they’re so densely treed that growth is stalling. Water stress is increasing in these areas, in particular, as the young trees in the over-populated bushland compete for declining reserves.

Competing for water, and light, these dry bush thickets have greater potential to fuel wildfires, and even fire storms. A fire storm can occur when a wildfire is burning so hot that it starts to create its own weather system. Reading about this gave me the final kicker I needed to ring up my local bushfire brigade and offer to volunteer.

How can we respond to the need to steward regrowth jarrah forests?

To address regrowth density and its associated issues, in Shades of Green we learn about “ecological thinning”, which is a much more difficult challenge than one might initially think.

When cut, jarrah trunks usually regrow, “coppicing” into multiple trunks. You’ve cut the tree to thin the bushland out, but if left unmanaged, in time, you’ll have as many as four trunks where you had one.

Next time you’re walking in the bush, have a look. You’ll probably see coppicing jarrah trees. This is why follow up, long term management is needed, including the use and application of herbicide to prevent stump regrowth (DBCA).

The role of herbicide in jarrah forest ecological thinning

This is about nuance, as we learn in the book with Chrissy’s ever-evolving approach to forest advocacy, from her early days as an activist, and later, as she lived into her influential role in politics.

There’s no easy answer, and that seems to be part of this “middle path” contemplation too. With regard to herbicide use in ecological thinning the jarrah, I can’t see any alternative. It seems to be a necessary, transitory tool whilst the forest is tended and reshaped, in order to create the strongest possible foundation for its yet precarious future.

The role of fire in bushland and forest stewardship

By the time they’re about three or four years old, jarrah seedlings have developed a lignotuber that enables them to persist through both cool and hot burns.

Traditionally, the Noongar people managed the forest and the jarrah for its particular traits and tendencies, with knowledge honed over tens of thousands of years. Their regular, cool burns thinned some seedling trees before the lignotuber developed enough to assure their livelihood through fire.

As a result of this nuanced stewardship, my migrant settler ancestors arrived in Manjimup to tall, well-spaced forests featuring trees of all ages. There are still some old people around here who remember being able to gallop horses through – hard to imagine if you’ve spent much time in regrowth bushland. Of course, we don’t have that now.

What we have, Chrissy warns, resembles something in great danger of not surviving at all. So what is being done?

2024-2033 Western Australian Forest Management Plan

The 2024-2033 Western Australian Forest Management Plan closed for public comment in late 2022. I wonder how well the government will resource the need for ‘ecological thinning’ on a vast scale. Is what they propose to do going to be anywhere near enough?

Some say forests should be ‘left alone’ for conservation, but I don’t support this approach. After reading Chrissy’s book, I find myself listening, as she suggests, for the path of active stewardship. This is the mindset I bring to disturbed, ‘cultured’ land around human settlements and farms.

For our southwest forests, I’d like to see collaborative stewardship. An active management, in which all community members take responsibility, in some way or another, for the future of our trees, and the broader ecological functions of our forests.

Walking together, finding the middle path

Written in an engaging, conversational tone, this book is not for the light-hearted however. Presenting challenges hundreds of years in the making, which don’t have any readily apparent easy solutions, it presents a conundrum. And it is the clear facing of this complex issue that appears to have pushed Chrissy to change as a person, to find the capacity for holding greater tensions, while at the same time, continuing to do everything she could to help.

Chrissy’s life story affirms the need to walk together, despite our differences. In amongst all of the things that we need to do in our lives, Chrissy found her imperfect balancing act, attending to her family, her homeland farm, and to matters beyond her own immediate needs.

I invite you to consider what really matters, beyond conventional notions of immediate human family, and needs. Uncover that which is meaningful for you and the greater web of life. Let this inform a way of living into reciprocity with our place.

For Chrissy, it is the jarrah. And certainly for me, and for many of us in this bio-region. From what I’ve learnt in “Shades of Green”, her lifelong engagement with her passion projects bore fruit in ways well beyond what she might have initially conceived.

Chrissy didn’t do it alone, and we don’t have to either. Together, heeding words of guiding elders like Chrissy, we must continue on to discern a middle path toward earth regeneration.

We too can make our way through the forest, knowing giants, real and metaphoric, stand with us as we go.

Buy  “Shades of Green: finding a middle path through the forest”   (Vivid Publishing)

For more on south west Australian forests go to:

Forests For Life (South West of Western Australia)

Forest Management Plan 2024-2033 (Western Australia)

South East Region Conservation Inc. (New South Wales, Australia)


Personal reflections on my relationship with jarrah

Inspired by “Shades of Green: finding a middle path through the forest”


What do our trees need from us all now? This is a threshold, a window in time. Chrissy’s book “Shades of Green” urges us to look up right now, and listen. When we’re with bushland across the south west from Boorloo boodja (Perth area), and down through to Menang Country of Kincannup-Kinjarling (Albany), we might ask: what is this present time, and place asking of us?

Reading this book, I’m being stretched larger. I keep looking up at the remnant bushland to the west of Stellar Violets, to the trees. I reflect on how much the jarrah had given me through my life, how jarrah has kept me warm. It’s always been the fuel for our hearth fires. It’s the dining table at the house I grew up in. It’s at the heart of our lives.

I imagine the feel of jarrah in many houses I’ve lived in, all over the south west. The warmth from the woodfire, the creaking boards and smooth finish underfoot, connecting the feel of one house to another, providing a supportive foundation for many of us.

We know the feeling of a cold breeze whistling up through gappy floorboards in winter. Home smells like woodsmoke, and we can hear the rhythmic axe, we’ve been at the chopping block, swinging it back above the shoulder, bringing it down for an easy, satisfying split. Splitting, and burning dry jarrah, it’s easy. It feels good. And it’s quick, compared to how long it takes for a jarrah tree to grow. And that’s sad, when we start to feel into the timescales. It took thousands of years to become what it was, and within 200 years or so, it’s almost irreparable.

So how can we balance all this? Where is this ‘middle path’ Chrissy calls us to walk?

An old sentry jarrah tree in remnant bushland on our farm ‘made itself known’ to us for the first time last year. Others, we know by their stumps alone. Somehow this one escaped the axe, remaining hidden until an old local tipped us off about its presence. I went looking for it early one morning. After circling around for a while, I found the awesome old one. And it’s not just awe I feel, but grief too, for what’s lost. That there are so few like this one, now.

As Chrissy remarked, people tend to be seduced by the beauty and grandeur of karri forests. The jarrah and marri on the other hand, might be more easily overlooked. ‘Scrubby bushland’ is what we drive past on the way to ‘somewhere better’.

Most of my generation have barely seen an old growth jarrah tree, let alone stood in awe among a vast stand of all ages. Shifting baseline syndrome abounds: incremental change is slow enough such that it isn’t noticed as one generation changes to the next. It’s as though that ‘scrubby bushland’ was always like that. Disturbing, realising this.

My ancestors came here five generations ago, when old growth jarrah is all they would have seen. Since then, much has changed, and been taken away from this place. My people have taken, and taken, from the land in order to make lives of a certain kind here. The jarrah has been taken, sold, and sent all over the world. There’s an obvious debt to this land, and these forests. In a way, I’m living off the back of those fallen trees. All that heartwood.

What would it take to repair the over-consumption, and ecological destruction?

What would give our forests the best chance of continuing on, even if already changed irrevocably, into a drying climate?

The final paragraph of the afterword in Shades of Green had me break down in tears,

“The best she could hope for is that the words she left will foster healing for the jarrah.”

Something there was felt in the depths of my soul. “Words… foster healing for jarrah.” Chrissy has lived her life, and though I didn’t have the chance to know her, I feel how much heart she gave during this book. Her inspired life story is a gift that needs to talked about, kept alive, and carried on.

I’m not yet sure how I will carry forth this wisdom into advocacy for change but know this: Chrissy’s wisdom, and nuanced perspectives have lit a candle for the middle path in me that will be carried till my last breath.

Buy  “Shades of Green: finding a middle path through the forest”   (Vivid Publishing)

Golden Valley Tree Park, and the Balingup Small Tree Farm

Chrissy was instrumental in the creation of the Golden Valley Tree Park, an outstanding collection of trees from all over the world located in the town of Balingup, south of Perth. Her husband Andrew, and family continue to run the Balingup Small Tree Farm, from where we’ve purchased many strong young trees that are beginning to flourish at Stellar Violets.


How to hunt a truffle in France (and it’s not what you think)

How to hunt a truffle in France (and it’s not what you think)

Truffles in Manjimup are hunted with the help of a specially trained canine. Sometimes they don’t make the cut: it’s true, dogs sometimes flunk out of truffle school. There are tales too, of truffle pigs “helping out” with harvest in Europe, sometimes taking out truffles, or worse, a finger in their enthusiasm.

I wonder though, how many people have heard of other ways to sniff out a truffle in time?

In a far flung French village called Mens I had the good chance to attend an open day for a nearby eco-centre, Terre Vivante. After arriving, I wandered the quiet streets and stopped to photograph a quaint little rose garden.

“Vous aimez les roses?”, a voice called from a balcony above.

The voice was Michel, a retired postman who turned out to have a passion for restoring antique radios… and hunting truffles. Cheerily serving me “apero” upstairs, he chatted away about life in Mens. Together with our drinks came dainty little radishes sautéed in butter, straight from the potager beside his roses. I could tell there was more. He leaned in to tell me the big secrete.

Michel planted a trufferie nearby, he whispered with a sideways glance, 18 years ago. It was 12 years before his first truffle formed. That’s a long wait, Michel. Without a truffle dog, or pig, how did you hunt les truffes?

He leaned closer. In that part of France, Michel whispered, there is a very special truffle fly (Suilla pallida). It senses just when the truffles are ripe, and descends to lay its eggs. If you see the fly, you know there are truffles, Michel explained gleefully, swigging the last of his little glass of porto.

The sacred truffle fly… best not be swatting that one!

What else will we learn of dark and dreamy truffle secrets come June 26, at our Pop Up Degustation Lunch? I’ve no doubt Fervor’s  Paul “Yoda” Iskov have some truffly tricks up his sleeve.

Highlights from Girls’ Trip, helping girls connect, have fun and grow

Highlights from Girls’ Trip, helping girls connect, have fun and grow

[Girls Trip] helps encourage creativity, and a broader range of thinking for parents and daughters. It raises confidence in both as well. – Linda Russell, mother

What do you long for, for a girl you care about?  That she has confidence to speak up, and show up, in whatever way is true for her? That she discovers, expresses, and hones her special gifts? That she’ll be ‘ok’, as we live into the global ‘whole health’ crisis we’re experiencing?

On Girls’ Trip, using the fruits of five years Placemaking efforts, we brought together mentors, teachers and artists for girls as they enter that transformational time into early adolescence.

Girls Trip introduced my daughter to new ideas and positive role models. Coming together with like-minded people with … the positive intention of girls flourishing helped increase her sense of being connected, supported and cared for. – Melissa North, mother

WA artist Lori Pensini a national finalist with her “stellar violets” portrait featuring Lucinda

WA artist Lori Pensini a national finalist with her “stellar violets” portrait featuring Lucinda

| by Sonia Kohlbacher |

A Western Australian artist known for her breathtaking portraits of women and stunning landscape portrayals has been shorted-listed for one of the most prestigious women’s art prizes in Australia. 


Lori Pensini’s delicate portrait of Lucinda Giblett was a finalist in the Portia Geach Memorial Art Prize, often referred to as the Archibald Prize for women.

Painted in her Boyup Brook farm studio, Pensini’s piece is an intimate portrait that simultaneously reflects on both women’s ties to the land that has mothered generations of their families, and womanhood. 

“I never used to think what I did was important, until I started putting it down on canvas,” she said. 

“I haven’t always been taken seriously as an artist, and have had to repeat that what I do is not a hobby or craft. 

“It’s especially challenging for female artists because we have to wear multiple hats through life.”

Pensini is one of only three Western Australian artists who have made the final round of this year’s Portia Geach Memorial Art Prize. 

Her work, ‘stellar violets’, is heavily steeped in the memory of her mother, and offers an insight into the intricate relationship she shares with Ms Giblett, founder of the Manjimup-based Stellar Violets social enterprise. 

“When I was painting, I thought about the women we could possibly make a difference to, but it went further than that, it went back to the women who made a difference to us, to our mothers,” Pensini said. 

“I spent most of the time painting and singing old songs that my mother used to sing to me.”

One of those songs was Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colours. 

“In the song they were very poor, and the mother would sew patches onto her daughter’s cloak,” Pensini explained. 

“Other kids laughed at it, but the girl saw it as a coat of riches, as every stitch was sewn with the love of her mother.”

In her portrait, Pensini has captured Ms Giblett wearing a cloak of carefully stitched together rosellas, a nod to their rural roots and the strong countrywomen who came before them. 

 “The birds are stitched together with memories of being shaped by our mothers,” Ms Pensini added. 

“So it’s an intrinsic connection, and that came through a lot.”

The Portia Geach Memorial Art Prize was established to support female artists, and was shown at the S. H. Ervin Gallery in Sydney.

Local news article

Fervor Fever | Pop Up Truffle Degustation in a secret garden

Fervor Fever | Pop Up Truffle Degustation in a secret garden

Truffle season in Manjimup has begun as the last colours of autumn fall to the ground. There’s a kindness in sporadic winter sunlight, relief in the rain. A fire in the corner crackles and pops. Our wheelbarrow is full of promised wood, and us? We’re sweeping the hearth in preparation for an 8-course Truffle Degustation with a special guest chef at the end of this month: Paul Iskov, and Fervor.

There’s a lot of talk about “WA’s hottest chef” at the moment, and I’m glad. Paul’s a lovely, down to earth guy, who happens to be doing extraordinary things with foods most people haven’t heard of. Paul forages for ingredients that our very land has been offering up for thousands of years. We met last year at a Fervor pop-up dinner in Busselton, where I had a chance to speak, and also, bring some apples to the menu. The smell of saltbush recalled summer time running through dunes to the beach. With Fervor and fire, saltbush scented memories became dainty crisps, paired with a native lime spliced gin aperitif. Nothing less than of my whole childhood in a moment (minus the gin!).

The Fervor experience is unlike any other long table. Why? Paul Iskov’s an artist, attuned to his craft, going after what moves him. That’s why Fervor is so special, and inimitable. For our first pop-up dining event at Stellar Violets, this will be an intimate event. A gathering for a few, in a special setting we’re yet to share with the world. It’s hard to think of better people to work with than Paul, Steph and team.

Our story began in 2012 here in hometown Manjimup, when I brought together a few friends to found Stellar Violets. Our vision is to create an arts & cultural hub, a place where people to connect to food provenance and the land. Working alongside my Dad in his apple orchard business, I saw how little was commonly understood about apples. Few people who called really knew what time of year we picked fruit.

Journalists would ask to photograph apples on trees in the Spring – blossom time!

I saw this as a symptom of a larger problem. People are too far from their food. It’s not enough to buy food in a local store, or even to follow the catch-cry “know your farmer”. If we’re going to sort out our imbalanced environment, we need to walk again where the trees grow, sit by the vegetables, harvest by hand, and taste it all fresh-picked. The way we used to…

As we grow closer to understanding the impact of what we’re choosing to eat, so we begin to explore our modern relationship to the land. The more I learn, the more I care. I want to look after the land for future generations. I want people to taste what we taste, the real deal. Listen to the land, please.

And when the land says, dig truffles… we heartily heed the call, of course!

Last Spring, Paul called in to Stellar Violets with Jess Shaver to forage in our garden. We found garlic scapes a-plenty. “Scapes” are the emergent flower bud, traditionally cut off to direct energy back toward the maturing bulb. Scapes to harvest, young broad beans, warrigal greens (native spinach), and some lovely edible blooms. We chatted about the ins and outs of growing food; he has a number of edible native crops on his Busselton property. I seeded the idea for a pop up that day, and here we are.

Paul’s returning to Stellar Violets as part of 2016’s Truffle Kerfuffle Festival, to serve an 8-course truffle degustation lunch, fused with native flavours, locals foods and fresh bits from our garden. Wine is sponsored by Ferngrove with cool climate whites and reds sourced from their nearby Frankland vineyard.