Posted on July 10, 2007
A couple weeks ago I picked up a trailer-load of mango tree wood from a nearby property recently sold. It was destined for the tip so, not taking kindly to waste of perfectly good wood, I offered to hook up the guy's trailer to my vehicle and take it home ... unload it and return the trailer. He gladly accepted the offer.
Mango trees are not endemic to Australia. They were introduced about 200 or so years ago by Afghan and Indian camel drivers brought from their homelands to assist in the exploration and colonisation of Australia. Because much of the inland consists of desert, camels were an obvious choice of many explorers due to their ability to survive many days without drinking and also their great load carrying capacity ... as compared with horses. Later, the camel teams also proved invaluable as pack animals in cartage of resources and supplies to remote outback communities before wagon teams and roads reached them.
Along with the camel teams ... came mangos. I expect that seeds for planting were brought by the cameliers ... but also, the sea passage from India took several weeks and, mangos would have been one of the staple foods brought along to feed the animals enroute. It is logically suspected that seeds sat in the intestinal tracts of the camels and were excreted once on land.
Furthermore, mangos became a bit of a delicacy. They were exotic to the early settlers who hailed mostly from the British Isles and western Europe. Whilst many had probably seen or tasted them in homeland markets, they didn't have access to mangos actually growing on trees ... in their hundreds. So, the mango tree spread rapidly as a highly prized fruit tree for planting in the early settlements that sprouted along Australia's east coast.
Such was the popularity of the mango tree that, in all the older communities around the country, there would barely be a back-yard without at least one mango tree. Also, along most of the early settler roads and migration tracks, long disappeared settlements, out-posts and horse stage changes can be located by their concentrations of huge old mango trees ... living well past their expected lifetimes and gnarled and defiant against encroaching scrubs ... and the onslaught of human habitation.
Mango trees will grow almost anywhere there is water. While they won't grow on bare rock, if they fall in a crevice and there's water, a mango tree will grow ... and eventually split the rock anyway. They grow quickly and become large stout trees with fat trunks and spreading crowns. Mango trees are absolute masters at swallowing up anything that contacts them ... fence posts, nails, bolts, fencing wire. Many old mango trees are cut down and, much to the dismay of the chainsaw operator, have a steel fence post or a roll of fence wire buried deep inside.
The back-yard mango tree is every kids playground ... bested only by, perhaps, lychee trees. The bifurcation of crown trunks and branches create endless possibilities for tree climbing and the low angle of the spread provides perfect bases for the ubiquitous tree house ... which every kid wants. This same tangled mess of branches also means lots of crutches and forks ... which, in turn, means lots of potential figure wood for someone like me.
So, I picked up this mango tree.
I had several small projects already in mind. My friend Franziska in Switzerland has commissioned two small functional bowls ... which she intends to eat from on an every day basis. There is a growing trend back toward tactile hand-made eating utensils and receptacles as people look for an alternative to the mass-produced plastic of which our world is inundated at present. I also intend to cut some small boards for utensils ... which will eventually show up on Forest Treasures.
To date, I've shaped Franziska's two bowls, and also a couple more small rounded ones. One has a large blaze of crutch figuring across it's center. I've also shaped a small sculptural bowl which is more similar to my current style.
Because the tree wasn't all that old, the wood is a light creamy colour ... quite nice really. I suspect it will darken a little as it ages. It's very wet and reasonably difficult to work as a result but, I wanted to get a couple pieces out before I started losing some of the large pieces due to cracking in our dry winter air.
Not far from here, a neighbour has several really old trees that he wants to cut down, so they may yield some interesting material. More on that as and when it happens. Also, I'll post some photographs before long of some of the initial rough pieces mentioned above.