The bunya tree (Araucaria bidwillii) is an ancient and enchanting Australian conifer with deep cultural significance to numerous First Nations communities. Forests of ancient conifers covered the supercontinent of Gondwana, which Australia broke away from about 50 million years ago.
A widely known relative of the bunya is the Wollemi pine (Wollemia nobilis). A small forest of these trees grow in a secluded canyon northwest of Sydney.
A remarkable species
Bunya trees grace rainforest remnants in southeast and northeast Queensland, and parks and gardens around the world. The trees have a striking outline and very prickly leaves.
Bunya trees are best known for their enormous cones of large, delicious seeds. The abundant harvest of these seeds provided a food source for many First Nations people, enabling gatherings for ceremonies, celebrations, celebrations, trading and deliberations.
Building bunya tree sculptures
To honour the significance and extraordinary character of bunya trees, staff are developing an exhibit for the Museum’s new environmental history gallery (which opens later this year).
Museum staff are working with representatives of the Kabi Kabi, Wakka Wakka and Jinibara communities, and with the Bunya Peoples Aboriginal Corporation.
The exhibit serves as a powerful introduction to the entire gallery. A striking feature will be a towering forest of bunya trees, 7.5 metres high. Mirrors on either side of the space will create an ‘infinity effect’, and visitors will see themselves intertwined with an endless forest of ancient giants.
To create the trees, Kabi Kabi Elder and bunya custodian Aunty Beverly Hand selected a particular bunya specimen near Jimna, in Kabi Kabi Country. With involvement from members of the Kabi Kabi community, renowned timber artist Ross Annels created a latex mould of the tree’s trunk. He is using the mould to cast sections which will comprise the trunks of each tree.
Bianca Beetson, an established Kabi Kabi artist, is working with members of the Wakka Wakka and Jinibara communities to create artworks on long panels of golden bunya timber, which will be incorporated into each trunk. Across the ceiling, a graphic showing the canopy of a bunya forest will complete the artful picture.
An immersive, multisensory experience
The Museum is also working with Leah Barclay, an especially talented acoustic ecologist, to record the internal sounds of the bunya tree selected by Aunty Beverly Hand, and other sounds from bunya forests, including human voices. These sounds will be incorporated into the ambient audio within the display space. They will also be transformed into vibrations, emanating from the bunya timber panels, to be felt by visitors.
We hope that visitors will be enchanted by their encounters with the bunya sculptures, lovingly made by those who cherish this remarkable tree.
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