Book Reviews

Forest Bountiful: Settlers' Use of Australian Plants


by Penny Watsford

Published in 2010 by Nullum Publications
130 pages soft cover 

Reviewed by Jan Sked

I found this new book from Penny Watsford very interesting to read, particularly as I have always had an avid interest in the culinary and medicinal properties of our native plants and other uses to which they may be put.

The focus of the book is the Tweed Valley and surrounding areas in northern New South Wales and south-east Queensland. Much of the information has been obtained from interviews with long-term residents of the Tweed Valley, as well as from published and unpublished documents and books. The author has not written about timber trees, as these are well documented in other publications, but has concentrated on the non-timber aspects of the plants of this “biodiversity hotspot”.

The book begins with a brief overview of the discovery and early settlement of the Tweed Valley, then moves on to the reminiscences of some of the older people in the area on their early childhood in the bush, the various wild foods they discovered, the interesting plants they encountered, the games they played with the plants.

Another chapter looks at the interests that others had in the vegetation - amateur botanists, horticulturists, artists, gardeners - and the uses to which they put these interests. The Acclimatisation Society, which had gardens in the Pine Rivers Shire in the early days, is given a mention; so, too, the Queensland Field Naturalists’ Club. Early attempts to protect the forests is discussed, laws that were passed and National Parks that were formed.

Penny’s research has delved into the early economic uses for the native plants, such as grasses for fodder; grass trees to make varnish; various plants for tanning; macadamia nuts (with a mention here of Walter Rollo Petrie, from North Pine (now Petrie), just north of Brisbane, and his experiments with this species); walking stick palms used to provide walking sticks for wounded diggers from the First World War; export of plants overseas; and various other interesting uses, including tourism.

The final chapters deal with the domestic uses of the local plants - housing, furnishings and implements, food sources and medicinal properties.

The book concludes with an extensive list of references and an index.

A very innovative idea used throughout is the plant tables at the end of each section which summarise the plants mentioned in that particular section. These are listed first by the name used in the text followed by the current botanical and common names. Notes at the end of each section give the source of each item quoted.

The book is illustrated throughout with black and white photographs, a couple of coloured ones and line drawings. Margaret Elliott, who has collaborated with Penny on previous publications, has provided most of the drawings.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in pioneering and natural history, not only of the Tweed Valley and surrounding area, but of Australia in general.

Price:   $20.00  + postage - 1 book = $5.00  2-8 books = $10.00

Cheques, money orders and direct debit accepted - please email for bank details. 

Available from:

Nullum Publications
PO Box 1152, Murwillumbah, NSW. 2484

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