Many of us as children learned the words to a fun song, “Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree, merry, merry king of the bush is he. Laugh, Kookaburra, laugh, Kookaburra, how gay your life must be!”
The song originated from a contest in 1934 organized by the Girl Guides’ Association of Victoria, Australia. It was penned by Marion Sinclair, a former teacher, poet, and composer from Werribee, Victoria, who was very familiar with gum trees, and most specifically a special one.
Glenelg’s History and its Gum Tree
Gum trees are smooth-barked trees, members of the Eucalyptus family, and native to Australia. It was under the shade of one particularly large, bent over gum tree that in December 1836, a proclamation was read establishing South Australia as a British province.
Ships under the direction of Colonial Secretary Robert Gouger had landed on that hot December day with settlers developing a makeshift camp, and Rear-Admiral Sir John Hindmarsh declaring that proclamation. Hindmarsh was named governor of the province. That gum tree resided in Glenelg, recognized today as the oldest European settlement on mainland South Australia. It is located along the southern coast, about a 25-minute drive from the city of Adelaide.
The old gum tree is gone, having died out in the 1900s. Attempts had been made to preserve the tree including its base being surrounded by cement in hopes of keeping it from collapsing. It wasn’t until 1963, the tree’s decayed outer shell was encased with cement and plastic.
This area of Glenelg is now a park known as the Old Gum Tree Preserve. It is open daily for visitors with all hometown park facilities including picnic areas, BBQ pits, playgrounds, and a memorial to the old gum tree and its part in Australia’s history.
There are approximately 900 species of eucalyptus in Australian forests. The historic gum tree is believed to have been a red gum. The kookaburra is a member of the kingfisher family and native to Australia and New Guinea. Also known as the Laughing Kookaburra, its laughing cackle can best be heard in the early morning or evening before nightfall.