The Wattle King!
As the wheel turns….The beautiful Sun Lord, the Wattle King returns to the bush…the waxing forces are emerging on the land early this year…as the quickening has started, the sap is stirring….as we tread the compass towards Candlemass….the Wassail Bowl now empty, we are turning from the dark tide, celebrating the longer days and the shorter nights….the first signs of this particular wattle (Acacia longiflolia) in flower is a ‘bush calendar’ meaning to the Indigenous people that there is plenty of mullet for fishing when this wattle appears!
Scientific name, Acacia longiflolia.
Acacia is derived from the Greek name akakia, which refers to a thorny wattle that grows on the Nile River in Egypt.
Longifolia is a Latin word, which means ‘long leaves’.
The plant is from the family Fabaceae – Mimosoideae. There are more than 950 wattle species in Australia. This Wattle is also known as Sydney Wattle.
WITH THE INVASION INTO ABORIGINAL LANDS
The common name ‘Wattle’ was first used by the early British settlers. Wattle was the name of the smaller flexible branches woven in a frame to form a panel used in Anglo-saxon building techniques. The early settlers found that the Acacia was perfect to use for the ancient building method and so it was soon referred to as ‘Wattle’. It has been suggested that the Australian Acacia tree was dubbed Wattle as it provided ideal branches for forming the wattles in this method of housing.
THE GOLD RUSH
The gold rush was a time of opportunism when people came from far and wide to stake their claim. Upon arrival the dreams of riches would give way to the reality of the harsh conditions on the goldfields and the necessity of housing.
In the beginning, many miners erected tents or open bark-shelters – a fast, cheap and portable way to live. Some merchants even made a livelihood from selling tents on the fields.
WATTLE & DAUB
Those who stayed longer and brought their families along sometimes built their own homes made from materials found in the local area. The most common of these was the wattle and daub house – a method of building dating back to Anglo Saxon times.
These ancient Wattle Constructions were built over 3,400 years ago, the next time you see a wattle tree, consider its history and connection with our Ancestors, both here and overseas.
A BIT OF HISTORY
The early British settlers constructed wattle and daub buildings using the branches of the Black Wattle (Callicoma serratifolia).
Early Australian colonial settlers cultivated Wattle and used the bark to tan hides, the tannin from the bark was known for its antiseptic properties.
In 1901, with Federation, Australians looked to native plants to build the nation’s identity.
Archibald Campbell instilled pride in the wattle, and set up Wattle Day in New South Wales in September 1909. This day of celebration was soon taken up in Victoria and Queensland and now the 1st of September is Wattle Day.
Golden Wattle (Acacia pycnantha) was declared the floral emblem of Australia in 1912 and appeared on the coat of arms.
The first Australian stamp with an illustration of wattle was the 1913 penny red stamp.
American adventurer Gus Peirce arrived in NSW’s Hill End in 1871. He described the process of wattle-and-daub construction in his book Knocking About – Being Some Adventures of Augustus Baker Peirce in Australia.
“However, as I had been earning some twelve or fifteen pounds daily in surveying and draughting the various mining claims about me, I decided to remain. I built a three-room wattle-and-daub house and sent for my family.
This house was constructed in regulation style, without sills, by simply driving saplings into the ground at regular intervals, on either side of which were fastened the wattles or split limbs, forming horizontal half-rounds, the space between them being filled in solid with a mixture of earth, water, and grass. The roof was made of saplings and gum bark, and a chimney erected of slabs and finished with a barrel. A trench was then dug around the hut to drain off the water, and the new residence was complete. For interior decoration I used such portions of the Artemus Ward panorama* as had not been water-soaked; Brigham Young** and his numerous progeny gazed down from the bedroom ceiling, keeping watch like guardian angels; and different views of Salt Lake around the walls enlarged the perspectives of the different rooms.
When everything was ready Mrs. Peirce and the children came up from Sydney, and we settled down to domestic life in a dwelling which thousands of cockatoos never allowed to become lonesome.”
After eight months, Peirce moved on, selling his house to the local blacksmith.
The Yellow Wattle is native to the east coast of Australia, from Victoria to Queensland, and grows in different types of vegetation — in heathlands, woodlands and forests, often near water in creek beds or swamplands.
Because it grows so easily and has such bright, abundant flowers, it is now being grown around the world, in South Africa, New Zealand, Colombia, Uruguay, Argentina, Indonesia, Israel, Spain, Portugal, Mauritius and the USA.
The Yellow Wattle can grow to be a large shrub or even a small tree 6-8m tall, but it is usually a bushy shrub, and lives between 10-20 years.
Its bark is grey and smooth.
Yellow Wattle leaves are not really leaves, they are actually flat bright to dark green stalks called petiole. They are flat, long and thin, about 20mm wide and 5-20cm long, and narrow towards the tip. On most plants leaves grow from petiole, but not on the Wattles, they don’t actually have any leaves.
The Yellow Wattle has plenty of flowers, which grow from early winter to early spring. They are bright yellow and are long and thin and rod-shaped as shown above in my hand.
I’ve been taught that these flowers should never be brought inside the home by a law/lore keeper of the Wiradjuri Nation, apparently it is very bad to do so, so I honour that.
After the wattle flowers, drooping seed pods develop. These are narrow and long. They start off green at the beginning of summer, but turn brown. In each pod are four to 10 oval black seeds, which are smooth and shiny.
The plants reproduce by planting seeds. They get dispersed by animals, insects and birds, and by people.
When the Yellow Wattle flowers, it attracts bees and other insects. Parrots enjoy the seeds and pods, and wood-boring insects are attracted to the older, more woody plants.
Wattle wood is light, tough and hardy, and is used to make tool handles. It can be used as fuel.
Traditionally, Aboriginal Australians also used it as a source of food, gum and fibre. Wattle bark was used in Victoria for pain. In Goulburn NSW it was taught that a tan lotion was made from the Wattle Bark to sooth unbroken burns and scalds.
Wattle Bark was sold overseas for a while after an exhibition that was held in Melbourne in 1888, showing its benefits.
Many diarrhoea remedies were rich in tannins as was wattle. A thin mucilage, as a drink was effective for the urinary organs and dysentry.
An Aboriginal baby’s birth had special medicinal rites. Women would squat over a fire of steaming herbs, in a pit with various wattles immediately after giving birth. Smoking or steaming the baby to make it strong was an equally important rite as well. In the desert wattles were used.
Babies suffering diarrhoea were smoked over smouldering wattle leaves.
Wattle bark was infused in a drink for diarrhoea and dysentery.
Ash from burnt wattle leaves was chewed with Pituri which had a nicotine content 2-3 times that of a cigarette, this was the black sally wattle, grown mainly in the highlands Australian Blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon).
Wattle seeds in the outback were a staple food. The seeds of 30 different wattles (Acacia Species) were eaten and the seeds are extrodinardiarily nutritious containing several times the protein of wheat. Dried wattle seeds were ground between stones to make flour and baked as a damper. The green seeds were eaten as peas, the pods were roasted and the peas eaten.
In the South East there are hundreds of species of Wattle in many different habitats. As soon as summer was over, the Indigenous people cut notches in the Wattle bark to allow the gum to exude. It was often soaked in water with a sweet substance like honey, manna or flower nectar. The people of many traditional northern homelands maintain this technique of making drinks. Once the gum and with the water and honey was mixed it formed a jelly, that could be kept in camp and eaten later. Often the desert people would refer to this gum as ‘bush lollies’. Gums are a good source of dietary fibre too.
MEDICINAL USES OF ACACIA’S
Acacia ancistrocarpa – Fitzroy Wattle, Pirraru – Northern Territory, Western Australia and partly Queensland.
Leaves chewed with water and mixture spat on sores to stop infection. Leaves mashed in water and used to bathe sore head.
Acacia cuthbertsonii – Wattle – Western Australia, Northern Territory Central Desert.
Stringy bark peels readily in long rough ribbons – uncommon tree, so highly prized. Bark ribbons wrapped tightly around forehead for headaches; also used as bandages.
Acacia estrophiolata – Wattle – Central Desert.
Root bark heated and red liquid used to bathe sores and wounds. Effect probably explained in terms of tannin content. Gum scroped off tree and soaked until soft, then used as ointment for scabies.
Acacia farnesiana – Mimosa bush – Central Desert.
Thorns used to pick out splinters.
Acacia holosericea – Strap Wattle – Queensland, Northern Territory & Western Australia.
Spreading shrub three to four metres high, with ‘soapy pods’. Infusion of roots drunk for laryngitis.
Acacia kempeana – Wanderrie Wattle, Witchetty Bush, Granite Wattle – Northern Territory
Leaves chewed to relieve congestion or a wash made by soaking leaves in hot water.
Acacia leptocarpa – Wattle – Western Australia – Yellow-flowered small tree; leaves hammered then soaked, then liquid applied externally. Good for sore eyes – Kimberleys.
Acacia ligulata – Wattle – Central Desert.
Bark boiled or soaked and drunk as a cough medicine. Also good for dizziness, nerves and fits. “When man very sick, dig a hole, place embers and coals on bottom and cover with a thick layer of branches and leaves so there will be plenty of smoke. Lay sick man on branches and cover him with more leaves. Smoke heat cause sweating, sickness comes out in sweat”
Acacia lysiphloia – Central Desert
Used like Acacia ligalata for ‘smoking’ ill people. “When man very sick, dig a hole, place embers and coals on bottom and cover with a thick layer of branches and leaves so there will be plenty of smoke. Lay sick man on branches and cover him with more leaves. Smoke heat cause sweating, sickness comes out in sweat”
Acacia melanoxylon – Blackwood tree – Victoria
A hot infusion of the roasted bark was used for bathing rheumatic joints.
Acacia pellita – Soap brush – Northern Territory.
Body wash used to soothe aching muscles made by soaking leaves in hot water.
Acacia pruinocarpa – Wattle – Central Desert
“When a woman is about to have a baby she goes to women’s camp to give birth- women dig hole of crushed anthills heated to keep the mother warm. They get mulga witchetty and mantarla to make a lot of smoke. Mother first laid on top of leaves, then the baby – to smoke out the blood”
Acacia salicina – Cooba – Queensland.
Leaves burnt and ash smoked to produce drunkenness, drowsiness or dopiness and finally deep and lengthy combined with Duboisia hopwoodii
Acacia tetragonophylla – Dead Finish – Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia, Western Australia, Northern Territory.
Inner bark soaked or boiled and liquid drunk as a cough medicine.
In some areas the Acacia longifolia subspecies longifolia has become an environmental weed (Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia)
Bushfires will kill older plants but will stimulate seedlings to germinate. After bushfires masses of new seedlings will appear, ready to replace the older shrubs.
Bush Foods of NSW by Kathy Stewart & Bob Percival
Bush Medicine by Tim Lowe
Bush Tucker by Tim Lowe