The History of Blackwood – LANDMARKS of Blackwood.
THE HISTORY OF THE MONKEY PUZZLE TREE
(ARAUC ARIA BIDWILLI HOOKER) BUNYA BUNYA (CHILE) PINE.
BARRYS REEF, BLACKWOOD.
All photos copyright to Margot Hitchcock, and the BDHS.
Photo of Monkey Puzzle tree Barrys Reef, I took in 2008. – courtesy and copyright – Margot Hitchcock. BDHS.
Information from my next unpublished book – ‘the History and Pioneers of Blackwood’.
The Monkey Puzzle tree has always been special and of great interest to the people of Barrys Reef, and Blackwood as it stands out as one of the only remaining relics of the by-gone days of the great gold rush era that once was part of the history of Barrys Reef.
Perhaps the most significant point of interest and truly remarkable fact is that of all the buildings and working mines of photos of the area dating back to the 1870’s, the Monkey Puzzle tree is all that is left to shows where this once great mining town once stood. Some early photos show this tree and gradually as the buildings and mines disappeared from the photos the Monkey Puzzle tree is all that is left standing.
Barrys Reef was once the biggest goldfield closest to Melbourne where over nine tons of gold was extracted from the area. The gold reefs which covered the areas of Blackwood (then called, Mt. Blackwood, were Barrys Reef, Red Hill, Simmons Reef and Golden Point. In the height of the gold rush days in 1855 there were 13,000 people on the Mt. Blackwood goldfield, a far cry from the hundred or so permanent residents of the area today.
Much of the area was an alluvial digging where gold was found in the Lerderderg River and its tributaries, but Barrys Reef had the biggest, deepest mine, the Sultan Mine to a depth of 900 ft. Another mine on the same line of reef was the Mounter Bros. Mine, the owner being John Mounter, formerly the Trewhella Bros. Claim ( who later started up the Trewhella Foundry in Trentham).
John Mounter (or Polamounter as his name originally was) left Cornwall in 1856 and arrived in Melbourne and proceeded to the Blackwood goldfields. George Robinson Taylor (grandfather of Vern Fleming), a migrant from Westmoreland also came to Melbourne on the sailing ship the ‘Lock Leven’. The two met, and according to Vern and they became great friends and they set off on the road to Ballarat. On the way John Mounter learnt from his cousins, the Trewhella brothers that there was gold to he found in Blackwood. They were later to meet up after trying out the Castlemaine area and diverted through the bush to the Blackwood goldfield.
John Mounter who planted the Monkey Puzzle tree, seated with his friend George Robinson Taylor – standing.
John Mounter seated and his friend George Robinson Taylor standing – father of Eleanor Taylor teacher at Barrys Reef School. Original photo was owned by the late Vern Fleming, grandson of George R. Taylor, who gave the photo to the late Les Armstrong. Photo copied by the author in 1978 while on loan from Vern Fleming.
John Mounter lived in Barry Reef, (and as was told to Margot Hitchcock by the late Vern Fleming) to have planted the Monkey Puzzle tree from seed he brought with him from his home town in St. Stephens in Cornwall, England. The house in Barrys Reef that John Mounter lived in was notable for its two large bay-windows facing the main road, which was the original road before the road was re-aligned. It is thought that John Mounter planted the Monkey Puzzle tree in his front garden, between 1869-1870 making it 149 – 150 years old in 2019.
Margot Hitchcock and members from the Blackwood District Historical Society registered the Money Puzzle tree with the Register of Significant Trees with the National Trust. When registered in 1990 (?), it was estimated that the tree was approximately 18 metres high with a canopy of 15 metres and had a trunk circumstance of 465 cm.
Early photographs show the Monkey Puzzle tree, and it is only by this tree that one can visualise where all the buildings once stood. Other significant trees thought to be planted by John Mounter, are the three tall Poplar trees nearby on the edge of the old road which stood in front of St. Stephens Church of England, of which John Mounter was one of the founders. One of the trees was struck by lightning some years ago, and then only appeared as there were two and half trees.
Monkey Puzzle tree on left with St. Stephens Anglican Church on right with poplar trees far right – only two poplar trees are left now. Original courtesy of the late Mrs. Dorothy Williamson and copied by the author.
On recent inspection, and after some recent tree culling of undergrowth and some trees, there appears to be only two Poplar trees left of the three, in a cleared patch of land. It was when this land was cleared of pine trees some years ago, and after a burn-off by the local fire brigade which scorched the tree, that the public was made aware of the significance of the Monkey Puzzle tree in an article in the ‘Telegraph’ by Margot Hitchcock, in 1992. This helped put a stop to the possible destruction of this valuable and historic tree. Sadly other trees have gone, and notably some lovely old fruit bearing trees and gardens, which once grew where the old houses once stood in this significant gold-mining town.
Monkey Puzzle tree with right side fire-damaged in burn off in 1976. Showing one of poplar trees in front where St. Stephens church once stood in Barrys Reef. (Photo by author in 1976).
One thing that has always amazed me in my research as a Historian is how you can sometimes picture an area from one tree, which is all that is left of what was once a thriving area with houses, shops, churches and in Barrys Reef case, a very populated area with gold mines in its midst. On these pages I will attempt to show you photos of this area as shown with one outstanding feature – the only thing that is now left – the Monkey Puzzle tree.
St. Stephens Church middle far left and poplar trees with Monkey Puzzle tree near end of the road. The Barrys Reef School is in the centre of the square area of pine trees in middle of photo. The building in the centre front was the Barrys Reef Mechanics Institute.
Barrys Reef showing the same road with the Blacksmith’s shop and horses.
Barrys Reef school in the square of pine trees. St. Stephens church far left and the pointed top of the Monkey Puzzle tree can be seen in the front of John Mounter’s house, where he planted the tree well over 100 years ago.
Mining in Barrys Reef showing Water-wheel and flume in foreground from Mounters Mine, and the same bend in the road and Mechanics Institute, with the School in back square of pine trees. The poplar trees and St. Stephens church back left of photo with the top barely visible of the Monkey Puzzle tree in front of house which is behind the buildings at the end of the road. The Mullock heap of the Sultan mine can be seen in both photos to the left of the pine trees and the Barrys Reef school.
The original old photos courtesy of A.E.Seaborn of Barrys Reef and copied by Margot Hitchcock.. (copyright)
Photo taken by the author in 2010.