Gloucester National Park
The Gloucester Tree, in Gloucester National Park, is probably Western Australia's most famous karri tree. This 60-metre-high giant towers above the forest surrounding Pemberton. In the past, foresters maintained a regular fire lookout from its lofty crown. Today, visitors climb to the cabin in its upper branches for sensational views of the surrounding karri forest.
The Gloucester Tree was one of eight lookout trees built between 1937 and 1952 in the karri forest. The construction of fire lookout towers in the tallest trees of Western Australia's karri forest was the practical response to one of the most serious threats to forest communities in the South-West -- fire.
Building the lookout:
The Gloucester Tree lookout was built in 1947, in the highest of the tall karri trees near Pemberton. The floor of its cabin sits 58 metres above the ground. The tree was one of a group on a ridge overlooking the Eastbrook in an area that had not been logged when timber cutting operations of the Pemberton Sawmill passed through. Conveniently located just three kilometres from Pemberton, it gives a commanding view of the surrounding countryside.
The suitability of the tree as a lookout was verified by forester Jack Watson after an epic climb. Using climbing boots and a belt to scale the tree, it took him six hours to reach a height of 58 metres and return. The ascent was made more difficult by the massive girth of the tree, some 7.3 metres, and the fact that limbs had to be negotiated from 39.6 metres. This feat is claimed to be a record climb, and is widely recognised in forestry circles as one of the greatest efforts of courage and endurance in the Australian forest.
Pegging the ladder, and lopping of the branches, was carried out by another legendary south-western forester, George Reynolds. During this work, a branch which he had cut through twisted in its fall and snapped off a number of pegs. George remained aloft for several hours while his assistant Len Nicol repegged the damaged section from below.
The construction of the lookout coincided with a visit to the South-West by the then Governor-General of Australia, His Royal Highness the Duke of Gloucester. A viewing of the operation was included in his itinerary and the royal party enjoyed a picnic in the bush and watched Reynolds at work. They were reportedly impressed with the cool manner he displayed while cutting through branches 40 centimetres in diameter, nearly 70 metres above the ground, as he removed the top-most branches with his razor-sharp axe to provide a base to accommodate the cabin. The lookout, and eventually also the national park, were subsequently named after the Duke of Gloucester.
Climbing the tree:
Since its construction, the Gloucester Tree has captured the imagination of thousands of visitors to the karri country. A survey taken in 1963 revealed that 3000 people had climbed the tree in that year. As its popularity continued to grow, the original wooden cabin was demolished in 1973 because its timber was deteriorating. It was replaced with a steel and aluminium cabin and visitors' gallery.
By 1990, the number of visitors to the Gloucester Tree had 'climbed' to about 223 000, of which 44 600 made it to the top. With the Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree, completed in 1988, and the Diamond Tree, built in 1939 and located 10 kilometres from Manjimup, it now makes up a trilogy of karri tree towers which are open to the public.
However, there is more to the Gloucester National Park than the lookout. One very popular recreation site nearby is The Cascades. Here, the Lefroy Brook tumbles over a series of rocky shelves, which vary from a gentle flow in mid-summer to a raging torrent in winter. These rocky rapids, set amidst the karri forest at the southern end of Gloucester National Park, provide a place for an outdoor lunch, a leisurely afternoon stroll, or a few peaceful hours of fly fishing.
Extracted from Lookouts of the Karri Country by Dave Evans