Are We Facing Bunyageddon!

Are We Facing Bunyageddon!

by Spencer Shaw

It’s not been the biggest of stories in the media over the last year or so, what with Covid, Scandal and Celebrity, so although you may have missed it, this is a story that has quite significant implications for the Sunshine Coast hinterland.  In a few media reports you may have seen or heard about a disease called Bunya dieback afflicting the Bunya trees at the Bunya Mountains National Park (200km west of here and south of Kingaroy). The story goes that over the last few years many ancient Bunya have died and research is being undertaken to confirm the cause and hopefully reduce its impact. You may think, that it’s a shame that Bunyas are dying out west, lucky it’s not happening here, well…

First up let’s get a bit of context. In writing from the Blackall Range (Sunshine Coast Hinterland), I acknowledge the Bunya Country traditional owners, the Jinibara people. The Bunya belongs to this place on a scale of deep time that many of us may find hard to fathom. They have survived on this country since before the age of dinosaurs and although once widespread across Australia they are now found in one fragmented population between here and the Bunya Mountains and an even smaller population at Mt Lewis in North Queensland. Our human relationship with these trees extends back in time for tens of thousands of years as they have been revered and provided sustenance to the Jinibara peoples and their neighbours, especially during the abundance of the Bunya Gatherings. The spiritual and cultural importance of the Bunya to First Nations peoples was defended fiercely during the early days of the British ‘settlement’, so much so that in 1842 the Bunya Proclamation was issued by the Colony of New South Wales (Queensland was yet to be formed), preventing felling and settlement by Europeans in Bunya country, one of the few instances of such a proclamation by colonial authorities to recognise, if not the First Nations peoples sovereignty on their own land, but recognise a forest on that land. When Queensland was made a separate colony in 1859, the Bunya Proclamation was rescinded and well, as they say, the rest is history… Only fragments of this once great forest have survived clearing, by being tucked away in inaccessible gullies and slopes. The Bunya then goes on to become an icon for some European colonists and they have been replanted in paddocks, gardens and more recently in revegetation, here and around Australia and the world. Images of Bunya adorn corporate and community logos around the Blackall Range (inclusive of the towns of Maleny, Montville and Mapleton) making them a unique symbol for our area both ecologically and culturally. First nations people have maintained cultural connectivity to the Bunya throughout this time and shared this culture with the new Australians.

Getting back to where I started and the big story that we should be interested in on the Blackall Range with regards our iconic Bunyas. The research undertaken at the Bunya Mountains National Park into the cause of Bunya dieback is that a type of Phytophthora, a water mould / oomycetes is responsible. Phytophthora lives in and is transported in soil, and through its life cycle damages the roots of trees, eventually preventing the tree from getting any nutrients or water. The initial symptoms of infection are dieback of the tree crown, followed by death of the whole tree over a few months. The species of phytophthora thought to be responsible for the bunya dieback is Phytophthora multivora, which has also caused dieback in the Wollemi pines in New South Wales, and the ancient Kauri in New Zealand. It appears Bunya dieback was introduced into the area by movement of soil, on shoes and or vehicles. 

Bunya dieback appears to be compounded by a range factors, including drought, temperature rises … climate change. Long wet seasons may be ideal for the spread and infection of this disease and damage to occur and if followed by periods of drought, trees that are damaged may then die.

There are an increasing number of records of Bunyas dying on the Blackall Range over the last few years, so has Bunya dieback arrived here? It does appear our Bunya are also under threat … are we too facing Bunyageddon.

Well without wanting to create a major panic (apart from the invention of the word Bunyageddon!) how can we who are current stewards of this country ensure that these magnificent trees whose origin goes 100’s of millions of years survive into the future.

Here at Brush Turkey Enterprises and Forest Heart ecoNursery we we’ve been proactive in contacting National Parks at the Bunya Mountains to find out more about this disease and its implications both there and here and have supplied Bunya seedlings to the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for their research into the cause of Bunya dieback … I hope they look after them…

So, what’s the first step in tackling this issue that might be facing us? Well to start off with, we want to raise awareness that Bunya dieback has potentially arrived on the Blackall Range and gather records of Bunya tree deaths, that we can use to help progress the research needed to confirm this. If you have a Bunya death on your property or know of one on public land please email details including your name, contact phone, address, photo and GPS location of tree if available, send emails to spencer.shaw@bruhsturkey.com.au  

Through our production nursery we are also helping with preservation of the Bunya by growing 1000’s in tubestock and larger sized plants to help get more young Bunyas back onto this country. Together let us hope that we all as the current stewards of these amazing trees, can help them to last another 100 million years!