Bellingen, cocooned by a million camphor laurels. Copyright - photographer Gethin Coles.
Stand at the Bellingen look-out, high above one of the many river valleys on the north coast of Australia’s New South Wales, and waves of camphor laurel trees spread out beneath you. Camphors and more camphors as far as the eye can see… Huge exotic invaders planted by British colonists, now turning the land bright green. They’re undeniably pretty - but there isn’t much diversity. Nothing grows under a camphor laurel—or not a lot.
A million camphor laurel trees have spread throughout the Bellinger valley. It’s only taken them a hundred years to dominate the land. Once it was huge figs, brush box, Australian red cedar and rosewood – today it’s a sea of camphor laurels. As one local says, “To a tree-lover they look magnificent, but to a lover of native forests they look like giant weeds.”
Bellingen is a picturesque and eccentric little Australian country town, utopian, unusually community minded and wildly divergent in its population's views on the nature of Bellingen itself, a once farming, then hippy, now barista-culture town that still prides itself on its individualism.
Right now the town’s at war over whether the 100 year camphor laurels shading the café strip – should be chopped down. Greens want them gone while the local conservative Councilor – a retired logger - has declared he’ll fight them all the way. Everybody has an opinion; sometimes several.
“The war of the camphor laurels” was produced and presented for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation by Nicole Steinke. The sound engineer was Timothy Nicastri. Photos courtesy of Gethin Coles and Pip Wilson.