WONTHAGGI was once a vast paperbark swamp interspersed with sheets of water and sand hills vegetated with heaths and eucalypts. Paperbark impeded the Bunurong tribe, early European explorers, run-holders, miners and, later, the residents of the town.
How to locate it? It is found in damp places in coastal woodlands and swamp scrub in Victoria, mainly east of Melbourne. It grows on seasonally inundated sites such as swamps, riversides and lake margins on sub-saline fertile soils.
Swamp paperbark (Melaleuca ericifolia) grows from a shrub to a small tree (7 metres), has narrow dark green leaves and a mass of creamy brushes from October to November (this year it flowered early). The name derives from mel (honey), leuca (white or pale, Erica (health), folia (leaf-like).
It is useful in wet garden areas and tree breaks as it can sucker to form dense thickets. It is an indicator of swampland as it soaks up excess moisture. (Beware, prospective home block owners!)
This versatile plant has many uses. Aborigines used the blossoms to make a sweet drink; the soft papery bark to swaddle babies and for fishing floats; the wood for clubs, spears and digging sticks; oil from the crushed leaves for colds; and the bark for painting on.
Wonthaggians have used it for fencing, tomato and pea sticks, kite frames, fishing rods, arrows, spears, swords … As kids, we would bend it over and sit on it in the bush. It was the home of stick insects, yabbies, butterflies, beetles.
Walk down the back lanes of Wonthaggi and you will see thickets springing up along fence lines. Perhaps it is biding its time to reinvade our area. Perhaps it should be made our town's floral emblem.
November 9, 2016
Thanks Terri for reminding Post readers the value of swamp paperbark. Anderson Inlet Landcare also appreciate the profit that paperbark brings to our farms. As well to the world environment.
Daryl Hook, Pound Creek