The southern forest in WA is a wonderful place to visit. It is full of caves, giant trees, lovely pastureland, wineries, and it is surrounded by beautiful coast line. It is a place unlike any where else in OZ. Despite the high annual rainfall, the area is a magnet for wildfires. Driving through it is impossible to miss the signs of pervious fires. While the flames are often a necessary force in the growth of such forests, they can be devastating to the human inhabitants.
The fires can be fought, but first they must be located. Because of the height of the trees in many areas, the trees can tower over a hundred meters above the ground, locating fires could be tough, especially before the time when aircraft were prevalent. But the residents of the great southern forest had a solution. That solution was the diamond tree, and those like it.
The tree is a massive Karri tree, the top of which provides an unhindered three hundred and sixty degree view of the surrounding forest. It was selected for its height and strength. Once selected climbers using special equipment climbed up to the top and cut branches from the trunk to prepare the tree to hold a square viewing hut. From here any smoke could be easily spotted and combined with the distances of the smoke seen from other similar lookouts, the location of the fire could be triangulated, making fighting it much easier.
The viewing platform sits 51 meters (153 feet) off the ground. The view from the top was amazing. We could see for miles in any direction. The treetops stretched out all the way to the coast, only broken by the emerald patches of cleared grazing land.
The viewing hut was very solid and the tree swayed very little in the breeze. It felt very safe and secure, but it was a little chilly. Sadly, over the years people have decided they must leave their mark, so nearly every inch of wood in the hut is carved with peoples names and dates and silly slogans. It makes it look quite shabby. We were told by a local that at one point the hut was covered in clear plastic that insulated it and made it safer, but so many people scratched their names into it, you couldn’t see out any more. So they had to remove it. It is a shame that such a wonderful attraction has been defaced so much. In our journey through OZ we have found that in general there is little such defacement of the attractions. The Australians seem to be a rather respectful people in that sense.
As nice as the view from the top is, the climb up was the real attraction in my mind. To reach the top, one has to climb a spiral ladder made from giant rebar nails driven into the tree. I have never seen anything like it. Courtney and I both had a great time spiraling our way up the tree trunks, watching the ground recede beneath us. It was awesome. It is a bit of a work out climbing a fifty-meter ladder, so there is a platform a bit more then half way up where you can stop and take a rest before the final bit of the climb, which is nearly vertical. The ladder is enclosed in a cage of sorts, but it is still a bit dangerous, which is part of the fun I believe.
The Diamond Tree and its partners were built between the late thirties and early fifties went out of active service in the early seventies when planes took over the fire spotting duties. The Diamond Tree was renovated in the mid nineties to assure safety. The fact that they were allowed to be open to the public is beyond awesome. Beyond being a downright awesome experience, it is something of a window to the past.