Fascination with the Aussie boab tree

A couple of days ago Rowdy Wylie and I commenced exploring the baobab tree in Africa and Madagascar. If you missed the post follow this link to The Alluring Baobab and Boab Trees.

Today we find oursleves in the Kimberley region of north west Australia which is a stunning place to visit as it is gifted with many jewels…

in particular the majestic Boab Tree ….. a mature boab tree is a sight to behold as shown in these images 1.

The variety of baobab tree found in Australia and only in the north west of Australia is the adansonia gregorii know as the boab and often called the bottle tree.

As to how did the African baobab tree get to Australia? Given that it wasn't part of the great splitting up of the continents associated with Gondwanan history, it is most likely that some baobab fruit was bought here by human migration, that is if you agree with these three points of argument the full details of which you can read at Kimberleyland.com.au.

  1. The African and the Australian Aboriginal Dreamtime story about the creation of the upside down tree are almost identical: both saying that the tree was too arrogant and as punishment was uprooted and planted upside down.
  2. There are linguistic similarities between the Aboriginal boab names and the African Baobab names. You can read a very interesting article which inlcudes this argument at The Conversation.com.
  3. It makes sense that early African explorers took baobab fruit with them as a source of nutrition as they are rich in all kinds of goodies.

Even though the Aussie boab tree wasn't here to witness the great breaking up of Gondwananland into the continents some 180 million years ago, many boab trees have been dated to be up to 2000 years old.

Artists over many generations have been fascinated with the boab partly because of their mysterious lineage but also because of their strange shape... root like branches... swollen trunks... which lead them to be often called bottle trees.

Let's look at three paintings of boabs by Jack Absalom (1927-2019), one of the Brushmen of the Bush we have written about in many posts.

The first painting is The Land of the Boabs painted when Jack was visiting Mable Downs Station near Turkey Creek… on the way to Hall's Creek, Western Australia.

The land of the boabs by Jack Absalom (4)

Jack Absalom's style is realistic and his boabs sit comfortably in the landscape -very much part of the scene with no attempt to exploit or exaggerate their unusual appearance... not mystical - but magestic. Jack does make mention however, that his fascination with boabs is that you will often see a big tree with all the young trees around it, as if it's a mother with her family around her...Then with a couple of ant-hills tangled up amongst them you have the makings of an intereting painting. You only come across a scene like this in a couple of areas in Australia, so that makes it rather special. 4

Jack loved looking for and painting the boabs when they formed in a family group as seen below in Texas Down Station.

Texas Downs Station by Jack Absalom (4)

There are very few native deciduous trees in Australia and most grow in tropical or subtropical regions. The boab (Adansonia gregorii) is one of them. Unlike the European deciduous trees which lose their leaves in preparation for the cold weather, decidious trees like the boab lose their leaves in preparation for the dry season.

Boab Country by Jack Absalom (5)

Another Australian artist who also loved to paint boabs was Fred Williams (1927-1982) whose distinctive style impacted on and altered the way art lovers viewed the Australian landscape.

In the boab painting below Williams' perception almost personifies the trees where they seem to be dancing across the landscape.

Boab trees, Kimberleys, 1979, gouache on paper by Fred Williams (6)

The painting above is gouache on paper. Below is another Fred Williams' boab painting using oil on canvas but in the same whimsical style.

Boab trees, Kimberleys, 1981 by Fred Williams. Courtesy of the Estate of Fred Williams, Melbourne (7)

Rowdy is also captivated by the boab trees of the north west… they are very fascinating due to their shapes… and appear to have individual personalities….

Boab Trees are real characters… with their individual “branch arms” going in all different directions… this painting was fun to paint… a family out for a walk across their rich and sunburnt landscape...

Boab Country, oil on timber board, 61cm x 46cm by John "Rowdy" Wylie ©

The boab tree is at its best therefore in the wet season of north-west Australia when the tropical weather pattern is stormy, thunderous & bleak ….. all these factors enhance the mystique ….. … to enhance the drama and add a mystical effect to the landscape….with all its unique shapes & forms…

Therefore tomorrow we are going to look at some paintings which illustrate the boab drama which in the hands of artists often look like theatre scenery for a horror movie...

1. kimberleyaustralia.com
2. theguardian.com Photograph: Georges Gobet/AFP/Getty Images
3. mayiharvests.com.au
4. Absalom Paintings 1972-1996 by Jack Absalom, (1996) Pitinjarra Pty. Ltd, Broken Hill.
5. Absalom's Outback Paintings, Paintings by Jack Absalom, Compiled by Jocelyn Burt, 1982, Pitinjarra Pty. Ltd, published by Five Mile Press, Canterbury, Victoria. .
6. nga.gov.au
7. netsvictoria.org.au