How many of us had Enid Blyton’s Folk of the Magic Faraway Tree read to us when we were young? Listening wide-eyed as they climbed up past Moonface, hopefully avoiding Madam Washalot and finally reaching the cloud at the top of the tree, wondering which land would be there today? What fabulous adventures lay ahead? I know my imagination was working overtime. Actually, it wasn’t my imagination because as a six year old, The Magic Faraway Tree was real and indeed could have been at the back of my own garden in suburban Sydney.
The Magic Faraway Tree.
“I don’t believe in things like that – fairies or brownies or magic or anything. It’s old-fashioned.’
‘Well, we must be jolly old-fashioned then,’ said Bessie. ‘Because we not only believe in the Faraway Tree and love our funny friends there, but we go to see them too – and we visit the lands at the top of the Tree as well!”
― Enid Blyton, The Folk of the Faraway Tree
The Faraway Children With Moonface.
While I don’t remember actually trying to find the Magic Faraway Tree itself, I do remember trying to find that perfect climbing tree. Being knee-high to a grasshopper, all the branches were too high and I still haven’t forgotten the frustration and disappointed heartache when I was stuck on the ground…especially when older kids had made it up!.Ouch! I still contend that I was meant to be a bird. However, in keeping with my poor sense of direction, I must have joined the wrong queue and somehow became a person instead! Yet, I still feel the makings of wings, of song and a bird’s eye perspective in my heart. This thing of being stuck on the ground still doesn’t feel right.
Our Magic Climbing Tree lives in the Railway Park in Byron Bay. I believe it is a kind of fig and occasionally we’ve seen it covered in yellow flowers but a Google search hasn’t helped me identify the tree in any further detail. However, what makes our climbing tree particularly special and extra climbable is that the tree was somehow damaged and knocked over and so instead of growing up, it’s growing on its side, which make it so easy for little people to find a footing and go climbing among the leaves and dream.
Naturally, for a child reared on Enid Blyton, our climbing tree reminds me of the Magic Faraway Tree. I watch the children climb up and disappear in its branches and find little hidden treasures and I remember that cloud at the top of the tree and all those revolving lands and I wonder if we could just climb high enough, where we would end up.
“Folks—please, please read this book. Not because it’s about Happy Children and Delightful Tree Folk. Not because it’s about Queer Lands and Strange Spells. Not even because it’s about White Clouds, Slippery Slips and Jersey Wearing Cushion Carrying Red Squirrels. But because it’s time to stop growing up, and grow down just this once; to cast aside the reality of a world that is so material, and even more cynical, and thus enter the Delightful Magic of a Blyton Dimension, one in which Silky the Fairy will haunt you wth her beauty, Saucepan Man will deafen you with his noise, and Moonface will overwhelm you with his beaming smile. And if you have to endure an occasional kettle of water or dirty washing all over you… well, it’s worth it.”
The other special thing about our magic climbing tree is that it gets things hung and drawn on its branches. I’m not talking about glitzy fairy lights but people leave little bits and pieces in the tree, which creates that experience of the unexpected. Every time we go to the tree, I wonder what’s going to be there today just like the changing world of the Enid Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree. We’re found empty milk crates dangling upside down on rope like a sculpture, a stuffed toy dog and sunflowers thumb-tacked to the trunk. Reminiscent of Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree, there have also been ribbons in the tree.
We’ve also met many fascinating and intriguing characters under the tree and in the park. Although we haven’t Madam Washalot, Saucepan or the children, we’ve met a variety of travellers, including those who are “living free”. There’s a bit of that around Byron Bay and in the park but council is taking action and confiscating tents etc. Communities groups also come to the park and feed the homeless, which has also included us a few times this week and we truly appreciated it. It was lovely to be looked after! Some times you really need that bit of TLC and community care. You appreciate a breather and my cough certainly hasn’t been letting up.
Mister’s Sunflower painting 2015.
On this trip, we ran into Mama Dee again who was running a Free Art in the Park program. The kids did a few beautiful and inspired paintings while I chalked the pavements, thinking back to my days as a student politician writing chalk slogans around the footpaths of Sydney University. Dee’s son passed away in the park a few years ago and she has been committed to helping young people find their way.
Art in the Park, January 2012.
Although Byron Bay has it’s breathtaking, postcard beauty, it has it’s underbelly. Young people in particular turn here not just for the surf but also for answers or place to turn when life is spiraling out of control and there’s seemingly no way out of the maze. When your life has no particular destination, Byron Bay somehow is somewhere to go. Find other seekers and that merging of souls can be a precarious mix. There needs to be somewhere to turn at such times and Dee is going her bit…along with local Churches and community groups. the Adventist Church across the road has been running a soup kitchen across the road for many years. Too many young people are falling through the cracks.
Painted onto one of the park benches in Railway Park, a dedication to all the young people who have suicided in the region.
We also spotted what looked like a full-blooded Dingo in the park. I’ve never seen a Dingo outside a zoo before and while it seemed friendly enough and was some kind of community pet, I wasn’t entirely comfortable. Dingoes haven’t had good press in the past.
My tea cup in the park. These “grannie cups” remind me of talking, listening, sharing…taking time for each other. We could all used another cup of tea.
While I’m here, I should also mention that the council has put up some new, very touristy toilets in the park. Something called an Ezyloo, which is pretty space aged. I’ve been to one in North Sydney and thought it was incredible but Byron Bay is Byron and I’ve always enjoyed reading the philosophical graffiti on the walls of the toilets here. Strangely, a robotic voice telling me I have 10 minutes to do my business isn’t quite the same…even if it does play “love sweet love”.
Graffiti on the wall, Railway Park, 2009.
Philosophy adorning the toilet wall.
Do you have any memories of Enid Blyton’s Magic Faraway Tree Series? Or, perhaps some great stories of climbing trees, falling out of trees etc?
Hope you are having a good week!