TALE OF A FAMILY TREE – MAX FATCHEN

Maxwell Edgar “Max” Fatchen AM (3 August 1920-14 October 2012) was an Australian journalist and children’s writer. Fatchen spent his childhood on an Adelaide plains farm at Angle Vale. He learned to drive a team of Clydesdale horses and did part of his High School studies at home, driving his horse and buggy in once a week to Gawler High School to get his papers corrected. Later he entered journalism as a copy boy and after five years in the Australian Army and Royal Australian Air Force during World War II became a journalist with The News and later The Advertiser. The sense of being a farm boy never left him and it was to become one of the secrets to the everyman connection he made with his vast readership. He was, until the end, a glass-half-full character whose good cheer and interest in his fellow-man was to entertain and lift the spirit of generations of readers, young and old.”

Friends passed the above cutting (quoted below) to me some years ago.

“In a way, trees are treasures. So….. This is the tale of a tree, not an extraordinary tree but special to me. No forest giant but in a back yard and a gum tree that we planted when we built our house, more than 50 years ago. It grew with our family. When it was a sapling, the children had measles and mumps. When they were old enough and the tree stout enough, they climbed it. The branches were challenging so the children built their tree house with its platform and pots and pans in a ramshackle, more accessible, pine tree. The tree in question was above such things. We built a sunroom and the tree gave it a benediction of leaves in the gutters. We changed our car and the tree shaded it and helped to preserve the duco. It threw its shade on a wedding reception of one of our children when we had a green lawn and a small marquee and the tree waved its congratulations and kept the heat of the sun from the caterers, serving small pastries and chicken legs, and was rebuked by the photographer because the dappled sunlight through its branches interfered with his composition.

The tree liked to be in things. It was part of the family. As the family grew, so did the tree. I found it a good hiding place for a while when the wife was looking for me with the lawnmower. I pressed myself against the trunk, disturbing a spider that lived under the bark and came out to see who had called. The tree became a high-rise for birds. Rosellas lodged like balls of feathered fire in its branches while an inky, perching crow with a raucous baritone called to other crows in the trees on the plains. Magpies seesawed in the branches on a windy day, in a carnival of song. And on still nights, the moon framed itself in the branches before it rode off to join the waiting stars.

Then one day, the tree began to die and I approached a tree expert and we walked around the tree. A sad case, he said. The borers were at it. He liked trees and he would sooner shape them than execute them. So we had a dead tree. The tree feller explained dead trees could be very useful in wetlands,  parks and forests because they became nesting sites for birds and took on another life. I remembered those gaunt old survivors in the Murray lagoons, wearing a tiara of sulphur-crested cockatoos. But our tree was becoming a danger and it had to go. The day of the tree felling came and the quick deadly sound of chainsaws. It was all done expertly “We’ll cut some for your firewood” said the tree man. I said: “You’re a jolly good feller”. A brave pun which he treated courteously.

So the tree is gone but some of it will warm me through the winter and, as the flames dance, I’ll remember children growing, time going, incidents and expeditions and those quirky little memories that suddenly slip into your mind. I will miss the tree’s stately silhouette against the sunrise, its shedding bark, its evicted spider and its wandering leaves. In fact, I’m also shedding my bark and growing creaky in the limbs, for such is the way of trees and old blokes.”

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