Book review – the tree

Every photographer around Australia, and certainly Western Australia, knows Richard Woldendorp’s landscape photography. He is a photographer’s photographer. And we, the ordinary admirers of good photography, are so lucky to have him.

A native of The Netherlands who came to Australia in his mid-twenties in 1951 and never left, Woldendorp has produced the most amazing takes on what this country looks like, and how it feels. His aerial shots of river systems in remote places have always taken the Shipping News’ eye. Are they photographs, or are they paintings? They convey the complexity and form of a Central Desert painting. And similarly, they are pure art borne of a deep connection to the earth.

Here, in a new book of photographs dedicated to the tree, and simply titled ‘the tree’, published in 2018 by Fremantle Press, the great man, in some 142 glossy pages, comes down from the sky, out of the landscape, and into the front view to snap trees.

The result is wondrous. The tree in all its shapes and sizes in all parts of Australia, but particularly here in The West. The tree as abstract art. The tree as Albert Namatjira would see it. Or Jackson Pollock. Or Kathleen O’Connor. The tree resplendent, or as camouflage. The tree flamboyant. The tree as dominator. Eking out an existence. The tree as defier of those wielding bulldozers and chain saws. The tree as Zeus and Apollo. The creator and the magnificent. The barometer of the strength of our human tenure on this fragile planet.

There are: Kimberley gums, mountain ash, young powderbarks, Moreton Bay figs, red mallee, river gums, a Corymbia, a dead one, dark-barked marri and white-barked spotted gums, and trees with ridiculously long names like Anodopetalum biglandulosum or The Horizontal, the tall marri and the stout grasstree, lemon-scented gums and and the Tasmanian blue gum, coastal paperbacks, jarrah burnt and gnarled, majestic sugar gums, wandoo, and of course the stupendous karri, and a ribbon gum and a strangler fig, sad but strangely beautiful drowning trees, and trees in mangroves and around and in odd desert lakes, trees burning and turned to ash, big red tingles, kinglas, and snow gums, a kurrajong, hints of jacaranda and poinciana, The WA Christmas tree, the stunning desert oak, the smooth-barked apple, tree ferns, a Sydney blue gum, an acacia, a scribbly gum, the Silver Mallee, an interlocking Scots pine, the iconic coolibah, the Broughton willow, a wetland of great beauty, and a peppermint of silky age, and a boab – there has to be a boab – a miniritchie with Carnaby’s black cockatoos holding on for dear life, a Eucalyptus leucophloia in its stand-alone Pilbara beauty, more river gums, more mangroves, and a fossilised tree.

Apart from the Shipping News’ favourite of all time, the humble, but elegant, Tuart, which must have become camera-shy at a critical moment, there is a tree here for just about everyone.

So beautiful. A photographic poem. More than a coffee-table book. This is a book, as the foreword by Piers Verstegen from the Australian Conservation Foundation suggests, that makes you want to care about trees. It’s a book you can get lost in.

Love it. Buy it now! Make someone’s Christmas truly special.