24. BEAN TREES.
"another interesting exhibit of the desert".
COOTE 108 
 

While setting up camp at Oonah Springs on the evening of 26/7/30, a couple of nearby bean trees caught Lasseter's eye. Walking up to the trees and patting them, he is alleged to have said, "This is where I rigged up my hammock, between these two old cobbers". This was the second landmark from the 1897 trip that Lasseter had recognised that day and caused a very troubled nights sleep for Blakeley, as far as he knew bean trees only lived for about twenty years, and to his mind these two trees certainly weren't there when Lasseter passed through this country over thirty years ago. Coote reports a similar incident at this camp but has Lasseter reposing between two mulga trees that Colson reckoned couldn't be older than thirty years, different trees maybe but same doubt.

The tree is very attractive, and a week later at Warren Creek, Coote commented on "another interesting exhibit of the desert, the bean tree, around the base were millions of red beans". But Coote was more concerned at the freshly cut logs and chips lying about, evidence that the Aboriginals were around, "They had been making spears and boomerangs. Our natural conclusion was that these were for us". An odd conclusion given the timber is much too soft for offensive weapons but well suited for shields and pitchis. The timber is pithy and very light and as a gentle joke, Madigan would put on an impressive strong man act for the newcomer to the Centre, "by picking up a log the size of the end of a ship's mast and casually throwing it on the fire".

Coote wondered if the seeds, "similar in size and shape to the domestic French bean", were edible, they are not, containing a number of poisonous alkaloids. And if he had tried he would be surprised to find that he couldn't bite through the tough bitter tasting seed, (especially with false teeth !) warning enough. The brilliant red beans can only be used for hair decoration and necklaces and perhaps a minor trade item, apart from it's obvious aesthetic attributes the tree has a number of uses, intricate and durable artefacts can be made from the easily worked timber, the leaves boiled in water are reputed to have a sedative effect, although this is probably not an Aboriginal discovery, but they were aware that the soaked bark is soothing when applied to irritated eyes, and for easing headaches. Bush medicines that Lasseter may have found useful at Winter's Glen.

The Pitjanjara know the tree as intini and common names are Sturt's bean tree, coral tree and bat wing, an allusion to the leaf shape. Being deciduous it is unusual in the Australian environment and in ideal locations can grow to 25 metres plus, but commonly to ten metres with a straight grey/brown trunk and cork like bark. The branches and twigs and occasionally the petioles have sharp, conical and very effective thorns, the trees range through the drier tropical areas of Australia and their presence in Central Australia is anomalous and probably due to the trade in seeds, which strike readily, from the northern and Kimberly coasts.

LASSETERIA


R.Ross. 1999-2006

Blakeley Fred. Dream Millions 20. Coote E.H. Hell's Airport 77,78,108. Madigan C.T. Central Australia 236.