We have been caretakers of our grove for the last 17 years and have never forgotten why we fell in love with our property….it was the magnificent stand of nine 140 year old chestnut trees that stand in a row overlooking the Wandi Valley. Over time we have been putting together pieces of a puzzle to answer a simple question……..who planted the trees?
It all started with an aerial photo of Wandi that was probably taken in the early 1920’s. The stand of nine trees are clearly visible in this photo, thus they were well established trees. We examined buildings in the photo, studied history of Wandiligong (formerly Growlers Creek) in an attempt to date the photo. We seemed to be getting nowhere and turned our attention to looking after the trees, removing dead branches and suckers. This lead to our next piece of the puzzle….Rohan painstakingly counted the growth rings on a branch of one of our trees that had died 20 to 30 years ago. The thickness of the growth rings were studied and we used Bright rainfall records to determine the most likely year that the branch started growing. This gave us a year 1894! The dead branch that we were studying was 4 meters off the ground suggesting a planting year of circa 1874.
But our question still remained unanswered….who planted the trees?
A title search gave us a surprising result our property was first owned in 1945, prior to this it was crown land. The first owner was Charles Williams. Charles was born in 1878, he married Edith in 1912 and moved into the house that was built by the Tobias family on Williams Road. This house and land abuts Growlers Creek Grove, Charles must have leased this land for farming and in 1912 he planted chestnut trees and an orchard on the flat near Williams Road and the track to our property which is fittingly called Tobias Track. We have been in contact with his descendants, his grand-daughter Alison and son in-law Lewis. They have fond memories of Wandiligong, the vegetable patch, fruit and apple orchard and of course the majestic chestnut trees. Alison recalls enjoying roasted chestnuts cooked on an open fire by her grand father Charles ….this was a treat before they went to bed. We have invited Lewis and Alison to our Grove and are looking forward to meeting them.
Charles planted the old chestnut trees on the lower portion of our grove….but who planted the stand of nine trees up on the hill?
Who would have planted chestnut trees on land that they did not own?
We believe that an Italian immigrant planted the trees. Antonio Masciorini came to Australia in 1859 from Ticino, and Italian Region in Switzerland. In 1867 he purchased Mantons Drapery Store on the corner of Williams Road and Morses Creek. Antonio lived at these premises, less than 500 meters from the chestnut trees planted high on our block.
The Ticino region has been a chestnut area for thousands of years where they have forests of chestnuts castagneti (chestnut woods). Here chestnuts grow on Crown land, on steep slopes in Northern Italy where they have cold winters and warm summers, well-drained soil and plenty of rain. Foraging for chestnuts in these woods is a family and cultural tradition.
An Italian immigrant would naturally want to recreate this nostalgia in their new home at Growlers Creek (Wandiligong), Australia.