Sitting inconspicuously on the side of Bargara Road is a candlenut tree with a long and rich history linked to the region’s very own pioneer aviator Bert Hinkler.
Bert’s great-niece Jennifer Ridley, who still lives in the region, has investigated the history of the tree to confirm the family link.
“I never knew about it and one day we were driving past and I saw a tree with a fence around it,” Jennifer said.
“That’s when I started looking into it.”
She had heard talk of a Hinkler tree in the area and sought the advice of Lex Rowland, president of the Hinkler House Memorial Museum and Research Association.
Eventually she discovered a photo of Bert in front of the tree in 1928 at a “blessing” ceremony.
“I believe it was held in respect of people that had passed in the war,” she said.
The tree is located on the site of the former Bargara State School and Jennifer said Bert's friendship with the headmistress Mrs Ballard led to the invitation.
“He came back from his trips away and she invited him to come here for the blessing of this tree.”
Jennifer said it was a significant discovery and she was keen to spread the word to preserve the memory of Australia’s famous airman.
“I always look at it every time I go past,” she said.
“It’s a marker. It’s a palpable remembrance of somebody being here. When these go it’s only words on paper.
“I love it – here we stand in the same place, just a different time.”
Hinkler tree in good hands
At 80 years of age, Maurice Chapman’s memory is sharp as a tack, along with his recollection of the area.
He attended school at Bargara during World War Two and has fond memories of the tree.
“It was in the front garden, we gardened around it,” Maurice said.
“The nuts were a prize trophy.”
He said Bert Hinkler was a hot topic in his school days and it was widely known that Bert had planted a tree in the school grounds, however Maurice and Jennifer both doubted it was the candlenut tree.
Maurice’s estimate is that the candlenut tree was about eight years old when the photo of the blessing was taken with Bert.
The distinctive shape of the tree left no doubt for the pair that the tree pictured was the same tree standing there today.
“I have no doubt at all – it’s obvious,” Maurice said.
He said a nearby fig tree hadn’t helped the health of the candlenut tree but in his memory it hadn’t changed.
“As far as I’m concerned the tree has always looked the same.”
History of tree rediscovered in 1980s
Maurice has lived nearby for many years and has been watching over it. He said for a number of years the history of the tree had been lost, but it was regained in the 1980s.
“When the school moved from here in 1956 this area became a wilderness. From the time the school left until 1980 it was just a vacuum,” he said.
“Council put the fence around it between 1982 and 1985.
“Between 1982 and 85 suddenly this became the Hinkler area.”
Since then he said Council had continued to maintain and preserve the area under his watchful eye.
Bundaberg Regional Council’s parks and gardens department confirmed that its arborist had recently inspected the tree, which they said was in very good condition for its age.
Jennifer said it was heartening to discover the tree and find that it had been cared for over the years.
“I love it. It’s good for Bundaberg, good for tourism, good for anyone really.”
Arbor Day led to Hinkler Trees throughout Australia
Maurice said as a schoolboy he remembered it being commonplace to plant a tree whenever a significant visitor attended the school.
“Most trees at all schools were planted by someone. It was a tradition to plant trees,” he said.
He also fondly recalled memories of Arbor Day.
“We had two picnic days a year, the last day of the year and Arbor Day.”
On 31 January, 1934 the Courier Mail reported “On next Arbor Day, the children of the State schools of Queensland will be asked to plant in the school grounds a special tree in honour of the late Squadron-Leader Bert Hinkler. The tree will be known as the Hinkler Tree.”
The article went on to explain that the idea had originated from education authorities in Victoria, leading Queensland to join “the children’s nationwide tribute”.
Tracing the Hinkler family tree
Jennifer’s grandfather was Jack Hinkler, Bert’s brother.
He’s also pictured in the photo of the commemoration of the tree.
She said her dad had grown up in the area but moved away after he and her grandfather went “off to war”.
“It was certainly the era for adventure,” she said.
More on the candlenut tree
The botanical name for the tree is Aleurites moluccana and it produces highly nutritious nuts that are delicious roasted.
Early settlers found that the high oil content of the nuts enabled them to burn with a smoky flame for up to 20 minutes.
- Bert Hinkler letters digitised, available online