Blue Above the Trees by Mavis Thorpe Clark

Melbourne: Lansdowne Press, 1967.
198 pages; hard-cover; 22cm; b/w illus by Genevieve Melrose.

More publishing information

Awards

  • "Commended" by The Children's Book Council of Australia in 1967.
  • Appeared on the Select List of the American Library Association in 1969.

About the story

Planning to stay for ten years before returning to Devon, William Whitburn brings his wife and six children from England to the virgin forests of South Gippsland. In 1877 the family make their way on foot along a muddy track through the dense and towering forest to their new home, a wooden hut with an earthen floor in a small clearing. With only axes and saws, William Whitburn and his older sons cut down the huge trees of the ancient forest to clear the land for cattle and sheep. But 13-year-old Simon is fascinated by the forest and its creatures, particularly a pair of lyrebirds and their chicks.

Background

"Blue Above the Trees is a tale of pioneering in the 1870s in the mountain ash forests of Victoria's south-west Gippsland… (where) there was a proud, towering rainforest, covering some 2,000 square miles…

I now set off alone (in 1966) to take a writer's look at Gippsland. I came to the cleared rolling green hills around Arawata, Korumburra, Poowong, and, lingering there, I was told about the forest that was. Little remained of that old forest…"

- Trust the Dream (1999) page 186-187.

Mavis Thorpe Clark describes being "handed on from one new friend to another" until she met 80-year-old Lucy Peters of Arwata, who had been born in Gippsland during the pioneering days, and who had lived there all her life. It was from Lucy that Mavis gleaned much of the background for this story, and for A Pack Tracker, published in 1968.

"For this book there was much research into the history of the early days; into the methods by which the great forest was conquered, first by felling and then by burning; into the harsh physical demands made on these selectors and their women; into the factual detail of dairy farming; into the ways of the lyrebird, the koala and the other forest dwellers. Out of that research came sorrow for the loss of the forest, but compassion too for the men and the women and the children who gave the years of their lives to its destruction."

- Trust the Dream (1999) page 189.

Excerpt

"Winter was a long period of perpetual dampness, the fifty-odd inches of rain falling mainly between April and November. The forest was dank, dripping and gloomy, and its grey veil of rain or mist or fog scarcely ever lifted. Shrouds hid the tree-tops, the earthen floor of the hut softened, leather belts and leggings turned mildewed and the cherished matches refused to strike."

- Blue Above the Trees (1967) page 61.

See also Inspiration for Blue Above the Trees

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Cover illustration: a young man sits by a small group of lyrebirds.

Cover of 1967 edition of Blue Above the Trees.

Illustration: a young man observes a lyrebird.

Cover of 1970 edition of Blue Above the Trees.