Big Bad Banksia Men



Giant Banksia Flower

I seem to be on a magical, mystical, memory tour lately. So when I came across a giant banksia tree during my neighbourhood perambulations, I was transported to the books of my early childhood. Memory associations, whether evoked by our senses, like smell or sight, or by emotional associations, are such gifts. They beckon me down a path into the land of my past.

But let me explain this particular connection between the banksia and my memories of a magical childhood lived large on imagination. Among my favourite stories were the  Snugglepot and Cuddlepie tales of the gumnut babies. The author May Gibbs, is an Australian national treasure whose stories and whimsical illustrations have enchanted generations of Aussie children since 1918.

When the stories were re-released in the year of Gibbs’ death (1970), as a part of the Young Australian series,  I bought the books for my daughters. For them, it was the enjoyment of discovery, and for me it was re-visiting with my children, stories that my mother, Nana and Grandma had read to me. They were a ‘generational joy’ in our family; tales read and re-read over the span of a century.


The most captivating tales featured the “big bad Banksia men”. If you look at the image below of the ageing banksia seed pod you can see how deliciously scary it might appear with its multiple mouths and imagined legs and arms. These little rascals were always trying to carry off the gumnut babies and for years featured as villains in my most graphic nightmares.


Banksia seed pod: inspiration for big bad Banksia men

Gibbs describes how she came across a grove of banksia trees where upon each branch sat seed pods like “wicked, ugly little men” that became the inspiration for these frightening, yet beloved characters.

Gibbs’ stories imparted an appreciation for nature and its preservation. The frontispiece of one book implores: “Humans! Please be kind to all Bush Creatures and don’t pull up flowers by the roots.”

The circuitous path to my point in this post is to recognise there is a continuity across generations beyond the obvious genetic one. I’m thinking here of the value of reading perpetuated through four, and now five generations of my family, and no doubt, many more I’ve never met.

The seeds of the banksia provide the plant’s next generation and so on in the circle of life. They can no more produce a mango tree from their seeds than we can produce apes from ours. But the seeds of imagination, of values like kindness,compassion and appreciation, indeed of wisdom, can be planted in consecutive generations of humans to bloom and fruit again and again. The flowers may differ from year to year, and from one generation to the next, but bloom they will. Each of us has a responsibility for the quality of seed  we plant.

Read. Read stories to your children. Read to any children, to anyone. It will bear fruit.

We cannot conceive of matter being formed of nothing, since things require a seed to start from… Therefore there is not anything which returns to nothing, but all things return dissolved into their elements.

William Shakespeare


Earth teach me to forget myself as melted snow forgets its life.

Earth teach me resignation as the leaves which die in the fall.

Earth teach me courage as the tree which stands all alone.

Earth teach me regeneration as the seed which rises in the spring.

William Alexander


18 responses to “Big Bad Banksia Men

  1. I’m intrigued by your Shakespeare quote. Biologists were still arguing about spontaneous generation – the idea that life can spring from nothing – in the early nineteenth century. Shakespeare seems to have got that sorted two centuries earlier. Thanks for a thoughtful post and the introduction to an Australian story book tradition.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Reading with children and passing on the love of the written word – that is certainly where the hope lives and lives on. I’d never seen a banksia and it was a bit scary to me, too. But the idea of self-perpetuation and the quotes at the end provided a bit of thoughtfulness as I got an early start for this Sunday. Thanks, Robyn

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Love it! Just precious, its meaning both to us and your personal history. I was thrilled my boy’s Book Club chose for the next meeting a book I remembered loving in 4th grade. He ate it up and has listened to it multiple times already though we meet with the Club in January.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! I think it’s wonderful your son will share a book from your past. You’ll be able to enjoy it together. I’m thrilled to hear of your boy’s book club as well. It’s sometimes quite difficult to get boys to develop a love of literature. I’m glad my post resonated with you


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