The gidgee tree (Acacia cambagei) is endemic to Australia. It is also known as the gigyea, gidya and gidgea but these names are all variations on a theme. The name which gives a clue to the essential character of the tree is ‘stinking wattle’.
Acacia is a genus of shrubs and trees, first described in Africa by Carl Linnaeus, a Swedish botanist. The sap and leaves of acacias typically bear large amounts of tannins. In 2005, the (roughly) 1300 species of acacia were divided into five genuses. ‘Acacia’ has been retained as the genus name for the (roughly) 960 Australian examples. Similar plants growing in tropical to warm-temperate regions in Europe, Africa, the Americas and southern Asia have been renamed. Contrary to the offshore examples, most Australian acacias do not have thorns. Australia’s many varieties of wattles belong to the acacia group.
The species name ‘cambagei’ is in acknowledgement of Richard H Cambage (1859-1928), a surveyor and botanical collector, who travelled widely in New South Wales and amassed many botanical samples.
The gidgee is endemic to Australia and is found mainly in semi-arid and arid regions of Queensland. Its range extends into the Northern Territory, South Australia and north-west New South Wales. In humid weather, the leaves, bark and litter round the base give off a characteristic odour which accounts for the ‘stinking’ moniker.
The gidgee and the mulga thrive in challenging terrains. Both provide nutrients and protection, thus fostering a mini ecosystem in around them. The slow-growing gidgee may hang on for hundreds of years and produces one of Australia’s hardest and most durable timbers.
Although it tolerates a wide range of soils, it favours flat or gently undulating heavy clay and clay-loam soils although in drier regions it occurs on red soil and loams in damp and/or low areas. It may form extensive open woodlands. It develops a bare trunk with thick crowns on the ends of the branches. The leaves develop a yellow colouring in autumn.
The gidgee may be erect or spreading and from 5 to 15 metres high. The crown is moderately dense, the dark grey bark is fissured and flaky, the leathery leaves narrow, elliptic and pale green in colour. The gidgee has been used as forage for livestock during drought, as firewood for campfires and as fence-posts which last for many years. The importance of the gidgee to early settlers is acknowledged in the lyrics of Slim Dusty’s song, ‘By A Fire of Gidgee Coal’. ‘Axe Mark on a Gidgee’ is another of Slim’s many songs about the outback of Australia.