Raleigh Public School's Big Tree

The whole school of 34 children (minus a couple of absent students) underneath Australia's biggest Camphor Laurel tree.
The whole school of 34 children (minus a couple of absent students) underneath Australia's biggest Camphor Laurel tree.

Raleigh Public School’s beloved heritage-listed “Big Tree” is the largest Camphor Laurel in Australia, according to a man whose passion is maintaining a National Register of Big Trees, Derek McIntosh.

Mr McIntosh visited Raleigh Public School on November 30 to check the current measurements of the tree and found they had not changed much in the seven years since he was last there.

His register, which can be accessed at http://www.nationalregisterofbigtrees.com.au, takes into account circumference, height and crown size in awarding points, enabling trees to be compared on an overall score.

Raleigh’s “Big Tree” has 649 points, and its rivals for the title of “biggest” Camphor Laurel don’t even come close.

There’s a teensy Camphor Laurel in Adelaide with 264 points, some others rating in the low 300s in other states, and the one that’s second-best resides in Brooklyn, Sydney and boasts a measly 385 points.

Principal of Raleigh Public School, Katrina Meenahan, is not sure of the age or provenance of the Big Tree but notes that the school itself is one of the oldest in the region, being founded 143 years ago, on 24 August 1874.

“The story behind it – the rumour – is that many, many years ago the District Inspector at the time came in his horse and cart and delivered a Camphor Laurel tree as a gift to all of the local schools. But no one really knows if that’s true.”

Mrs Meenahan said the tree is younger than the school but could easily be 100 years old.

“I have seen photos of it taken in the 1960s, and it was like a a normal-sized Camphor Laurel tree then,” she said. 

The tree may in fact be 125 years old. It’s possible that it was planted on Arbor Day 1892, as the heritage-listed Camphor Laurels in Bellingen’s Maam Gaduying Park supposedly were. 

Raleigh PS has the tree incorporated into its school logo, and many generations of students have enjoyed eating their lunch in its shade and climbing up into its branches.

“It’s had a few limbs trimmed off it over the years that haven’t been safe, but it’s beautiful,” Mrs Meenahan said. “Lovely to sit under in the shade. If it’s a nice day, the kids sit under the tree to have lunch. They play games under there as well.”

These days, with more stringent safety provisions in force, the children are no longer allowed to climb the tree and can only sit underneath when it’s not windy or wet.

“That’s the advice from the arborist. Like gum trees, Camphor Laurels drop limbs when they’re wet,” Mrs Meenahan said.

“The Big Tree”-  vital statistics

Common Name : Camphor Laurel

Scientific Name : Cinnamomum camphora

Circumference : 13.40 metres (527 inches)

Height : 26.00 metres (85 feet)

Crown : 45.00 metres (147 feet)

Points :  649

State : NSWN

Town : Raleigh

Location : Raleigh Public School

Nominator : Ian Turnbull

Year Measured : 2017