In 1994 David Noble, an off-duty park ranger, abseiled into a shady, rugged gorge in an area now known as Wollemi National Park, 150 kilometres west of Sydney in the colder part of the Blue Mountains. Intrigued by a small copse of a curious tree he found there, with its peculiar bark resembling bubbling chocolate, and dark green, fern-like neeedles, which were quite different from the treetops of sassafras huddling beneath it, he brought back a specimen branch.
Excited researchers have found that it's a relic from the Age of the Dinosaurs. Notwithstanding numerous challenges - the many changes in climate since the Cretaceous some 90 million years ago; the devastating extinction of species about 65 million years ago (including the Dinosaurs), the rise and fall of great civilisations, and the arrival of Europeans in Australia who made heavy inroads and changes to the countryside, and even the frequent but destructive bush fires in that area, this tree is one of nature's true survivors.
Thought to be a separate branch of the Araucarian family of conifers, which have been around for about 215 million years, and were once dominant in the northern hemisphere forests before becoming casualties of the demise of much Cretaceous flora; the family was then only found in the southern hemisphere, consisting of the Hoop, Bunya and Norfolk Island pines. The Wollemi pine appeared to become extinct many millions of years ago with only a few pollen particles found in two-million year old Bass Strait sediments during oil exploration..
But all is not yet lost. After being hailed as the botanic find of the 20th Century and given the name Wollemia nobilis (Wollemi Pine), it was decided to gather the wild seeds and propagate new trees in a commercial plantation in Queensland which were then auctioned to raise much needed funds for further research.
Young trees were placed in botanic gardens and in certain National Parks in Australia to see how they could cope with various conditions. Many more have now been produced for sale to the general public; thus making it more commonplace and greatly increasing its chances of a continued future. Tasmania was once part of the great Gondwana continent (see Timeline) and even today has other plant species which are relics of that long ago era. Now it has a new "old" friend - one with great prehistoric mystique but hopefully a long life in a very different era..