PIN Ola Cohn Fairies Tree

Today’s article takes us on an excursion to the Fitzroy Gardens in Melbourne to visit the stump of a 300 year-old red gum. This tree is known as the Fairies’ Tree, and it was carved by the artist Ola Cohn – unpaid and completed during her spare time – over three years during the Depression from 1931 to 1934.

 The plaque beneath the tree explains “I have carved in a tree in the Fitzroy Gardens for you, and the fairies, but mostly for the fairies and those who believe in them, for they will understand how necessary it is to have a fairy sanctuary – a place that is sacred and safe as a home should be to all living creatures.” She wanted her tree to be “a place of peace; a place that will make everyone happy, however sad and weary they may be at heart”.

The Story of The Fairies' Tree

Ola used the natural irregularities and curves of the tree trunk to reveal fairies, dwarfs, gnomes, koalas, and a host of Australian flora and fauna. During this time, she also published four books with original fairy tales about the fairies and other creatures that live in the tree and feature in the carvings.

Ola Cohn's Fairy Tree
ola cohn fairies tree sorcerer spider

Her first book, The Fairies’ Tree, tells the story of a time hundreds of years ago when the seed of a Red Gum tree sprang into life and a Fairy Queen was born. The Big Tree became the Fairies’ home. But, driven out by the noise of warring tribes, they roamed the land for centuries; and meanwhile, their home was commandeered by an evil bunyip. On the advice of the Wise Magician they elected the brave Stoutheart to challenge the bunyip. With one touch of his magic bulrush wand he banished their foe to the Cave-Of-No-Escape, where he was trapped forever more by the web of the greedy Sorcerer Spider. When the Fairies finally returned to live in their Big Tree, they found it had died. But the Bees had used it to build a most magnificent palace, with walls of honey gold.

Her second book, More About the Fairies’ Tree, contains more adventures about the trees’ inhabitants. Here you can see a musical imp, dancing with the Lyre Bird, whose music was so charming it changed the character of Sneaky Snake who lost his power to sting. Or the reading mother, who is telling her children that when the Sky People bump their heads together and make a loud noise, it is followed by their crying, their tears turning into rain.

GMC 6314

The books were published in the 1930s, and these vintage copies are delightful but naturally quite expensive. But if you are interested in an affordable copy, the Fitzroy Gardens recently reprinted several of the books in small hardbacks, which include the illustrations, photographs and music from the original.

The Fairies' Tree Books and Biographies

The Fairies’ Tree by Ola Cohn

Publication: Private Press 1932 (first edition), Robert Strugnell 2016 (reprint)

About the book: A collection of Australian fairy tales related to carvings on the Fairies’ Tree in Fitzroy Gardens, Melbourne.

Where to buy:

► Find a first edition of The Fairies’ Tree (OOP)…

► Buy the reprint edition of The Fairies’ Tree from Book Depository

More About The Fairies’ Tree by Ola Cohn

Publication: Private Press 1933 (first edition), Robert Strugnell 2016 (reprint)

About the book: A second collection of Australian fairy tales related to carvings on the Fairies’ Tree in Fitzroy Gardens, Melbourne.

Where to buy:

► Find a first edition of More About The Fairies’ Tree (OOP)…

► Buy the reprint edition of More About The Fairies’ Tree from Book Depository

Ola Cohn Castles Air Cover

Castles in the Air by Ola Cohn

Publication: Private Press 1933 (first edition), Robert Strugnell 2016 (reprint)

About the book: The story of Blossom’s adventures in the bush, where Wagglewand, a mallee root, comes to life and helps Blossom build her castle in the air. 

Where to buy:

► Find a first edition of More About The Fairies’ Tree (OOP)…

► Buy the reprint edition of Castles in the Air from Book Depository…

ola cohn Mostly Cats Cover

Mostly Cats by Ola Cohn

Publication: Private Press 1964 (first edition), Robert Strugnell 2017 (reprint)

About the book: A short memoir, which includes a section on in which the artist reminisces on her preparation & carving of the iconic Fairies’ Tree.

Buy a first edition of Mostly Cats (OOP)…

► Buy the reprint edition of Mostly Cats from Book Depository.

ola cohn biography Away with Fairies

A Way With The Fairies: The Lost Story of Sculptor Ola Cohn edited by Barbara Lemon

Publication: Robert Strugnell (2014)

About the book: Barbara Lemon is a historian with an interest in biography and oral history. She was awarded a Creative Fellowship at the State Library in 2010 to transcribe and edit Ola Cohn’s original unpublished autobiographical manuscript, now published in this book.

► Buy A Way With The Fairies from Book Depository…

ola cohn fairies tree 1st ed

Ola Cohn’s Fairies’ Tree by Sonja Delander

Publication: Mullaya (1972)

About the book: The history of Ola Cohn and her Fairies’ Tree, accompanied by the photography of Rick Buckingham. 

Buy Ola Cohn’s Fairies’ Tree (OOP)…


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