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Festival of the Trees: When I think about festive trees I think of Christmas trees. As it isn’t Christmas, the next tree I would call ‘festive’ is the Fig tree because it is so large, brimming with life & has the amazing ability to make me feel good. Fig trees it is.
I love Fig trees, any type & the bigger the better. I love that they grow very tall & if left unpruned, can look like a mammoth upturned bowl of leaves. The Hill’s Fig is my favourite. I love the colour of its leaves & the way its branches get a whitish look & grow skyward.
Fig trees have featured in the greater part of my life. They are all over Balmain were I spent a good chunk of my adult life & were in the grounds of most places I worked. I’ve spent hundreds of hours sitting under Figs working, reading & chatting with friends. I’ve had picnics & held parties under them. I’ve even had a ‘first kiss’ underneath one. Unfortunately I have never lived with a Fig tree on the property, though I have had friends who did.
I don’t live close to a Fig tree these days, but in the past I did. I used to love listening to the bats eating the figs in summer. In particularly hot summers, the fruit would ferment & the bats would become drunk & fight amongst themselves, which made it difficult to get to sleep at times. After a couple of summers, the bats’ behaviour became white noise & I would have to specifically tune in to hear them.
I also like to watch bats as they fly around. Just last month I spent half an hour watching the bats circle the Fig trees at a local park. Quietly, the bats flew around & around. After a while, I realised it was play.
Sometime I will get myself organised to go to the east entrance of Wolli Creek to watch the thousands of bats fly out for the night. I am told it is quite a spectacle. As previously mentioned, the bats in the city are also beautiful to watch & I think this is a terrific bonus to tourism for Sydney.
I love the thick branches of Fig trees. I particularly like the way part of their root system is above ground. I like the roots that descend from their branches ready to support the branch as it gets bigger & heavier. I like the knots that develop after a branch is cut off &, of course, I love their trunks.
I like how dark & cool it can be when there are many mature Figs planted close to each other. Other than being in the water, there is nowhere cooler on a hot summer day. I even like that it takes a while for the rain to get to you if you are taking refuge from the weather by standing under a Fig.
Sydney City Council puts Fig trees to great advantage by using their spectacular size & canopy to highlight many areas in the city & surrounding suburbs. The fairy lights wound around the branches of the avenues of Figs in Hyde Park & make it a very romantic place after dark. I think they add more fairy lights during the Festival of Sydney & this immediately creates a magical party feel.
Leichhardt Council has many old Fig trees throughout the LGA. They have recently planted Fig trees every 4 metres along Lilyfield Road (which is at least a couple of kilometres long). Apart from being a beautiful feature to the street-scape, they also hide the railway line. Give the trees a few years to grow & this thoroughfare will look tremendous, with a huge canopy spilling over the road. I predict property prices here will rise even more.
Marrickville Council has its own Figs including the oldest Fig in Sydney, though I’m not absolutely sure of this. The St Stephen’s Fig was planted in 1848. See – http://savingourtrees.wordpress.com/2010/02/24/st-stephens-fig/ It is most certainly the oldest in the LGA.
Another very old Fig tree is on a private property in South Street Tempe. This is also a very special tree. Then there is the ancient Morton Bay Fig in the IKEA development that the community is concerned about. Council also planted a ring of Figs in Tempe Reserve that I hope I live for long enough to see mature.
I would think most Councils in Sydney have a significant quota of Fig trees as these were popular in the early 1900’s. Now many are getting old (read senescent in ‘Arborist Speak’) & I fear they will be replaced with something like Tuckaroos. If this happens, it will be such a loss.
If I were a Town Planner, I would insist that a Fig tree was planted at as many street corners as possible. Imagine the dramatic entrance to ordinary suburban streets if this is done. They do this in the Sunshine Coast to great effect. Shopping strips are kept cool by these trees & people linger just to sit in their shade. Because shoppers linger they spend more. Research has shown 11% more.
I would also make Fig trees mandatory in public parks & in the grounds of hospitals, because a green outlook helps people feel emotionally good as well as increase the body’s healing ability. I would have Fig trees in school grounds to protect the children from the sun & stimulate their imagination, because Figs are magical trees & easily the stuff of fairy tales & tropical islands. Children, particularly girls, learn better when they can see trees during study. Boys tend to be calmer in leafy surrounds. The Fig tree is a giant in this regard.
To my mind the most amazing Fig in Australia is the ‘Curtain Fig’ in North Queensland. http://rainforest-australia.com/additional_Curtfig_photos.htm to see photos. To quote from the site:
- It is one of the largest trees in north Queensland.
- To count the tangled roots of the Curtain Fig would take a week.
- Its curtain of aerial roots drops 15 metres (49 feet) to the ground.
How can I get Marrickville Council to plant one of these?
An old Port Jackson Fig (ficus rubiginosa) near the rocket play area in Enmore Park Enmore is up for removal. We went to have a look today. The Fig has a cavity in the trunk where it meets the soil. It would make a perfect home for a small animal in a forest location.
Marrickville Council employed a consulting Arborist, who performed a Resistograph. This test uses a ‘smart drill’ to record timber density, which can then be graphed onto a scale model showing how much hard wood is left in the
trunk. Unfortunately 70% of the base of this particular tree has decayed. The hollow has also travelled 67% up the stem of the tree. Both factors make it a high risk of falling, particularly if placed under stress like high winds.
The report does say the tree can be pruned to remove weight, but says the tree would have to be topped with the side branches lopped & kept in this condition. Therefore, it would never regain a full tree shape again. Erecting a fence around the tree to protect the public was also an option. Neither of these actually would improve the look of the tree & amenity of the park, so the advice is to remove the tree.
Marrickville Council intends to replace the tree with an advanced Port Jackson Fig at the same location.
I am pleased Marrickville Council made the Tree Report freely available to the public with the Notice of Removal. The Notice of Removal on the tree had clear information about the reasons for removal. Unfortunately, they nailed the signs to the tree, which is a bugbear of mine. Council recently started using tape to secure the notices on the trees, but has returned to old habits.
All in all, the information provided to the community is thorough & I thank Council for this. At the very least, it helps people like myself understand why this tree needs to be removed. The Tree Report was also written in a way that was easily understandable & was in itself, a great learning resource.
The period for submissions is only 2 weeks & closes Friday 7th May 2010. SoT will not be putting in a submission.
Update – IKEA Fig trees – I have been on the search for information about the Post Jackson Fig & the 2-3 massive Hills Figs on the grounds of the new IKEA development, Princes Highway Tempe. As this was a DA, Parks & Gardens did not know what has or is intended for these trees. They gave me the contact details for an officer in Planning who told me that the only tree which was referred to in the DA requirements was the Morton Bay Fig tree. This tree is to be relocated outside the staff recreation room. This explains why the tree is sitting perched up on the original soil with the surrounding areas outside the tree line excavated.
As to what happened to the 2 or 3 massive Hill’s Figs, no one knows. I would presume they fell victim to the chainsaw, which makes me very sad. Judging by the amount of birds that roost in the 2 Mackey Park Hills Figs, these trees would have also been the homes for thousands of birds. Now, they are most likely lost to concrete & bricks & mortar. I guess it depends on one’s priorities, but I don’t think trees feature highly in development. Trees get in the way. It’s as simple as that.
I will try to contact Marrickville Council’s heritage expert to see if I can find out more about these trees. Marrickville Heritage Society is also concerned about the Morton bay Fig, but was unaware of the presence of the Hills Figs. Most of us were similarly unaware, because they were hidden behind 2 storey buildings for decades.
Update: Bandicoot habitat Lewisham – The trees that were due to be removed as part of renovations at the St Vincent’s de Paul Head Office in West Street Lewisham are still standing. I did read in the Inner West Courier about 1 month back that they were working with local WIRES to help keep the Bandicoot habitat. It’s excellent to see an organisation making an effort in response to the community’s concerns with regards to threatened species.
Marrickville Council approved their DA & they could have legally gone ahead with the destruction of this little group of Bandicoots’ habitat.
We had a look today & saw other church properties that are filled with large trees. It made me realise just how important these old established grounds are in built-up urban areas. Over the years, we have lost so many large trees from front & back gardens, from streets, from properties that have been knocked down & rebuilt & from areas that were once vacant space. While suburban environments have changed, places like the grounds of St Vincent’s de Paul still function as a green oasis in what is becoming predominately bitumen, cement, bricks, glass & steel.
Callan Park in Leichhardt LGA is also a prime example as the grounds are still as they were 50 years ago, except the trees have grown to become magnificent. To lose these green places will be devastating in more ways that one & not just to the urban wildlife.
Last week residents of Wilga Avenue Dulwich Hill were given a grant of $1,000. See Report from the Gallery – 20th April 2010. Photo below.
Does anyone know what has happened to the 2 or 3 Hills Figs on the new IKEA site Princes Highway Tempe? Last time I drove past, the Hills Figs were gone & the Morton Bay Fig was standing alone with all the ground surrounding the edge of its canopy excavated. Marrickville Heritage Society told me IKEA said they would be relocating this tree, but they don’t know what has happened with the other trees.
These trees are not ordinary. As far as I know they are in the small group of the oldest remaining trees in Marrickville LGA. I hope the others are okay.
I will write to Marrickville Council to see if they are aware of what is/has happened to these trees & what the plans for them are.
In February 2010 I wrote about the resplendent Morton Bay Fig at St Stephen’s Church in Newtown for Festival of the Trees. See http://savingourtrees.wordpress.com/2010/02/24/st-stephens-fig/ With this post, I aim to describe the cemetery as I have experienced it. To separate the graveyard & the trees is almost impossible as they intermingle & both are quite beautiful.
Once you walk past the massive Morton Bay Fig planted in 1848 & the 2 large clumps of Giant Bamboo, also planted more than a century ago, you follow the dirt road that takes you to the heritage protected Gothic Revivalist St Stephen’s Church & immediately into the cemetery. The graveyard itself starts within metres of the entrance on both sides of the dirt road.
The current cemetery is about 4 acres (1.6 hectares) & is bordered by a high sandstone wall. The land, 4 kms from Sydney’s CBD, purchased by a group of businessmen in 1845, was originally 12.5 acres (4.8 hectares). It was the main cemetery for Sydney until it closed in 1867 because it was full. Even so, a few people were buried here up to the 1940s. All up, about 18,000 people were buried here, though the true numbers are not known because many of the graves hold multiple people, all buried on top of each other. A significant number of the famous are buried here.
In 1948 Marrickville Council reclaimed ¾ of the cemetery land to create a public park & Camperdown Memorial Rest Park opened in 1951. The headstones and other fixtures were brought inside the cemetery wall & I guess the thousands of interred are still under the park while the dog walkers & others play overhead. Rather a gruesome thought, though I know others who question why I think like this.
The tombstones from outside the new boundary were removed & placed inside & against the sandstone perimeter wall & fixed in place with steel nails. Unfortunately, the nails have rusted over time & split many of the headstones. Most of the graves & headstones are made of Sydney sandstone & have seriously weathered over the years.
The graves surround the church, then spread out through the cemetery. I have not been on one of the regular guided tours, so I do not know much about the individuals who were buried here. Directly behind the church is an impressive grave in the style of a boat. My favourite tombstone is a tree stump made of cement. Over time it has weathered & appears real until you look closely.
The cemetery is also special because of the trees. There are Brush Boxes (Lophostemon confertus) planted in the 1960s, Blackwoods (Acacia melanoxylon), a Lemon Scented Gum (Corymbia citriodora), a Port Jackson Cypress Pine (Callitris rhomboidea), 2 African Olive trees (Olea africana), a number of Melaleucas, a grove of Chinese Elms (Ulmus parvifolia), Canary Island Palms (Phoenix canariensis), a Morton Bay Fig (Ficus macrophylla), a few Birch trees & a number of Camphor Laurel trees (Cinnamomum camphora). There are also 2 clumps of Giant Bamboo.
If I were to take you on a tour, we would walk down the dirt road passing many graves & a row of Canary Island Palms planted in the 1930s. There is a circular road behind St Stephen’s Church & many of the gravestones in this area are impressive.
From here we would walk into the small area beside the church on the other side. It is somewhat off the path, but it is well worth it because of the enormous Oak that spreads its boughs here. The last time we went it had been raining heavily & the ground was very boggy, which I think would discourage people from going in this direction. In this area the gravestones are sparser, though I would guess there are people buried in unmarked graves. The Oak is magnificent & would be one of the trees that were planted in 1848. The Oak tree spills out claiming a lot of space & I can easily imagine the kids playing on it after church a century ago.
A few metres away a big tree has recently been chopped down. Judging by the side of the stump, I imagine this tree also filled the space now open to the sky. Interestingly, the stump is one of many which is directly next to a grave & over time it has dislodged part of the stone. I would guess there was a tradition of planting a tree where a loved one was buried.
The cemetery did have many Peace roses, but Marrickville Council removed them because it was felt they required too much care. I found one old rose bush planted in a grave, so perhaps it is a remanent of the original roses.
Moving away from this area & rejoining the dirt path that meanders around the left side of the cemetery following the sandstone fence, you pass very old Brush Box & Camphor Laurel trees. Their trunks are massive & they have been left to grow naturally with minimal pruning.
A special site is on your left where those from the shipwrecked Dunbar & the Catherine Adamson in 1857 are buried. I know it is important because these graves are painted white & are well looked after. The dirt path becomes a track & takes you to & along the back wall of the cemetery. Tombstone after tombstone are lined up against the perimeter wall. Some are detailed & very beautiful while others are simple affairs.
The trees in this area are different. They too are tall, but their branches sweep just above the ground & in some cases require you to dodge & walk around them. Some of the graves here are different as well, being just headstones & you have to assess where the grave would be if you don’t want to tread on them.
This part of the cemetery has remanent Kangaroo grass (Themeda triandra) left over from when the whole area to Botany Bay was covered with this species of grass. It’s nice to look at & I can easily imagine following the walking trail to the sea over miles of this soft grass that would have caught the light & changed colour throughout the day.
To your right is the centre of the cemetery & my favourite area. It has no path, is dense with tall trees & you cannot see the church. Apart from the odd gravestone, you could be anywhere. The grass is long & many of the graves are overgrown. There is a birch wood covering a few metres that have sprung up naturally after the initial trees were planted. There is also some Wattle, a very large a Port Jackson Cypress Pine, more Oak trees planted in 1848 & a grove of Chinese Elms.
In the middle is an old Oak stump that stands about 6 feet high with a natural hollow that ascends to the top. Here I found a piece of hand-made jewellery that has been carefully placed inside. It made me think that I had come across some sort of wishing ritual, so apart from taking a photo, I did not touch it.
One branch from this tree has been left on the ground. It had the most amazing pattern & to me looked almost like rivers taken from space. Interesting that pictures of earth from space can look similar to what we can see in nature & even the same as inside the human body. The patterns repeat again & again. I hope the church authorities leave this stump as it is very beautiful.
Leaving the centre of the cemetery, you return to the path, which widens & takes you back to St Stephen’s Church. Here there are many other tall & old trees, mostly Brush Box.
The most filigree tomb is right in the front left-hand corner behind the Giant Bamboo. Here 4 figures act as columns for a roof structure. Each figure looks different & holds something different. We did not notice the bees that started to gather & had to run away because these bees were quite territorial. There are at least 2 hives situated at the back of the Lodge located a few metres away.
Once you pass the Giant Bamboo & the massive Morton Bay Fig, you return to the front gate & are in the heart of busy Newtown with it’s tiny terraces & narrow streets. If you follow the perimeter fence to your left, you come to Camperdown Memorial Rest Park where a few of the original Brush Box trees can be seen at the edge of the park. This much-used park is where the cemetery was originally, so remember to be quiet. There are people sleeping under your feet.
NOTE: I have tried to create a visual walking tour of Camperdown Cemetery. The photos are labelled 1, 2 , 3 etc & they follow the path as I walked it. You can view this at the following link – http://www.flickr.com/photos/savingourtrees/sets/72157623601096089/detail/
Apart from the 3 trees in Ivanhoe Street, there is also a Fig tree up for removal in Steele Park Marrickville South. I received the following information about this tree. Unfortunately, this tree should be removed as it will become dangerous. Thankfully, it will be replaced with a Moreton Bay Fig. Thanks to Marrickville Council for the following information.
The removal of the tree is necessary as there has been a failure of one of multiple trunks attached at ground level. All of these trunks have major inclusions associated with a large amount of end-weight producing a significant lever-arm stress. This was the cause of failure of the subject trunk. Additionally the failure exposed a large amount of root crown decay at & below ground level.
The present structural defects associated with the root crown decay & the exposure to further decay by way of the large wound make the retention of the tree unmanageable. The tree is close enough to no. 16 Thornley St for it to present an unacceptable risk of failure & property damage at some point in the future. It is proposed to be replaced with a Moreton Bay Fig of size 100L or greater.
Don’t forget, the deadline for submissions regarding the 3 street trees in Ivanhoe Street Marrickville South closes this coming Monday 8th March. Please send in a submission asking these trees be retained if you agree. You can read about them here -http://savingourtrees.wordpress.com/2010/02/27/4-trees-up-for-removal-in-marrickville-south/
The post contains a hyperlink directly to council’s web-site where you can write your submission.
I ask that you put in a submission even if the trees are not located near you. All tree removal has an impact on the green canopy of Marrickville LGA. This month it’s Marrickville South, next month it may be Camperdown, Newtown or Dulwich Hill.
Just last month, Marrickville Council put up their Tree Strategy Issues Paper for the Councillors to vote on. Had they voted to pass the paper, we would now be losing 1,000 mature trees a year for the next 5 years.
A pie chart in the document showed Council wants to remove 59% of the public trees across Marrickville LGA. I was shocked when I read this.
The Tree Strategy Issues Paper is to return to the Councillors for voting 5 or so months from now. If Council thought it was reasonable to recommend the removal of 59% of its trees, I would think it is likely they will continue to push for a great percentage to be removed. If this is indeed what happens, the community will be required to put in many submissions if we want a chance of retaining these trees.
It would be great if we supported each street, each area when each comes under threat, even if we don’t live there, because the lumberjacks will be in your area & perhaps your street eventually. This is one issue where the community could seriously help & benefit each other without much time & effort.
A submission need not be a large document. It can be a few lines, a paragraph or more & you can write whatever you want. I have noticed that submissions received from the community are taken seriously both by Council staff & the Councillors.
If just 1% of the LGA sent in a submission, not only would we probably set a record for mail submissions, we would also probably rewrite the agenda when it comes to greening the LGA.
If we do nothing, then we are going to be living in an area where 59% of our trees will be gone, which will affect us in many ways (see the pages 100 Tree Facts & About Street Trees on this site for more information about this).
Another serious effect of denuding the LAG of mature trees is our urban wildlife who will be drastically affected. Much of the current trees do not provide food or shelter for them. I doubt they could withstand the removal of so many trees. Imagine no birds, except maybe the resiliant Indian Mynas. Imagine no possums.
Some things always make me feel good. The first mango or cherry in summer, walking on the beach & feeling the chill of the ocean, sitting down in the theatre to watch a performance & opening a good book. The Morton Bay Fig in St Stephen’s Church Newtown is one such thing. I never fail to feel good when I see this tree & thought it should be this month’s tree & get its own space on Festival of the Trees.
This Morton Bay Fig (Ficus macrophylla) was planted in 1848. Historians think it was planted to commemorate the completion of the roof on the Lodge, a delightful stone building situated a few metres from the tree. They chose the site to plant well because with a 30 plus metre span & after 162 years, this giant of a tree is not causing problems with the church, the Lodge, the public road or footpath or the internal road within the church grounds.
St Stephen’s Church is situated 4 kms south of Sydney’s CBD & one block back from bustling King Street in Newtown. The 4 acres of the church grounds & cemetery is a green haven in one of the most high-density suburbs of Sydney. Once you enter through the big wrought iron gates, there the tree is, with its massive branches reaching up to the sky. A few metres away is a very old grove of thick bamboo. Then
the dirt road leads you to the beautiful church, a masterpiece of Gothic Revival architecture that was designed by Edmund Blackett & completed in 1874. From there the grounds open up into Camperdown Cemetery, which was founded in 1848 & consecrated a year later. Most of the burials occurred between 1849 & 1867 and ceased in the 1940s.
The grounds are full of many
old trees of various species, some of which were planted in 1848 & along with the Morton Bay Fig, are the oldest trees in Marrickville LGA. Fortunately, the whole site, including the trees & remanent Kangaroo Grass, is listed as a site of national importance by the Heritage Council of New South Wales & the National Register & is therefore protected from development.
Many people use the grounds daily to walk their dogs, picnic, read in solitude or meditate. The church kindly encourages this & for the most part, the community is respectful to the place, though when I downloaded the photos I did discover some faded nazi graffiti on the back of 4 gravestones.
It is a quiet, peaceful & very beautiful place. St Stephen’s is a popular church to be married & to have wedding photos taken under the Fig tree. There is a strong sense of history everywhere you look.
The Fig tree has enormous aboveground roots. It must be due to its age & I have never seen roots so high. The height of the roots gives me a strange, but wonderful feeling of entering the tree when I walk up close. It is like being embraced. Some people call it ‘the Peter Pan tree’ because of a hollow in the root system. The photos don’t convey either the size of this tree or how far the roots extend.
Currawongs nest in this Fig tree & its fruit feeds bats & other birds. At dusk the whole site comes alive with the sounds of birds that return home to settle in for the night. It’s lovely & loud.
So every now & then, we go for a walk, stop & say hello to the Fig tree before walking around the cemetery. It is without doubt my favourite tree & I know I am not alone in having strong feelings toward this tree & the cemetery as well.
In my area such beautiful places with many very old trees are rare. Far too many of our old trees have been cut down & even our mature trees are at risk.
There are 4 other very old Fig trees in Marrickville LGA that I am aware of. Three are in the grounds of the new Ikea development in Tempe & the locals & many others are holding their breath that the new building works will not harm them. Their canopies have been left to grow naturally so they look like upturned gigantic green bowls. At the moment they are clearly visible from the Princes Highway. Some Tempe residents take a walk & check on the state of these trees every day. The other old Fig is in South Street Tempe. It too is magnificent. Unfortunately I can’t photograph it properly because it is on private land.
I don’t think the Morton Bay Fig on the grounds of St Stephen’s Church would have been allowed to live so long if it had been growing on public land. The fact that it is on church land has ensured that it is loved & protected. The church should be commended for this. The church caretakers haven’t caused stress to the tree’s roots by paving or laying a bitumen road thereby compacting the soil. Everything is almost as it was more than a century ago & we all love it that way. If they continue to look after it, this tree could well live for a few hundred years more. Imagine how majestic it will look then.
Next month I will write about the wonderful old trees planted inside Camperdown Cemetery.