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I have posted about Newcastle’s Laman Street Figs on 3 occasions. Newcastle City Council have wanted to remove the 14 Hills Figs since late 2009. The trees that could realistically described as ‘grand’ are planted on both sides of Laman Street creating the most perfect cathedral effect. It is a glorious entrance to the Newcastle Art Gallery.
The Laman Street Figs have been around for around 8 decades & are a significant part of how the people of Newcastle see their city. I guess an equivalent would be to remove all the Fig trees from Sydney’s Domain. It would change our experience of the NSW Art Gallery all together. We may get used to no trees, but if it wasn’t entirely necessary, I doubt anyone would want it to happen at all.
This is how it is for the people of Newcastle. 96% of submissions said they wanted the Laman Street Figs to stay. On 17th August 2010 five out of 7 7 Councillors 7 Councillors voted to remove these iconic Figs. 5 Councillors voted to retain them. The community went into meltdown.
Caitlin Raschke set up Save Our Figs http://saveourfigs.wordpress.com/ &
continually fought for the Figs. A group of residents called Fig Jam support Save Our Figs & have protested on a number of occasions by holding placards & picnics trying to draw attention to the plight of the Figs. People said over & over again that it wouldn’t happen & the Figs will stay.
And why not? Anyone could see these trees were bursting with health, except health wasn’t really the issue. Newcastle Council said the trees had no roots & were a severe danger to the community in that they would fall down & kill someone. The community didn’t believe this assessment. These trees survived the 124km/h extreme winds that occurred during the Pasha Bulker storm in 2007. That they would now fall in much lesser winds did not make sense.
The annual Arts Fair held under the trees were cancelled. Council erected signs to stay out of the area during high winds. Then they made the street one-way. Then they started blocking off the street during windy days. Then they started blocking off the street at night, then permanently, except for the few hours when the NSW Governor Professor Marie Bashir was an esteemed quest at a function at the Art Gallery. For those few hours the chauffeur-driven limousines were parked outside the gallery under the killer trees. This time the community wondered why it was safe for the NSW Governor, but not for anyone else.
Newcastle Council had a charette (big talk-fest). From the original 2 days to talk about the future of Laman Street the issue was given a bit of time tagged onto the end.
Then the Mayor said that the Figs should be chopped down leaving the stumps in the ground & these should be carved into famous people making a dramatic entrance to the Newcastle Art Gallery. This was voted against at a subsequent Council Meeting. Then Council suggested that Liquid ambers be planted in place of the Figs & the community started writing letters about what they saw was an inappropriate choice of tree for this location. Then came the Councillors vote on August 17th 2010 & the trees are lost or so it may seem.
An Independent Arborist Mark Hartley, a senior consultant for The Arborist Network was contracted by the community to comment on the previous Arborist’s Reports & assess the trees, as well as their risk of falling. His report is very interesting. I am attaching the final draft as a pdf that you can download if you are interested. Mr Hartley has the skill of writing about specialized issues in a way that people who don’t work in the industry can understand. The report also compares the assessments of 3 other Arborists so you get to understand what has gone on before. Mr Harley outlines substantial errors in previous assessments.
So where to now? The community is not sitting by until the men with chainsaws arrive. Newcastle people are very upset about the decision to remove these trees & many who didn’t believe that the trees were at risk have now written letters & spoken to the media & radio. Thankfully, the media is responding to the community by reporting on this issue often.
You can read the Final Draft of the Independent Arborist’s Report by clicking on the following link. The document is 340kb in size. Thank you to Save Our Figs for allowing me to share it. Independent-Arborist’s-Report-Laman-Street-Newcastle-final-draft
The following are earlier posts on the Laman Street Figs –
Yesterday the Newcastle Herald ran an article that shocked me. A couple of months ago I wrote about the Laman Street Fig trees that are at serious risk of being removed. Newcastle Council says the trees are “potentially unstable.” The community says they are not & that none of these trees dropped a branch or fell during the Pasha Bulker storm that caused massive damage across Newcastle.
The June 2007 storm (the Pasha Bulker storm) was one of the most significant meteorological events in Australia’s history. It was the 4th largest general insurance loss (inflation adjusted) since systematic insurance records were started in 1968. The storm consisted of three distinct impacts (1) flash flooding in the urban area of Newcastle (and as far south as the Central Coast, impacting 800,000 people) on the night of 8 June (about 1 in 100 year return period) (2) more general flooding on the Hunter River 3 days later (about 1 in 40 return period, impacting about 100,000 people) and (3) high winds and wave heights on the night of 8 June (the worst in the Newcastle-Sydney region since the “Sygna” storm in 1974. ~ The National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility - http://www.nccarf.edu.au/node/214 So you would think if healthy trees were going to fall, they would do so during that storm.
Having been to see the trees myself I was impressed at their beauty & couldn’t understand why they were considered dangerous. The road is not damaged, nor is the footpath. A wedding party certainly wasn’t afraid as they were standing under the trees for at least an hour having photos taken. See – http://savingourtrees.wordpress.com/2010/04/21/newcastles-iconic-laman-street-fig-trees-at-risk/
Newcastle Mayor Clr Tate in an article in the Newcastle Herald yesterday suggested that the Laman Street Figs be chopped down & the stumps of these magnificent Figs be left in place & sculpted into famous Newcastle artists. He cites the Legerwood Memorial trees in Tasmania as his inspiration saying they are a good tourist attraction.
In 1918 at railway reserve at Ringarooma Road, now known as Legerwood, 2 Douglas Fir, 2 Giant Sequoia, 3 Deodar & a Weymouth Pine were planted to honour WW1 fallen soldiers. In 2001 the trees were deemed unsafe, but not removed due to community concern. In 2004 the Legerwood Hall & Reserves Committee employed a local chainsaw carver to sculpt images of the fallen soldiers & war scenes using the trunks of the trees that were left in place. I would seriously recommend looking at these sculptures - http://www.dorsetonline.org.au/trees.htm
For the life of me I cannot see how chopping down these magnificent trees to leave carved stumps is seen as a viable option. Admitted I am biased as I think Newcastle Council should do everything in its power to keep these trees. Not only are these trees an icon, but they are an extremely beautiful asset & would be worth at least $100,000 each. 14 trees = $1,400,000.
As Council has blocked the street to through traffic, I would suggest a good option is to remove Laman Street totally. It’s a very short street & access to the Art Gallery can be via Civic Park or from the side, just as the Art Gallery of NSW can be entered via the Domain. Even disabled parking at the sides would be as close as it is for the Art Gallery of NSW. Remove all the bitumen & concrete, put in paths to the Art Gallery, add some seating, plant & mulch.
If the trees scare you because of their height, borrow the Arborist from Sydney’s Botanical Gardens to do a proper prune & keep this beautiful asset for future generations. The trees are healthy even to their root system.
Please don’t chop down living treasures to grind chain-saw sculptures of dead artists. It’s too sad an idea to even contemplate. Leave Tasmania to be the only ones with tree stump sculptures. Have tourists come to see the fabulous Fig trees of Newcastle & have afternoon tea outside the Newcastle Art Gallery under the shade of the Laman Street Figs. Be known as the Mayor that saved the Laman Street Figs, not the Mayor who …. Oh, it’s just too awful to contemplate.
To read the Newcastle Herald Article -
You can read the follow-up post written on 1st September 2010 about the Independent Arborist Report by clicking here http://savingourtrees.wordpress.com/2010/09/01/independent-arborist-report-for-newcastles-laman-street-figs/