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The Marrickville Council Tree Strategy Issues Paper was up for voting last night & what a doozey of a meeting it turned out to be.  It’s clear there are very strong & opposing views about public trees & the community cannot afford to be uninvolved when our turn comes to contribute.

Some good news before I report on this.  Council unanimously & with much enthusiasm voted in favour of the creation of a new community garden in Denison Street Dulwich Hill.  3 residents spoke in favour of setting up a community garden citing the many benefits it will provide to the community. Council then went on to say that any resident can apply to have a community garden set up in any council owned disused space or reserve in the municipality.  There is mention of this on council’s web-site.

Now back to the Trees Strategy Issues Paper (TSIP).  3 residents addressed the meeting.  While each speech addressed different issues, all of us were against the recommendation to remove 1,000 trees per year for the next 5 years.  Although the TSIP says Council intends to plant replacement trees, their own report states a significant percentage of new tree plantings fail.  Since 1972 Marrickville LGA has planted approximately 42,500 street trees.  Today we have 20,000 street trees.  The numbers speak for themselves.

Other points raised that I recall were:

  • Essential that the councillors themselves be knowledgeable about the value & benefits of public trees & tree management before voting to remove 59% of trees within Marrickville LGA.
  • The need for education, communication & consultation with the community about trees.
  • Climate change, the heat island effect, the benefits of trees, the value of mature trees, strategies to look after trees to retain them, history & continuity that mature trees bring, the streetscape & character of Marrickville LGA, supporting increasing the tree canopy, better choice & placement of street trees & the need to care for this significant asset.
  • The recommendation not to establish a Significant Tree Register was also very disappointing, as was the lack of a Tree Inventory.  It is essential the Council knew what its only appreciating asset was & an inventory would serve to keep a record of our history even if trees were removed.
  • The good points were acknowledged as was the work staff had done to prepare the TSIP.

With 3 minutes & a maximum of 6, all 3 of us felt pressed to cover everything needed in this time-frame.  You should try it at least once in your life.  Speaking at Council is much harder than I expected it to be.  You can read my speech here – Speech-MC-9_2_10

Clr Thanos seemed to take affront at the residents’ speeches saying that he was proud of Marrickville, proud of the tree planting that has happened, speaking at length about how we had misunderstood the TSIP.   Well, all 3 of us read it, the Greens understood the same message, as did Labor’s Clr O’Sullivan.  He also said we were using the issue of trees to pursue our own agenda.  For me this was true.  I am trying to save public trees inappropriately earmarked for removal, yet somehow he made my motivation sound like I was scum & he did this from the safety of ‘privilege.’

Clr Thanos needs to understand it is poor form to criticise residents after they have addressed Council suggesting they have no pride in their community & somehow want to take it down.

I will speak for myself, but I know the other speakers were taken aback with his comments.  I also know they care deeply about this issue & have spent a great deal of their leisure time over the years working to help improve this locality.

Melaleucas targeted by TSIP

Deciding to follow what is happening at Council, find documents on Council’s packed web-site, download documents that are often large, read & analyse them, devote time to preparing a speech, spending the evening at Council, the nerves associated with this & putting opinions out in the public arena, are not small things.  Public speaking is classified as the number 1 biggest fear people have, so I ask, why would we do all these things if we didn’t have pride in our LGA & if we weren’t trying to help bring improvements for the community?

Clr Thanos debated & debated.  Clr O’Sullivan added some valid points in an amendment.  She spoke of how she finds herself clinging to shade when she walks in her area because of the heat island effect.  She also spoke about how climate change has become a significant issue & that there have been advancements in tree care & approaches to public trees since this report was last submitted in 2007.  She cited other Councils & suggested that experts be brought in to educate about current trends.

Eucalypts targeted as well

Clr Hanna reasonably suggested that residents be consulted about what tree species to plant outside their houses & said if they had a choice in the matter they would more likely care for the tree.

The Greens spoke about their tree policy, done with consultation with some members of the community, but this was lost in the ensuing melee, which was again disappointing.  Clr Peters reminded us that it has been 17 years since Council has reviewed its Tree Policy saying this current TSIP was not productive.  Clr Olive & other members of the Greens tried many times to discuss certain points of the TSIP, but this was stopped by Clr Thanos with Clr Tsardoulias in the Chair ordering the Greens to stop for points of order.

The Greens suggested their amendment & Clr O’Sullivan’s amendment were really saying the same thing.  Eventually, this was passed.  1,000 trees get to live for another 6 months while a working party of councillors work on this TSIP.

It was unpleasant to be in the Gallery due to obstructionism from Clr Thanos & Clr Tsardoulias.  I gather this is accepted as the culture of this kind of workplace.  Just last week a Strathfield Council made the news due to a Councillor arguing with residents in the Gallery.  Eventually, this argument was continued out in the street. To read the Inner West Courier article – http://inner-west-courier.whereilive.com.au/news/story/strathfield-council-in-chaos/

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I was invited by Marrickville Greens to go to watch the magnificent Lemon Scented Gum street tree in Cambridge Street Stanmore being chopped down by Marrickville Council.  For various reasons I declined, but I know I did not want this image imprinted on my memory.  I have come to love this tree & I am distressed about its loss.  To me, it was no ordinary street tree.

Marrickville LGA has some gorgeous trees, mostly in parks, though there are also good ones that are street trees.  However, we have thousands of butchered, stumpy & not good-looking street trees all over the LGA & it is noticeable if you look.

I think many of us have become desensitised to the ugliness of our street trees because their disintegration happens over time & we just get used to seeing them in this poor condition.  Leave the LGA & you immediately notice the differences.

This magnificent street tree is gone

The Lemon Scented Gum in Cambridge Street Stanmore was one of the better-looking street trees in the whole LGA & this is not an exaggeration.  Do I think this because I like Gums?  Yes & no.  I do like Gum trees, but I also like most other trees.  I am an all-round tree lover though I admit to preferring tall stature trees & especially trees which flower & provide food for insects, birds & animals.

I think it is necessary in an urban environment to think about wildlife when choosing trees to plant.  I also think we have a duty to provide food for these creatures who are losing more & more food resources every year.  If you don’t believe me, put out a birdbath in a safe place in your garden & watch how long it takes for birds to arrive.  They are short of water as well.  When we built a fishpond, the rare frogs of the area arrived within 2 days & there wasn’t other ponds around.  Where did they come from, we wondered.  If you plant flowering trees & shrubs that feed birds, they will come in droves & the air will be filled with birdcalls.

So for a tree of this magnitude to be cut down seems ridiculous to me.  The tree provided refuge for both wildlife & humans because it was a flowering native tree & its canopy significantly cooled the air in the street.  This is not a feeling I am used to when I walk the streets of my local area.  Mostly I cannot walk during the day because the streets are so hot with the heat reflected by the road & concrete.  I believe that as temperatures rise due to global warming, the heat island effect is going to get worse & we are going to bake.  City of Sydney Council recognises this & intends to plant 10,000 more trees in the CBD this year to counteract the heat.

I am aware the residents who wanted the tree removed said it was causing cracking to their house & Council felt hamstrung because of the potential of litigation.  However, because we do not have a Significant Tree Register, our public trees are vulnerable.  Cracking to houses can always be repaired & it is something we should expect when we live in 100 year old houses, which are built on clay soils & with poor quality mortar.  In fact, even renovated houses in the Inner West need regular work as they are always deteriorating.  It comes with the territory. That’s why many people prefer to live in modern units or project homes that are built on cement slabs.  As a norm, tree roots are not strong enough to lift a concrete slab.

Ordinary street in Chatswood with multiple large street trees- a very different outlook to our LGA

When we respect trees & fully appreciate their positive impact on our lives &  vital role in our civilization’s existence, if atmospheric levels of CO2 continue to rise as expected, then we will do everything we can to keep our mature trees that sequester large amounts of CO2.

The removal of this tree affects the whole community, not just the residents of Cambridge Street.  First is it one tree, then another tree & so on.  Before we know it, the whole streetscape is changed & not for the better.  It took 40 years for that tree to grow a 2.5 metre girth & it had at least another 60 years of life left in it.  Eucalypts often live 100 years or more.  All it took was 4 ½ hours for it to be gone.

The Marrickville Greens tried to get a stay of execution to try other methods to repair the cracking & fix the problem at ground level. The Labor & Independent Councillors had to power to grant this so that amelioration could be tried to give the tree a chance to be saved.  I would have conceded defeat if all avenues had been tried & agreed the tree needed be removed, but these avenues weren’t given a chance.   I am sure the Greens feel the same as I do.  This tree was also worth a lot of money to the community & especially to Cambridge Street.  Better to sell a house before a tree is cut down than after.

Our tree assets get voted out because of concrete, their particular species, because they are old, because, because, because.  I have not yet seen tree saving strategies voted in during council meetings, only the opposite.  Trees are seen as a nuisance & a liability.  The reality is: not having trees is a liability.

I will work with Labor & the Independents as well as the Greens if they are pro-trees & the greening of Marrickville LGA.  However, since I have started, I have noticed that support for my vision comes from the Greens & not from Labor or the Independents.  To be fair, Labor did reverse their decision over the Mackey Park Figs, but not until after a community protest of 300 people & an even larger petition.

Once again, regarding the Cambridge Street tree, the Greens voted to keep the tree.  Once again, the vote to remove the tree comes from the other counsellors.  Is it a pattern? Saving Our Trees hasn’t been alive long enough to be able to answer this question.

Frankly I was shocked when I read on the Greens website that:  Independent Councillor Dimitrios Thanos recently emailed Councillors & staff saying: “I’ll grab my chainsaw & meet the staff down there on the appointed day.” I just know he & I are not on the same page when it comes to trees.

Getting back to my intro, I didn’t want to go & watch the ‘Elle McPherson of trees’ be chopped down, but the Marrickville Greens did witness this.  You can read their posts about this tree –http://marrickvillegreens.wordpress.com/2010/01/14/risk-averse-council-condemns-stanmore’s-biggest-eucalypt-to-the-chainsaw/ & you can also view 2 photos taken today by the Greens at – http://yfrog.com/37y6 & http://yfrog.com/1ehcezj &

http://marrickvillegreens.wordpress.com/2010/01/20/stanmores-largest-gum-tree-turned-into-woodchip/

The Cambridge Street Stanmore Lemon Scented Gum tree is going to be chopped down soon.  I feel very sad about this.  During the Council meeting to decide the fate of this tree, the people who wanted this tree removed spoke about a large branch that fell on the street needing 2 people to carry it away.  The danger the tree posed from falling branches would have been one of the major factors why their request was granted.

Gum street tree in Petersham - 2 Currawongs have a nest in this tree

Gums trees do drop dead branches as a normal feature of their species.  Unfortunately, I think this is the reason why Marrickville Council appears not to not regard Eucalypts favourably.  Then include the fact that they grow tall & have a significant canopy.  In comparison to the usual street trees Council plants, Eucalypts are an anomaly.  I would guess the Gums are left over from the 1970s & before.

Suburbs like Petersham which have a lot of Eucalypts as street trees look fabulous as a result.  Everyone I have spoken to in this area always mentions the trees, most saying they were a major reason why they chose to buy in Petersham.  However, the Cambridge Street issue is likely to repeat itself for two reasons unless these are managed.

Firstly, building movement that causes cracking.  The Inner West is mostly clay soils & when there is drought (we have had a long one which is still continuing) the clay soils shrink. This results in movement of buildings & cracks to the walls, porches & paths, especially as most of the housing is 100 years old & the mortar used then was of very poor quality.

Roots of mature trees would have stopped growing years, perhaps decades ago. Often the tree has nothing to do with movement.  Arborists constantly have differing opinions about the impact of tree roots on house foundations.  Personally, I think it is too easy to blame the tree.

This Gum street tree in Brighton St Petersham deserves a medal for surviving pruning by Energy Australia for power lines

Even buildings that do not have a street tree out front can suffer from movement & cracking, especially during drought.  If your property is built on clay soil, removing most or all the trees on or around your property is unlikely to prevent further house movement.  It is a fact of life in the Inner West.

To minimize cracking to your house during drought, you need to water thoroughly along the exterior walls on a regular basis.  If you keep the soil moist, the clay will not shrink & your foundations are less likely to move.  Many people have concreted their yards, so they will definitely have house movement & cracking, drought or no drought.  If you already have cracking, you can assist by watering around the building to get the moisture back into the soil.  Our front door, which had started sticking, returned to normal 2 months after I recommenced watering our front garden.  I have written more fully about clay soils in the following post –

https://savingourtrees.wordpress.com/2009/12/11/11th-december-09-much-ado-about-clay-soils/

Managing dry clay soils does take time & patience.

Secondly, Eucalypts develop dead branches, which they shed as a normal feature of their development.  This does not make the species dangerous.  The process of the branch dying off until it eventually drops is not a quick one.  I have been watching trees with dead branches for 12 months now.  (It’s been one of my ‘must do posts’ which hasn’t happened until now.)  However, Gums are called ‘widow makers’ for a reason. A falling branch can kill a person if they drop on their head, but then again, so can most things that drop from a height.  I was young when I first heard the term ‘widow maker’ & I remember being told the following with much laughter:

The tree branch is dying over many months, sometimes years.  The wife asks the husband to do something about it.  Time moves on.  She nags & nags, but he watches footy & says he will prune the branch later.  Then, one day when he is mowing or something, the dirty big branch falls on his head & the wife is left a widow. The moral of the story is that men should do what their wife asks when she asks it to be done, husbands are lazy & her nagging is warranted.

Maybe you had to be there & times have changed.  The story made a big impact on me because ever since I have a keen eye to notice these branches.

This tree cnr Illawarra & Addison Rds has multiple dead branches. 3 other Gums further down towards Marrickville Rd also have dead branches

Whether or not Council should be responsible for checking trees for dying branches is not something I have an opinion about.  However, I do think we see the street trees in our neighbourhood almost daily & if we notice a tree branch is dying, a quick call or e-mail to Council should have the branch pruned before it becomes a problem & drops.

If we leave it until the branch drops, Council is likely to say the tree is dangerous & needs to be removed.  Then the community suffers another loss of a tree & eventually we lose all remaining Eucalypts & other tall trees.  Our suburbs suffer as a result because we lose the beauty that tall trees offer.  We also lose out on property values because great street trees have a surprising positive impact on local property values.

The street trees near our homes, especially the large ones, remove pollution & particulate matter which causes breathing problems.  They collect CO2 & emit oxygen making the air cleaner & cooler.  They lower temperature which helps lower our power bills, they slow down traffic, make the footpaths safer for pedestrians & generally make people feel happier.  I have written more about the value of trees in the page 100 Tree Facts, which can be located on the left hand column of this site near the top.

Lastly, if Sydney’s North Shore can have hundreds of thousands of Eucalypts as street trees, why can’t Marrickville LGA?  Let’s look after & keep the ones we have left.  They are necessary for our wildlife.

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