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Morton Bay Fig in the grounds of St Stephen's Church Newtown

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.

unsuccessfully trying to show the 30 metre span

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

bamboo grove just inside the entrance of the church grounds

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

showing the Lodge in the background

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 roots measured against a tall man

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.

on a wet day - church in background & road to the cemetery

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.



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