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St Peters Church Cooks River

I’ve been meaning to write about this little historical oasis for some time now. St Peters Cooks River Church is Sydney’s oldest church that was built by free men, not convicts & the 3rd oldest Anglican church in Australia. It was designed by Architect Thomas Bird & built by Henry Knight. The church was consecrated in 1840. St Peters Cooks River Church is located at 187 Princes Highway St Peters & is in the Marrickville Local Government Area.  This church gave the suburb of St Peters its name.

St Peters Cooks River Church still functions as an active church & has a congregation who are devoted to keeping the church alive, active & relevant to the needs of the local community. The St Peters Cooks River History Group protect both the church & the grounds preserving it for future generations & are rightly proud of

Trees in the grounds of St Peters Church Cooks River

their church & grounds. On the first Sunday Saturday of every month the church offers a sketching group, self-guided historical tours & there is afternoon tea, all free of charge. I have heard they have live music playing on occasions.  The sketching group is a great idea because it is a remarkably picturesque place.

From the St Peters Cooks River History Group website – The Foundation stone was laid in 1838.  St Peters Anglican Church Cooks River was completed in November 1839 & is one of the oldest churches in Sydney. It is listed with the Heritage Council of NSW & includes a historic Victorian Graveyard. The church includes over 15 stained glass windows & is home to a Brindley & Foster tracker action pipe organ which was installed in 1880.

The stained glass windows date from the 1870-1880s & all but 2 windows were made in memory of a congregation member who died. The ‘Smith’ window in memory of Clara Amellia Smith depicts the Sturt’s Desert Pea, the Native Rose, the Sarsaparilla Yellow Pea & the Native Fuschia Flannel Flower, highly unusual for a stained glass church window.

There are many Eucalypts in the graveyard

The interior of the St Peters Cooks River Church is simple, but very beautiful. I like the building very much.  What is outstanding for tree lovers is that all the pillars that support the vaulted ceiling (which in itself is a masterpiece) are made from several intact trunks of Ironbark trees taken from the area when it was heavily forested.  These are very tall pillars & in extraordinary good condition.

The grounds of St Peters Cooks River Church are peaceful despite being situated directly on the Princes Highway with in excess of 62,000 vehicles passing by each day (2006 statistics). Once you enter the large original gates you enter a quite world with St Peters Cooks River Church surrounded by many graves & trees.

A large flock of Ravens live there & come to check out anyone walking around lending an air of authenticity to the graveyard.  We visited on a sunny day, but I can imagine how the birds could appear on an overcast & dark winters day, especially if any photos or film taken were shot in black & white.  There is also a very friendly & gregarious cat owned by the Minister & his family who live in the new Rectory on church grounds. The old Rectory still stands, but is used for other purposes.

This is the tree from South Africa. It has small pale-yellow fruit in Winter

The trees are mainly Brush Box, Tuckaroo, Melaleuca & a variety of Eucalypts giving the grounds an Australian feel. There are also Ornamental Pear trees &  an Oak tree.  To the left of the church near the current entrance is an enormous & very beautiful tree that I was told hails from South Africa.  I’d be grateful if anyone could tell me what species of tree this is.

Unlike Camperdown Memorial Cemetery in nearby Newtown, the trees have not been planted at the head of gravestones, but between the rows of graves & in spaces without graves.  Most of the gravestones are simple affairs, but there are a couple of larger, more ornate graves closer to the front door of the church. There is subsistence in many of the graves so the trees serve another purpose of keeping the ground together.

Along the perimeter is self-seeded Tree of Heaven. Though a weed & not actually an attractive plant, its perfume is divine.  I imagine the whole property is filled with perfume during hot summer nights.

The St Peters Cooks River History Group have a great website with many in-depth articles regarding the history of the church, the area & the people who lived & worked here.  It is well worth a visit.   http://stpeterscooksriverhistory.wordpress.com/

A section of the cemetery

I found this description of the area around the Cooks River from their website & though not about the church or the trees, is very interesting reading –

I went to explore a road I had long wished to see, beyond the big house, Mr. Holt’s. After passing the lodge of the Warren (as it is styled), the road quite lost its highway appearance & became a genuine country road, with a rough stone wall on one side (a rare thing in these country roads) & on the other side, the fence of a small farm. Down we came to the river, which was approached by a road passing through a rather pretty low shrub. Then over the rustic wooden bridge & up the other side, under the shade of overhanging acacia trees, with grey rocks jutting out from the steep hill in front, two or three pretty little houses giving a little appearance of life to the scene. Then the road wound up, in a very English looking fashion, only those flat castor plants don’t look like England, nor the maiden hair by the road side. At the top of the hill, a very lovely view appeared far beyond. The hill sloped steeply down to Arncliffe, which looked very pretty, & then the land stretched away in half wooded plain, until in the distance you had a perfect view of Botany Bay, which was as blue as it could be, & the heads stood out so clear against the great blue Pacific.’

I have set up a collection of photos of the St Peters Cooks River Church, the cemetery & the trees on Saving Our Trees Flickr – http://www.flickr.com/photos/savingourtrees/sets/72157624919700053/

A large flock of resident Ravens

Our Red Flowering Gum - flowering at 6 months

Continuing the series on native bird-attracting trees …If I was asked to name one tree that symbolised Australia to me it would be a toss up between the Red Flowering Gum Corymbia ficifolia & the Wattle Acacia.  I can think of many other trees that are also quintessential Australian like the Waratah & the Banksia. However, for the purpose of this post I am going to stick with the Red Flowering Gum.  The Wattle can wait for later.

I didn’t actually see a Red Flowering Gum until about 10 years ago.  This is probably because they are native to Western Australian & as I understand it, they had difficulty surviving on the east coast, or at least in Sydney. The first Red Flowering Gum I saw was a smallish tree with many trunks growing in a neighbour’s front garden.

The next Red Flowering Gum I saw were a line of mature street trees along President Avenue Kogarah.  They were quite different in that they were much taller (7 metres at least) & had a single reasonably thick trunk.  They were in full bloom & each tree was festooned in clumps of vivid red flowers. I fell instantly in love.

Around 5 years later, whist going for a walk, I came across a fantastic street tree, also mature, that was covered with spectacular red flowers. One of the residents came out & said the tree was a Red Flowering Gum planted by

Hot-Pink Flowering Gum

the owner of the house in front of which we were. They too loved this tree & thought the neighbourhood was lucky to have it. The camera got a work out that day.

Since then I have been on the look out for these trees at nurseries.  It was not a purposeful search & perhaps they were around, but it was only 2 years ago when we came across some for sale.  We didn’t hesitate buying one.  This year the nurseries are full of them & they are all grafted varieties to make sure they grow well in NSW.

There are bright red, pink, even hot pink flowering species on offer. Some grow like my neighbour’s into a small shrub-like tree with thin trunks that grow from near the base.  Others grow from 6, 10 & 15 metres & the descriptions say they are suitable for use as a street tree because they have a straight growing trunk & a controllable canopy that tends to grow into a round-shape.

Gum nuts from our Red Flowering Gum

So why would you plant one?  I think there are many reasons: birds love these flowers. Before I planted our tree I moved the pot & the flowers spilled a considerable amount of sticky nectar on my hands.  I think it would be considered good bush tucker because the nectar was sweet & would make a nice drink. Don’t suck the flowers before making sure there isn’t a bee inside because bees love them as well.

Red Flowering Gums were called Eucalyptus ficifolia until the 1990s when it was changed to Corymbia ficifolia.  They flower from spring through summer. The flowers also range in size & can be as large as a 20 cent piece.  Once the tree has finished flowering clusters of urn-shaped gum nuts remain. These are also good food for bigger birds.  Plant specialists say it takes 7 years before the tree flowers, but ours did in its first year.  Others say that the tree flowers in one part of its canopy & in another the following year.  Many of the saplings we saw at the nursery had a flower or tow allowing you to make sure it is the colour you want.  I suspect this early flowering is the result of grafting, but this is just a guess.

The flowers are exquisite & the cup of each flower is a beautiful strong yellow.  The leaves are lance-shaped & can be quite long. They also change colour during autumn, though the tree doesn’t drop many leaves.  The branches grow a lovely rusty-red colour adding more beauty to this tree.  This tree appears to be ever changing throughout the seasons.

Bee feasting on flower nectar

It’s also a terrific shade tree & copes with heavy pruning. I don’t think it will be too long before other dry weather countries start growing this tree because it is showy & easy to manage.

There is a new variety called Mini Gum that grows 2 metres high & 2 metres wide.  It too has showy fire engine red flowers that develop into gum nuts & often has a repeat flower in autumn. It would probably cope in a pot, as long as it doesn’t become water logged & is planted in a part sandy soil. Like many natives, this tree doesn’t particularly like wet, rich soils & thrives in infertile soil.

It would be perfect for lining the railway lines around Sydney & could be interspersed with Grevilleas.  I have heard that Marrickville Council has planted some as street trees somewhere in Dulwich Hill, which is a great decision.

So, if you want a good bird-attracting flowering tree, which doesn’t make ‘widow-makers,’ give the Red Flowing Gum consideration. I doubt you will regret planting one.

Currawong

This months Festival of the Trees is looking at food for wildlife.  Marrickville LGA has quite a lot of  wildlife for an inner city urban area, especially with the Cooks River, the Tempe Reserve & Wetlands & some of our major parks.   The presence of nearby Girraween Park  at Wolli Creek helps our urban wildlife enormously.  However, when we first moved into our home 15 years ago there weren’t many birds in our immediate neighbourhood.  There were some of course, but we were not as aware of them as we were in our previous home.  They were mostly Pied Currawongs in winter, Common Mynas all year round & a couple of Turtle Doves as well.  Over the years this has changed significantly.  Now birds feature strongly in our neighbourhood.  So what happened to bring the birds here?

The neighbourhood around us changed in that many new people moved in & they did 3 things.  They removed the cement from their garden, reduced the size of their lawn or did away with it altogether & they planted trees & shrubs, many of them Natives.  Some of my neighbours are spectacular gardeners converting their bare gardens into mini-botanical havens filled with a variety of bird-attracting plants.  The transformation has been dramatic & they still kept the lemon tree.

birds sunning themselves

The other thing I noticed was that many people started putting birdbaths and/or ponds in their gardens.  This combination of water & food brought the birds back in droves.

It also brought the frogs seemingly by magic.  We put in a pond & 2 days later a rare frog breed arrived.  Now we have small frogs that hibernate under our very small piece of lawn.  They wake up in summer & leave at night.  We hear them, but rarely see them.

At least 24 Turtle Doves live in our block now so their family extended. There are many White Eyes, Willy-Wag Tails, Red Wattlebirds, Magpie-larks, Australian Magpies, large groups of Noisy Miners, Red-whiskered Bulbuls, Crested Pigeons, a Common Koel or two, Grey Butcherbirds, Olive-backed Orioles, Silvereyes, Figbirds & Pallid Cuckoos.  Masked Lapwings fly over-head on their way to the river.  Even a couple of Spotted Pardalotes have moved in.  This is amazing as they live in areas with many Eucalypts, not Sydney’s Inner West.

small part of a large flock of Cockatoos who visited

Large groups of Cockatoos fly over most days & when the nuts & fruit are ripe, they descend on mass devouring them.  It’s a gorgeous sight & they are very noisy.  The powerlines can be covered with white birds all with something to say.  Both neighbours who grow the food the Cockatoos like to eat do not mind the invasion of these birds.

We still have the Pied Currawongs & Common Mynas, but they are not so destructive now they are out numbered.  The Common Mynas tried to get everyone to move, but the sheer numbers of birds had their power reduced to almost nil.  They now just get on with living.  We also have native bees & a Ring-Tailed Possum or two.

From a reasonably quiet area in terms of birds, our neighbourhood has become filled with bird song & bird activity.   I love the change.  It seems somehow more like I remember things used to be when I was a child & the presence of birds was taken for granted.

The Australian Museum has a wonderful web-site called Birds in Backyards. They list 40 birds & provide a fact-sheet & a short sound-bite of each bird call.  It is a wonderful reference for school children as well as people like me who don’t know much about birds.  Through this site I have been able to identify 20 of the 40 birds listed that I can hear & many times see from our own back garden.  http://birdsinbackyards.net/feature/top-40-bird-songs.cfm

Birds provide white noise that is soothing & helps block out traffic & other noises that can lead to stress.  They also help you in the garden by eating the insects that eat your plants.

White-eye

If you want to attract birds into your garden & neighbourhood, all you need to do is plant a variety of bird-attracting Australian native plants & provide a source of water.  The water is best placed near other plants as this gives the birds a sense of safety.  They will use a birdbath in the middle of a lawn, but if there is another in a better location, they will use that one first.

Our birdbath needs filling often & sometimes daily during hot weather.  A wide range of birds use it to drink & bathe at many times during the day.  Sometimes there is a line up.  The larger birds go first with the smaller birds in surrounding trees watching & waiting for them to finish.  At night, much to my delight, the bats use it. I haven’t managed to see them yet, but I hear the “woop, woop, woop “as they take off vertically.

If you can, plan to plant a range of plants of different heights & thicknesses.  Some birds love to go into small shrubs & eat the nectar from flowers & insects while hidden from sight.   Others are not afraid to sip nectar from flowers high up & in open view.  A range of plants will ensure a variety of birds visit.

Cockatoo eating something from my neighbours garden

Native grasses offer a great source of food as well.  I have seen them used in very creative ways by my neighbours.  Most Australian Natives do not require much water once established & thrive in poor quality soil, though they do appreciate mulch & regular fertilizing with a Native fertilizer.

Native plants can be used successfully with a cottage garden if that is your preferred look.  Many are prolific flowerers & some have flowers all year round.  Most respond to pruning allowing them to be kept in a shape you like. Pruning encourages more flowers & bushiness.

From being a person who preferred cottage gardens I have become someone who would rather plant something that gives food to another.  I do think the long drought we had stressed the wild birds & animals, as their water sources shrunk & their food sources didn’t flower or simply died.  The Ibis who have decided to stay in Sydney are an example of this.  Even though it’s raining torrents in Sydney & parts of NSW have flooded, the drought is not over by a long shot.  16 areas or boundaries in NSW (a little over half the state) are classified Exceptional Circumstances. This is done when drought is regarded as severe.

As a number of people have indicated they want ideas for native shrubs & trees, I’ll do some research & put together a list soon.  It will be good learning for me as I am not an expert in this area either.

Kookaburra

I nearly fell over when I saw this street in Newcastle

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.

a gorgeous Fig in Sydney's Domain

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 – https://savingourtrees.wordpress.com/2010/02/24/st-stephens-fig/ It is most certainly the oldest in the LGA.

Part of a Fig tree in Enmore Park

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?

Fig trees in the Domain, outside the Art Gallery of NSW & in Hyde Park

In February 2010 I wrote about the resplendent Morton Bay Fig at St Stephen’s Church in Newtown for Festival of the Trees. See https://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.

We went while it was drizzling with light rain which made the whole place quite evocative

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.

gravestones line up against the whole of boundary sandstone wall

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.

many of the trees are huge

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.

handmade jewellery left in the hollow of the Oak stump

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/

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.

This post is part of the Festival of the Trees, a blog carnival by tree lovers in celebration of trees & the benefits they bring. This post is about an ordinary tree with an extraordinary impact on urban wildlife.

week old palm fruit

In 1998 I decided that we should have an Alexandra Palm in our back garden.  I chose this tree because we don’t have much space.  Fortunately we have massive street trees in view so they give us the feeling of living amongst trees.

As is usual with everything I plant, the Palm has grown to double the size indicated on its ID tag.  At one stage I worried fearing it may fall on the house in a storm.  This fear went when I watched it barely move during severe winds that damaged some roofs in the area.  Around this time I met a woman who hated Palm trees.  “Why would anyone want a telegraph pole in their garden?”  This is why.

This single tree provides food for around 10 varieties of birds that come for its twice a year supply of food.  The seeds are ‘guarded’ while they are ripening for 2-3 months by many varieties of birds.  In the meantime, they build nests, mate & hatch their eggs.

In winter, this palm & others in the neighbourhood provide a source of much needed food for many varieties of native birds.  The Indian Mynas don’t eat from it often, the native birds come in droves.  They eat in cooperation, big ones with little ones.  There is rarely a fight.

At the summer fruiting the babies are brought to our tree to feed from its prolific fruit.  They leave their babies in the tree for some while to forage for other types of food, knowing they will be safe hidden amongst the spray of berries or high up in the fronds.  Sometimes there can be 2 different species of baby bird left in the tree.  They sit quietly & look at each other.  In winter these babies return as adults knowing there is a guarantee of a good meal.

a native bird eating the ripe Palm seeds

The small birds nibble on the riper seeds, the large birds eat the seed whole.  Then there are the fruit bats that come at night to feed.  I like the whoop, whoop, whoop of their wings beating through the air before they land in the tree.  Sometimes they come in too fast & crash.  Then all you can hear is tiny sounds of rustling while the bats are eating & the occasional seed that drops to the ground. Then whoop, whoop as the bats take flight again.

We get a lot of delight from the visiting wildlife.  The baby birds that sit for great chunks of time in the tree have long & enquiring looks at us.  By the time they return as adults, they show definite recognition of us even going so far to herald their return.  At times the nearby street tree is full of different species of birds checking out how their feast is cooking.  As the seeds ripen, the street tree gets busier.  We both think there are many more birds in our neighbourhood than there was before we planted this tree.

Many of the babies get flying lessons from the Palm to the neighbours’ roof, back & forth, back & forth until suddenly the little one takes off across the road & the parents madly chase it screaming commands.  The command must be to return to the Palm tree because they always do.

I used to worry that the neighbourhood would be inadvertently populated by Palm trees, that the birds would spread the seeds, but this has not happened.  For some reason most of the large birds that eat the seeds excrete the seed sans the meat around the seed within minutes of eating it.  Their digestive system must burn the meat of the seed because a good majority of the seeds that have been eaten land back in our garden.  By the end of the fruiting season, if we don’t remove them, there will be a couple of inches of seeds piled up like mulch around the base of the tree.  They are easy to scoop up & pop into the recycling bin.  A few have sprouted but their root system is not invasive & they can be plucked out with very little effort.

I have been told this is a White-Eye - 10 or more at a time arrive nightly at dusk

I guess for many people Palms would be a nuisance.  Not only do you have to remove the seeds after they have dropped naturally or been excreted by the birds, but there is also the casing of the seed branch, the dried out & empty seed branch which falls twice a year & the fronds which fall as the tree is growing.  The dead fronds can be quite large, but they are light to move & cut up easily with a pair of secateurs.

To us, the work this tree causes is far out-weighed by the increase of birds that have come to live nearby.  We also put in a birdbath in a safe place, so the day is broken up into bath time, meal time, bath time, meal time.  It’s nice for us & like a TV show for our cats who sit enthralled & fixated.

The latest addition to the neighbourhood is a Ring-tail Possum who has come to live in the street tree, within leaping distance from the Palm.  He came as a baby & sat on the fence.  At first we thought he was a rat until we saw his long curled tail.  I have been told possums eat bananas & apples, so it stands to reason he eats Palm fruit.  Clever guy has moved in next to a perpetual meal that lasts for months & happens twice a year.  I no longer worry about this tree nor care about the opinions of Palm tree haters.  It’s not a native tree, but I am convinced that this tree has helped much of the wildlife survive the protracted drought we are having. NOTE:  I have just been told the Alexandra Palm is native to the Queensland rainforest.  See comment by Bob & my reply.

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