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On 21st June 2011 the Bureau of Meteorology warned of wind gusts of 110 km/h buffeting the Hunter ahead of a strong cold front. Suddenly the weather becomes interesting because once again the Laman Street Fig trees in Newcastle are fighting for their lives.   Statewide Mutual, who insures Newcastle City Council sent a letter of demand – the trees must be removed by 31st August 2011 unless Council can provide new evidence that the trees won’t fall down.  If Council does not chop down the trees, any incident will not be covered by insurance, putting the Council between a rock & a hard place.

It seems that Statewide Mutual doesn’t have a copy of the community contracted Arborists Report by Mark Hartley, a renown & respected Arborist in Australia.  Looking at his webpage, it’s hard to understand why his opinion that these trees are safe is being ignored.   Another respected Arborist, veteran tree specialist Sean Freeman has publicly stated that he supports Mark Hartley’s assessment of the Laman Street Figs after viewing the report & inspecting the trees himself.

Newcastle Councillor Bob Cook brought the Laman Street Figs back into the spotlight on 31st May 2011 before the letter of demand by Statewide Mutual by calling for the trees removal.  He also suggested monitoring the trees with an accelerometer on a number of occasions over 6-15 months for a cost of up to $100,000.  The cost alone is enough to make most people concede defeat.

An accelerometer measures the movement of the tree when pulled, mimicking the conditions of high winds. Thing is, Mother Nature has tested the trees for free on 4 occasions since the Pasha Bulka storm in June 2007. This storm was described as a ‘mini cyclone.’  It beached the oil tanker Pasha Bulka aground on Nobbies Beach & smashed Newcastle, yet the Laman Street trees standing today made it through that storm (and others since) unaffected. 

Clr Cook has written to the community saying they are “in denial” & “clutching at straws.”

More than 10,000 people signed a petition to save the the Laman Street Fig trees & night vigils were held on 69 occasions

Anyone have a vuvuzela?  I want to have a party & blow one until I have no breath left.  At the Newcastle City Council Meeting last night a motion to save the Laman Street Fig trees was voted on. The vote was 7 – 4 to SAVE the trees (one Councillor was absent).

Newcastle Council has not only voted to retain these beautiful iconic Figs, they have also decided to mulch underneath the trees & promote aerial roots to grow to allow the trees to behave in a natural way & promote their own stability.  Laman Street will once again be open to people & traffic & will be made one-way. 4 other Hills Figs that were removed from Laman Street in the past will be replaced.  How good is that!

The tree preservation group Save Our Figs deserves loud applause for keeping on this issue from the beginning. So do community group Fig Jam who lobbied to save the trees from the beginning also. Community group Newcastle Parks & Playgrounds also deserve loud applause for taking Newcastle City Council to the Land & Environment Court in a bid to save the Figs. They lost on a technicality & it was thought that the trees would be axed. Everyone was very sad when that happened.

The Newcastle community were fantastic in their support of this campaign.  Close to 10,000 signatures were signed in a petition to save the Laman Street Figs & the community met a total of 81 times for a vigil at dusk under the trees.  Ribbons, notes, cards & teddies were tied to the trees as an expression of love for them & grief that they were to be chopped down.  Schools studied the Figs in geography class. People made very moving YouTube videos about the Figs. One woman even wrote a song. It was great.  This kind of commitment & involvement is something to be proud of.   Without the community’s opposition those beautiful trees would have been chopped down months ago. The local media also deserve applause for their extensive coverage of the issue.

Congratulations to everyone & including the birds & the bats that use these trees for food & habitat.

These gloriously beautiful Fig trees are the crown jewels of Newcastle city

Mark Hartley’s Arborist Report is the most downloaded file on SoT.  It was instrumental in shifting opinion about the alleged risk that the trees presented.   I had meant to write about the pull test & how Newcastle Council had decided against doing this.  For the sake of completion for those interested, you can read the report here –

Today’s Newcastle Herald has a great article about the trees –

Lastly, you must visit Save Our Figs to read the account of last night’s Newcastle Council Meeting. It’s happy reading –

Gloriously beautiful trees which are a huge asset to Newcastle

In sad news, Newcastle City Council has chosen to ignore the Independent Arborist Report done by Mark Hartley regarding the Laman Street Fig trees.  Mr Hartley is a senior consultant for The Arborist Network & was employed by the community to assess the trees & comment on the previous Arborist’s Reports commissioned by Newcastle City Council.

Mr Hartley’s Report was clear. The trees were in no danger of falling & significant aspects of previous Arborist Reports had got it wrong.

Regardless, none of the Newcastle Councillors have decided to bring the issue back to the Council Meeting, nor have Newcastle Council themselves changed their mind about the fate of the trees. Disappointing.

Newcastle Council did say when they first announced the trees will be axed that they would put on a couple of community events to allow the community to say goodbye to the trees.  However, they have changed their mind about this as well.  Perhaps it’s because the print & television media are constantly writing about the issue & the community are commenting in large numbers.  To chop the trees down as fast as you can means the issue is done & dusted, no use speaking about it again.  Disappointing.

I was naïve enough to think that 400 plus submissions, a community petition of over 4,000 signatures (& growing now that people realize the trees will be chopped down) & Mr Hartley’s Arborist Report would have meant that the issue would have returned to Council.  The vote to chop the trees down was only 7-5. This is not an overwhelming outcome in my mind.

It’s a dreadfully sad outcome & one that will stick in people’s minds for decades.  People believe the trees are safe. They have the proof in that not a single branch dropped during the Pasha Bulker storm or the 2 extreme high-wind storms since. One of the storms was within the last month.  They also have the Arborist Report commissioned & paid for by the community. These things are not to be scoffed at. That an Arborist of Mark Hartley’s standing was prepared to put himself on the line about the health of the trees has convinced the community that Newcastle City Council got it wrong.

Next week & for the following 3 weeks, 14 beautiful healthy Fig trees that are aged about ½ their lifespan will be chopped down. Newcastle will be worse-off for it.  I wish the community did have the power to prevent this from happening.

To read Mr Hartley’s Arborist Report –

Please read the post by Save Our Figs about the announcement that the trees will be chopped down. This website has followed the process of the removal of the Laman Street Figs from the beginning & makes for very interesting reading –



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