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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/

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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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