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Beautiful & historic Northwood Street Camperdown - an asset to Marrickville LGA

For years when driving along Salisbury Road I have thought I must stop & have a look at this beautiful street.  I never have.

Recently I was walking in Camperdown Memorial Rest Park & instead of putting my attention towards the church wall, steeple & canopy of trees within the church grounds as usual, I looked the other way & between the boundary trees, saw a street full of Hill’s Figs.  I realized that this was the other end of the street I had always meant to have a look at.

It is Northwood Street Camperdown, lined with beautiful mature Hill’s Fig trees that have created a gorgeous canopy over the street. It’s like walking through a green tunnel & reminds me very much of Laman Street Newcastle.  Northwood Street is peaceful, shady, cool & filled with birds so it sounds nice too.  I would guess the age of the trees to be around 80-years-old.  It looks like over the years some trees have been lost, but the overall feel remains.

Ausgrid (the new name for Energy Australia) have done something wonderful by putting up aerial bundled cabling eliminating the need to do any further pruning for power lines.  This was especially nice to see as it is recognizing the history & value of these street trees.

When doing a Google search to see if there was anything written about the Fig trees of Northwood Street I happened across the February 2011 edition of ‘Branch Cuttings’ – the newsletter of the Sydney & Northern New South Wales Branch of the Australian Garden History Society.  The lead article, ‘Wauchope’s & Newcastle’s figs to stay’ written by Eva Cassegrain & Stuart Read made for very interesting reading.  http://www.gardenhistorysociety.org.au/branches/sydney_&_nthn_nsw/branch_cuttings_34_feb_2011.pdf

The article lists where now historic Figs were planted around Sydney as well as in Wauchope, Sawtell & Newcastle & also mentions the mature Hills Figs that were removed last year from Wahroonga Railway Station much to the community’s dismay.

The main section of the article speaks about the median avenue of Hill’s Fig trees in Hastings Street Wauchope planted in 1938.  “Over the years 2007-2010 there has been an active public campaign to protect these against proposals to remove them due to complaints of damage by roots to plumbing on adjacent properties also because of invasive roots causing trip hazards, dislodging paths & walls. Wauchope received a wonderful christmas present when Hastings Valley Council decided to preserve the trees in the block from Young to Bain Streets.”   To fix the problems the Council installed a root barrier & planted gardens underneath the trees.  The before & after photos show a profound difference & illustrate the benefits of retaining these trees for the streetscape.

Unfortunately, at the time of writing the Laman Street Figs were thought to be safe from the axe. Not so, as the strong community opposition to Newcastle City Council’s decision to proceed with removing these trees continues.

In amongst this great article, the street trees of Northwood Street Camperdown rated a mention.  “Northwood Street Camperdown is another example of an avenue of Hills figs under pressure of removal, thwarted so far only by vigorous resident opposition.”  It was very nice to read that the residents have stopped the removal of these trees.  Northwood Street residents have benefited from these trees by raised property values, much beauty & wildlife & lower bills for cooling.  It’s worth a stroll down Northwood Street. I should have stopped here years ago.

I feel it is a shame we can’t have more of these trees planted in appropriate places around Marrickville LGA.  We do have a few suitable places that remain as barren areas.  A large canopy tree in these locations would improve the streetscape dramatically & add much needed green to the skyline.  Planting a Hill’s Fig or two in the vast areas of lawn in some of our parks would also be beneficial as the trees would provide shade & beauty.  Most people love large Fig trees & because they live so long, they become part of the community’s history.

Hills’ Figs can be managed by installing root barriers when planting them which increases the options of using them as street trees (in appropriate places).  The article also says, “San Francisco still uses them as street trees but with careful management including use of root barriers. Spain & the Canary Islands use Hill’s figs proudly in town squares, plazas & streets.  Beirut sports Hill’s figs in similar situations.”

The Australian Garden History Society have regular lectures, outings & publications.  If this newsletter was any indication, their publications should be great & of special interest to those interested in gardening, gardens, soils, trees & so on. You can find them here – http://www.gardenhistorysociety.org.au/  & the Sydney & Northern New South Wales Branch page – http://www.gardenhistorysociety.org.au/branches/sydney_&_nthn_nsw/

I made a short video of the Figs of Northwood Street Camperdown –http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j99XA6E6SLc

Google Earth map of Camperdown showing the difference between the canopy of Northwood Street & the surrounding area. The street trees make this area in the image quite leafy compared to many areas across Marrickville LGA.

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Community tree preservation groups Save Our Figs Wauchope & Save Our Figs Group have a big fight on their hands with Port Macquarie-Hastings Council who intend to remove 13 Fig trees in the town centre “to prevent future damage to private property & public infrastructure.” The roots of the Fig trees are presenting a trip hazard & 3 residents have complained of damage to their property they say was caused by the trees.

These 2 massive Figs next to Marrickville Youth Resources Centre enhance the building & the area.

Thing is, the Council have just completed major works on the streets with the trees described as the centerpiece.  Importantly, 3 years ago the community fought to retain these trees & won.

Now the threat of litigation has reared its head & if history is anything to go by, a very small number of people are going to get their way & have the trees removed.  Council can’t take the risk that people will start litigation in the future.

A couple of days ago I posted that Goondiwindi Regional Council chopped down healthy Fig trees despite community opposition.  It’s the same story.  Now that the trees are gone, the Council has made the decision to spend $96,000 on floating footpaths.  They are doing this now because they, “understand how important these trees are to residents.”

Using floating footpaths means the trees can grow normally. There is no need to cut off or shave down roots, nor cover them in bitumen.  Nor will they need to chop the trees down because of a trip hazard or damage to footpaths. Seems like sensible spending to me.  Given that any large healthy tree can be worth around $100,000, spending money to keep them is a good economic decision.

This Fig is literally holding the building up. There is no visible damage to the exterior of the building

The large street trees in the centre of both these towns are what bring beauty & a sense of place. The towns use their street trees as a tourist draw card.  The Fig trees also provide a tangible history & are held dear by most of the community.

Take the trees away & you have substantially changed a place. Not only have you removed things that are worth a great deal of money & with 13 Figs we are talking in excess of a million dollars, but their loss will have an impact on spending in the shops. Researchers have concluded 11% more money is spent in shopping areas where there are big healthy shady trees.  To their credit Port Macquarie-Hastings Council plans to replace the Figs with 11 advanced Brush Box trees.

My question is why don’t Councils or organizations take pre-emptive action on their big trees when the trees are in areas that could damage property or cause trip hazards?  Ultimately it is worth the financial outlay when one considers how much these trees are worth in a monetary sense. Then there are all the other factors to take into consideration, history, place, future, community cohesion (fights like these in small towns could escalate into severe divisions), trust in the Council/organisation & stating the obvious, climate change.

These roots have infiltrated a parking area. I found it interesting is to see that the roots didn't travel far from the tree despite its size. It has been like this for years & the tree is still healthy even though cars park on the roots, proving it is unnecessary to remove a tree when this happens. It might look unsightly, but the tree itself is gorgeous.

Root barriers can be put in place.  Sewerage & water pipes can be replaced with pipes that can’t be invaded by tree roots or re-routed & be done with the problem forever. In Canada, they use a system that allows pipes to be replaced without digging, disturbing or damaging tree roots. They use a water flushing vacuum system to remove the soil from around the roots, pipes or wires, then install the new pipes & put the soil back in.

You don’t even need to put in concrete foundations near a tree when you are building anymore.  Again in Canada, they insert giant steel screw piles into the ground that are just as stable as concrete foundations & require no digging.

There is also a high-density plastic grid system that I have seen used in Sydney.  Once laid over the ground the grid disperses the weight of vehicles over a larger area. The grid also prevents soil compaction, which can damage roots.  Best of all, the grid allows rainwater to permeate the soil, reducing the need for irrigation & improves storm-water management. Ground cover or other plants can be grown in the spaces within the grid.

The grid also prevents soil erosion. I can see these grids used to support riverbanks & to create cement-free car parks. They could also be used to channel water into the ground near a street tree rather than be wasted by pouring down drains.  There is no reason why a section of the gutter cannot be a grid.

There is also porous concrete used across City of Sydney & North Sydney Councils.  Porous concrete provides a seamless surface allowing people to walk across it, but still captures any rainwater that falls on it, watering the tree.

There are quite a number of beautiful Figs in Marrickville LGA & many of them are planted near buildings. Unfortunately many of these trees live in less than perfect conditions with cement & bitumen almost to the base of their trunk. Many have cars & trucks parked right next to them. As we have seen, it is only a matter of time before branches get gouged or broken off by trucks.

Canary Island Palms line Graham Avenue Marrickville. I hope these trees are heritage protected.

The only reason why money isn’t spent on protecting trees before problems start is that trees are not held in high importance or the Council is so strapped for money that understandably, urban forest issues get moved down the list of priorities.

Many Councils do hold their trees in high esteem & look after them. They use floating footpaths & permeable rubber surfaces or permeable ‘solid’ surfaces. They put garden beds around trees to prevent or limit the amount of vehicles that can park under them. They put ‘no parking’ signs for vehicles over a certain size & weight & they do other things like prune dead branches & normal die back. They probably feed them occasionally as well.

I would do all of the above & if property damage occurred with people saying get rid of the tree/s, I would think it is the community’s & Council’s best interest to fix the damage (within reason, once proof & access has been given to Council) & put things in place to ensure the problem won’t repeat itself.  Too many people & future generations miss out for cracks to walls & pipes, both which are easily fixed without costing as high as the value of losing a tree.

Trees are the only things Councils own that increase in value each year.

I have written about clay soils & how they affect buildings at – https://savingourtrees.wordpress.com/clay-soil/

You can read both stories at the following links –http://www.portnews.com.au/news/local/news/general/lastditch-figs-effort/1874281.aspx

http://www.goondiwindiargus.com.au/news/local/news/general/tree-choppers-are-really-tree-huggers/1872430.aspx

You may have seen on the TV news last Friday that Railcorp removed 3 100-year-old heritage Fig trees on Wahroonga Railway Station.  2 more will come down in October 2010.  Railcorp says:

RailCorp will be replacing the fig trees at Wahroonga Station to resurface the platform & prevent further structural damage. The roots of the trees are threatening the structural integrity of the platform & if left in place will continue to damage the heritage-listed station building, damage sewage systems & prevent future improvements to station facilities. The Heritage Council of NSW independently came to the same conclusion, & placed upon RailCorp a number of conditions for the removal of the trees. The issue has existed for two decades & can no longer be avoided.

Not the Fig trees being discussed

The community is mighty upset about the trees removal saying there were many alternatives to removal.  Reading all the documents & news articles, it is clear the trees were removed because their surface roots made the platform surface bumpy & created a trip-hazzard. However, the trees are located at the far ends of the station & those who walked there have known about the state of the station surface for 20 years.  I was not able to find any information about complaints from the community about the tree roots & the station surface.

Railcorp argued about 2 other things which lead to the removal of these trees: the cost of pruning these trees & that in the past they caused damage to old clay sewerage pipes.  They fear the trees will invade the pipes again, but my plumber says, “This is the beauty of plastic pipes, tree roots can’t invade them.”

Railcorp intend to replace these trees with 6 Blueberry ash (Elaeocarpus reticulatus) & jazz up the station by planting 120 flax lily (Dianella caerulea “Breeze”) as a ground cover.  It should look nice when completed, but I doubt they will look as nice as those old majestic trees.

I think most of the train stations I have seen in Sydney look shocking.  Their gardens are ugly & the emphasis is on bitumen & low hedges. I would guess this is to be able to have a clear view of the platform for commuter safety & to discourage bad behaviour. Still, I can see no reason why much of the space toward the end of railway stations cannot be planted a little more creatively.

Railcorp’s intention to plant 120 flax lilies proves they can do something which has the potential to be quite stunning. By making this station pretty, they hope to improve public relations.

Not only do I wish Railcorp would landscape the railway stations in a better way, (for example, they don’t need to stick with using the garden beds which were made 100 years ago as they are poky little plots often in odd places), I also wish they would plant along the railway line on both sides & in barren spaces between the lines.  Grevillea are perfect for the smaller areas. In other areas, taller trees can be planted.

The RTA plants trees along major highways. There is no reason why Railcorp can’t do the same on their land along railway lines. Not only would it help green ugly areas, it would help minimize noise from passing trains & prevent areas looking weedy & filled with garbage.  Just an idea.

Mackey Park Figs - the Fig trees on Wahroonga Railways Station were pruned & did not have such a wide shape

To say it can’t be done because there may be a need for pruning will not work for me as I’ve seen numerous empty sites located quite a way from the train lines.  I just think it’s always been ugly along railway lines & no-one except Wendy Whiteley has ever challenged the status quo.  Time for a change even if only to help mitigate or manage climate change.

I had not heard of this issue until last week & am sad these trees have been removed. I know the feeling of anger & frustration felt by the community where it doesn’t make sense to remove such beautiful trees.  My respect also to the woman who climbed one of the trees for a while to protest about them being chopped down.

On a positive note, I am impressed at the news coverage by both TV & newspapers about this issue. The Sydney Morning Herald had an article yesterday where they said:

Among those campaigning for the trees’ preservation was NSW Opposition Leader & state member for the area Barry O’Farrell. But NSW Premier Kristina (Keneally) supported their removal, claiming the damage caused by the roots was a hazard for people pushing prams & those in wheelchairs.

The same argument was used for Orphan Creek in Forest Lodge in 2009 to justify removing all the trees for a very wide cement path, even though those who used wheelchairs & mum’s with prams came out & said not to do it. http://www.smh.com.au/environment/unkindest-cut-for-historic-north-shore-fig-trees-20100612-y4jr.html

In another article from the North Shore Times 9th June 2010, an Arborist suggested the following to retain the trees:

To encourage the roots to grow deeper, a porous asphalt system available since the late 1990s could be used. Vertical barriers could also be installed to deflect root growth away from structural elements. “In this instance, a barrier maintained flush with the asphalt pavement could be effective in preventing surface root growth & should be trialed,” he advised. The report suggested tie rods could be used to improve the structural integrity of platform walls with minimal damage to the trees. The alternative – finding a replacement planting – would be problematic, as few species would tolerate the growing conditions. “The performance of the subject trees under these conditions for nearly 100 years is remarkable,” the report said. http://north-shore-times.whereilive.com.au/news/story/railcorp-doesn-t-give-a-fig/

All up there have been 14 articles about this issue in the main papers over the last week or so.  Does this mean the community & the media are starting to care about keeping trees?  I certainly hope so.

I must say I am impressed with how much information about this issue is provided on Railcorp’s web-site.  It is well worth a look. http://www.railcorp.info/community/wahroonga_station It was also interesting to read that Railcorp said the trees were only “part way through their growing cycle” at 100 years old.  Makes me wonder at the use of the word ‘senescent’ when  I read it in Marrickville Council documents.

So, goodbye to another group of Sydney’s beautiful old trees. Perhaps in a couple of decades there won’t be any left.

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