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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

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Cooks River at dusk - the black marks in the sky are the bats leaving their home in Wolli Creek - I am told it is a spectacular sight to see them leave from the vantage point of just outside the park

Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens Trust have been concerned about a large colony of bats who have made their home in the Gardens for years.  The bats are grey-headed flying foxes, which are listed as a threatened species in Australia.  The Trust say the bats are destroying trees in ‘Palm Grove’ & it’s true, they are denuding the trees.

Federal MP Peter Garrett is about to decide whether to allow the Trust to get rid of the bats (they say humanely) by causing a noise, which the bats are unable to tolerate, hoping they will move & find another home.  There are many problems with this.

  • They intend to do this in the breeding season when many of the mothers are pregnant.  The dispersal techniques of noise, harassment & sleep deprivation result in many miscarriages.
  • The bats become disorientated & exhausted (as we all would) during this intervention.  As a result there are many injuries.
  • It’s cruel & at the risk of sounding like a zealot, all about man’s domination over animals.  The gardens are 75 acres in size.  Yes, they are destroying a certain amount of trees on the south side of the gardens, but there are a lot of other trees & the grove can be replaced.
  • The Trust says the bats will find another home, but on the small chance they do, this itself will likely result in problems.  They may try to join other colonies, which will make other areas overburdened with bats.
  • They may stay in the gardens moving to other trees they have so far left alone.
  • They are disliked in residential areas for good reasons.  If they relocate to these areas, it is likely residents will campaign to get rid of them or take the matter into their own hands.  It’s moving a ‘problem’ to another area & another community.

I was at the NSW Art Gallery at dusk last week. It is a truly beautiful & special sight to watch the bats quietly fly over the Domain as they go off to search for food during the night.  It is also a very good thing for tourism.  Many countries do not have such nature in the CBD.  The tourists & I stood for a long time watching them & we all loved the sight.  The Trust & the City of Sydney should be promoting the bats as a tourism highlight.

I trust WIRES &, when they say there will be a problem with the dispersal intervention, I believe it.  There are a lot of other organisations who joined with WIRES opposing the bat dispersion. If there wasn’t a significant & valid reason, I do not think these organisations would take on the Royal Botanic Gardens Trust.

I found this birds nest in Dulwich Hill last week - they used all sorts of material to make it - they even have 3 little doonas for 3 little eggs

Personally I think we humans are constantly taking away habitat from wildlife.  We control ‘our’ environment at the cost of other living beings & many times we do this as our ‘given right.’

The bats are usually nomadic, seeking warm places.  Experts believe the Heat Island Effect caused by our love & prolific use of cement & paved surfaces has improved conditions for the bats in Sydney so they have stayed.  We have also had a long & protracted drought so why would the bats move on as they usually do when they know there is limited food & water outside the city?  They stay where there is food & water & once the drought is well & truly over, some of them may return to their nomadic lifestyle.  We just need to be patient.

I think the bats should be allowed to stay.  Although there are negatives, there are just as many positives, not the least these bats being a threatened species.  It is not as simple as the Trust makes out.  Trees benefit humans in many ways, but they are the homes for birds & animals.  Sometimes we have to give over areas & tree assets to them even if only out of fairness & compassion.

You can read a media release from the Humane Society, WIRES, Bat Advocacy & WWF written yesterday –  Eviction_of_Flying_Foxes

If you want to join the voices supporting the bats’ right to remain in the Royal Botanic Gardens, you can write to Peter Garrett MP via his online contact page – http://www.aph.gov.au/house/members/memfeedback.asp?id=HV4 or via his e-mail – mailto:Peter.Garrett.MP@aph.gov.au

You can read about them on the Royal Botanic Gardens Trust web-site – http://www.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/welcome_to_bgt/royal_botanic_gardens/garden_features/wildlife/flying-foxes Today’s news about the bats on ABC News – http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2010/03/24/2854578.htm?section=justin

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