By Jeannie Haughton
While most of us were anxiously locked in our homes in April 2020, wondering if a global virus might change our lives forever, a development company slipped into a section of Drouin, calmly carried on their normal routine of destroying natural environments to create man-made ones, and actually did change my life. Forever.
Within a few days over 80 mature, Protected trees were felled on the small regional road where I have lived for over thirty years.
Along one side of McGlones Road (northern end) remnant trees 150 years old as well as bush, understory and grasses (all wildlife habitat) were razed. Numbers of trees on the other side of the road were also removed. In the next few weeks a meandering creek disappeared, teeming wetlands and soggy places were scoured and carved into shallow waterways and basins. Pumping stations and pipelines were created to control the seasonal waterflow.
Let me just say: the trees were there first, perhaps 200 years earlier.
Some of this carnage by three different development companies was necessary, some was not. And it is always profit that rules. “No, we can’t use some land to protect a tree. No, we can’t put the road through the empty paddock”.
Our neighbourhood is not only losing the much-loved, taken-for-granted trees which contribute so much of its character, but also the work they do - the carbon sequestration through photosynthesis, the carbon storage in bio-mass, their shade and erosion protection. We are losing our natural horizons, our spirit lifting vistas. We have lost the homes of countless creatures and plants. Nearby residents witnessed the distress of birds, in particular Tawny Frogmouths, seldom seen, landing during daylight on rooftops and in backyards.
They lost. I lost. We are losing. We are the losers.
Peri-urban development is cracking a whip around me. I startle. The pace of change is terrifying. No matter the direction locals turn they are confronted by new estates of tightly packed houses advancing across the hillsides like aliens in a sci-fi. And like the fictional scenario, it is a way of life being threatened. Bigger picture, with the added impacts of a pandemic it feels as if life itself is on a balance, tilting precariously.
If you’ve ever stepped into an ancient forest and stood among the towering trunks staring all that way up into the canopy, witnessed shafts of sunlight spilling into dense, cool ferny places,
if you’ve ever heard the sough and surge of wind in the treetops above
while serenity surrounds you at ground level or felt the dance of leaf-filtered light on your upturned face,
you will understand my sadness.
The textures and pallette of bark. Petrichor.
Picture children scrabbling in leaf litter, collecting insects, tadpoles and gumnuts, noticing Springtime nests, broken egg-shells and feathers, building cubbies and flying foxes. Now wipe it clean and replace with high density housing estates, pavements and roads.
You will understand my fear for future generations of children.
If you have listened to warnings
about climate change,
the loss of pollinators and other species, if you have opened yourself
to the scientific evidence of the
cooperation and communication systems between trees, and the interconnections and symbiotic relationship between all living things, you will understand
The Baw Baw Shire Significant Tree Register cites this particular avenue of trees:
Large indigenous gums forming corridor on both sides of McGlone Road north. Mainly Strzeleckii[i] gums some 25m+ high with young trees growing as well. Most are under 3m trunk girth but one is 4.8m. These trees would be 150 years old perhaps, although not as old nor as large as the trees to the southern end of Mc Glone Road. Also a few Narrow leafed Peppermints and Messmates.
Fallen vegetation provides rich habitat for birds, small animals and insects. This was described: “It doesn’t get any better than this” (JB). This area forms a significant bird corridor. On day of site visit the following were observed: pied cormorants, red wattle birds, welcome swallows, sulphur crested cockatoos, wood ducks, kookaburras, bell miners, grey fantails, and blue wrens. The sounds of common froglets were very prevalent. ‘Stony Creek’ starts on the west side of this end of McGlone Road also forming a significant part of the habitat area here.
The development company had gone to exceptional measures to gain permission from the Commonwealth government to allow removal of these protected trees with the very certain intention of pre-empting lines of protest and appeal by local authorities and community. That particular company prides itself on its passion for developing high quality housing estates and its consultation with local communities.
But I ask whether convincing, indeed any, argument was put for saving the protected trees? Who speaks for the trees in these cases?
Me? I’m like the displaced Tawny Frogmouth. I flap and frown; my downturned mouth pouts and sulks. I write my first letters, open my first conversations about the appalling damage that has been done in this small stretch of road. I take photos of the carnage and send them off. I write emails to Councillors and state and federal politicians. I wake in the middle of the night.
Easily dismissed as a NIMBY I assure others that this area is not visible from my house - it’s not spoiling my view and we always knew houses would begin to fill the undulating dairying land to the north of our home. Its proximity to the Princes Freeway marks it as prime living area for commuters. My ticking-time bomb fixation is fuelled by the reshaping, scouring and clearing of the land. A deeply unsettled feeling rests within me, an ominous jangling and snatches of panic that we are doing the wrong thing, that we are grievously injuring our land and that karma will sooner or later pay out on us.
While other countries are seeking ways to improve natural environments in urban areas with projects such as creating urban forests on tiny parcels of land, Australia nonchalantly does the opposite. Its new housing is inevitably devoid of anything but a generic nature strip tree and a basic plot of grassed parkland, some uniform landscaping and a few swings.
Must the answers to housing scarcity be short-sighted and second rate?
As a child trees and creeks inspired a lifetime interest in creepy-crawly things when, day after day, we latch-key kids hurtled over the fences into paddocks of wild adventure and freedom. I’ve never since been far from trees. My spirit lifts simply thinking of the openness and play in that natural place.
A childhood of dangling bits into the creek, slipping and skipping around its banks, capturing its creatures in jars and bottles… tadpoles in jars… frogs… spiders, cocoons, caterpillars and butterflies. The straggly, deep and dangerous but gorgeous creek scoured its way through wild paddocks of gum trees, gorse, blackberry thickets and ti-tree scrub. There were shallow caves in clayey banks, tall combungi bullrushes and for most of the year waterholes connected to each other by a lightly flowing current of water.
Seasons bled seamlessly into one another. We marked the passage of time by the cracks in the ground which split into branching wounds while the creek retreated to a series of deep and mirky waterholes choked with fish and eels. Blackberries would ripen, and we’d keep our eyes peeled for snakes. Grass fires lit by bored youths with cigarette butts raced through the dry paddocks, and women in cotton dresses would stand chatting gaily, hosing their newly built back fences while they waited for the local CFA to roar into action.
Then silently, each autumn, rains blurred into floodwaters that lapped fences, some years back doors, as the creek ran a banker and the stormwater drains back-filled inundating the neighbourhood with cold muddy water.
No-one bothered with worms when fishing, simple bread balls squeezed on the end of a hand line… Minnows, slender timid fish, swam in groups, sucking and nibbling at bait, and were tricky to hook. Eels, shadowy and elusive, seldom rose even for the line, wheras the big, bold European Carp gulped the bait and the hook eagerly, then flapped around on the banks, their mouths gawping, surprise in their eyes till we toed them back into the creek.
Natives and ferals side by side. Not much different to us kids - immigrants and first-generation Aussies. Mostly we hung round lobbing sticks and anything else that floated into the muddy water, yelling and chasing and observing the wonders around us.
Such was the hazard with many children drowning and the public cost and nuisance of flooding that planning authorities of the day bulldozed it, turning it into a series of concrete and grassed scooped channels covering underground pipelines. An entire wilderness was lost but I don’t remember much protest. With the drownings close to mind the entire community heaved a collective sigh of relief.
Ironically, in 2013 Melbourne Water (with their Life and Liveability branding)[i] began the daylighting of Dandenong Creek between Heathmont and Dandenong North. Piping was lifted out at great cost and extensive work undertaken to re-establish an open waterway. ‘Daylighting’ is the process of replacing a piped waterway with an open flowing channel that more closely resembles the original form and shape of the creek. Restoration.
I heartily approve, understanding the benefits to wildlife and vegetation, the recreation appeal and improved amenity of public spaces, as well as the ability to observe quality of water and pollutants. But how sad, within one lifetime, the need to undo the damage done to the environment by Authorities who once declared they knew best and a community that simply wanted life easier.
Again I ask: Who is ever going to choose tough, unpopular decisions over popularity, profit and perceived-immediate needs? Who will choose the long-term environmental health of the community, of the country, of the planet?
Instantly I am thrown into the world of local planning, of jargon, of interpretation, of differences between guidelines and recommendations, of differences between policy and practice and Law. Like Alice down the rabbit-hole I tumble, my poor brain struggling to take it all in and make sense of the interconnected layers of bureaucracy. In our Council alone there are three different planning departments.
The current areas of devastation- I can find no other word- fall into Precinct Structure Plan (PSP) zones. These are parcels of land which have been set aside for Peri urban development
Peri urban development is defined as “transition spaces with some degree of intermingling of urban and rural use.”
Mooted around 2012-2013 to defuse urban growth and associated problems, the Victorian State Government of the time forced Shires along growth corridors to declare parcels of land as suitable for urban development. Initiated by Liberal state government in 2012, adopted with vigour by Labour Governments since, local shires were ordered to nominate land for development, completely ignoring the identified nature of the high-rainfall, fertile, undulating farmland, and its future food-bowl capacity.
Officially: “Precinct Structure Plans that accompany this peri-urban development are higher level masterplans providing guidance to manage growth within Urban Growth Zones. Precinct Structure Plans also inform long term infrastructure investments and services required to meet the needs of growing communities.”[i]
It sounds reasonable- all of it. The urbanisation of the outer ring or regional perimeter of Melbourne. To me it is nothing more than the plonking of high-density housing estates into the regional areas which sit along current and future growth corridors. My own recent understanding of the Precinct Structure Plans which support peri urban development – “it sounded like a good idea at the time” - is a form of planning designed to clear the way for the delivery of these high-density housing estates into regional areas with as few problems for the developers as possible. Once gazetted these plans allow next to no opportunities for local protest or appeal or even to be informed of what is happening.
There is strict adherence to yield requirements (ie the numbers of new houses created on each parcel of land in the Shires). Currently, I believe, if the target number of houses is not attained the Shire must release more land to developers. Yet I see no innovative design to save space, such as multi-storey buildings or small clusters of apartments surrounded by bush. Nor are developers required to subdivide according to basic sustainability principles such as siting to the north.
The plans allow developer profit through cheap uniformity of designs rather than emphasising quality of lifestyle for the future residents. A bit depressing. Basic sustainability principles are ignored, the topography altered considerably, and natural vegetation demolished completely only to be replaced with uniform and generic plantings. One or two, token, convenient mature trees might be allowed to grace the entrance of the estate or a small park. Further, in most cases, the effort to retain some local identity or innovation or uniqueness is non-existent. It will take decades for the trees to grow and mute the angularity and hardness of these estates, however, they are legal.
Perversely, most people who take up residence in these areas often travel long distances to work- using the freeways and train services to Melbourne, and not actually lessening the city traffic problems at all. Others having earlier purchased hobby-farm parcels of land in the area are now discovering they are in the Precincts marked for development. Their idyllic homes will soon be surrounded by urban estates, their Annual Rates spiralling with extra fees for empty blocks (their gardens, sheds, chooks, their trees, their space) until they are no longer able to afford or bear to live here.
In our area, the original PSP documents were seriously flawed. The Precinct Structure Plan (2014) states repeatedly the Shire vision for preservation of local environment, the retention of existing vegetation. However, the on-the-ground conversations are more like: ‘Gee, that land’s too steep for a sports ground.’ And, ‘Ooh we can’t widen the road AND retain existing vegetation at the same time, even though that’s what it says on the official maps’.
The 2014 PSP documents being at times “inept, inadequate and contradictory” (Shire’s own words), the Shire currently has a PSP Review underway. While the review is welcome and many of the mooted changes are applauded, it will take years for the consultation and evaluation, approval and publications processes to take place and have any effect. But I get to have my say.
In the past there has been little identification or protection of the natural assets, and where undertaken, there are no overlays or protections applied to protect them. Peri urban housing usually equals streets planned in grids and as many houses as possible squeezed into the area.
In all of this the environment is the loser. Chop down the trees, and if the community protests, label the trees widow-makers and fire hazards, label the protesters Greenies or NIMBYs, rather than examine the neighbourhood concerns and seek common sense.
I have yet to be convinced the only way of achieving greater housing numbers is to lower regional liveability rather than raising it for the new “urban residents”.
Communities are now calling for the identification of natural assets and topographical features, and for the team that plans and engineers the new estates to actually walk on the land, working with, instead of against the inherent character of the land and its natural features. Keep the trees, keep the creeks, set housing back from them protecting environmental biodiversity, creating natural adventure playgrounds and recreation areas for the next generations.
The more I research and think about it, the more one-sided everything seems.
I turn to The Friends of Drouin’s Trees, (FoDT) formed in 2015 by a group of concerned residents who recognised the threat to our local environment as one stand of trees after another was removed for development. I know many of these people, admire their work, trust they have no vested economic interest. They speak from the heart.
It is a midwinter, very chilly but sunny morning. They’re out in the Alex Goudie Park in Drouin. FoDT members. Some are in hi-vis, others in check flannels and jackets, plenty of beanies. It’s winter and it’s nippy but fine; it’s Sunday but these gardening-gloved, tooled-up volunteers are ready to plant trees or weed a public park, and they’ll put in a few hours work before they stop for morning tea, some quick reminders, information and a chat.
Mostly over 60, some in their 70s and 80s, verifying their motives unselfish, they work for the trees and the environment and to retain the local identity for future generations. They will not see these trees mature although the group of scouts and guides also present might one day remember the plantings and point out trees they planted to their children.
Everyone is socially distanced, listening to instructions about planting small trees for the Trees Of Many Nations project opening which is planned for September although threatened by COVID19. This project is the rejuvenation of the project which began in 1988 to acknowledge the various nationalities of people who lived in the Shire. The first tree, a Silver Wattle was planted by Kurnai Elder, Euphemia Mullet.
Ten of the original 30 trees still survive, and the FODT members in partnership with the Shire have been working towards obtaining the necessary trees to replace the nations lost and to add the new nations’ trees, as well as providing new seating, stone walls, interpretive signage and over 300 other trees and plants.
Another morning I join in and am relegated to weeding the walkway between two streets. It is a popular recreational walk and FoDT maintains some of the gardens and does planting while the Shire does the mowing. I thoroughly enjoy the activity and companionship of working side by side with others. Satisfying heaps of refuse, weeds and prunings are piled into vans and removed. The place definitely looks better when we leave.
Led by Judy Farmer and a team of heroics or tragics, depending on how you view it, FoDT has been tireless, their efforts sustained and strategic. They are trying to overturn understandings regarding the economic asset trees provide to Drouin, where the landmark trees are actually the reason many people choose to move to the area.
The group lobbies for the protection of trees in every way possible. They write and meet with officials and politicians, they have made approaches to developers, and fought in court where they felt existing laws were being ignored. They have experienced developers deliberately destroying trees knowing that legal processes were underway. Developers find it easier and cheaper to pay any associated (puny) fines than to answer challenges or change their approach to development.
FoDT is also interested in raising public awareness and in shifting sentiment and cultural recognition around trees. They have published the most appealing illustrated pocket books in an attempt to draw attention to local natural assets- things many take for granted. Drouin Tree Walks provides maps and photographs of 12 short walks around the town identifying the giant trees and the exceptional species. Birds of Drouin follows up with details of the abundant birdlife, photographed beautifully by Peter Ware. Drouin surprisingly has more than 100 bird species, probably due to the big trees. Lose the trees, lose the birds. Educational stickers and cards, and very recently environment posters of the wildlife dependent on, and existing around the trees have been produced with the assistance of local artist, Helen Timbury.
A few years ago, the group also undertook an Artist in Residence project with Jo Caminiti, who invited others to set up easels out in the open with her and paint the Seven Giants of Drouin.
The Committee for Drouin’s Assets Sub-Committee (Friends of Drouin Trees) completed their assessment of significant trees on public land within the Drouin township in 2018, with the nomination of 258 tree assets to be placed on the Significant Tree Register.
To achieve this breakthrough, the volunteers physically measured and assessed every tree on public land within the town precinct of Drouin. Thousands of trees. The Council adopted specific criteria to identify and assess significant trees, including criteria utilised by the National Trust of Australia - Criteria for identification and classification of significant trees, as well as two additional criteria used by most other Councils.
A tree can be identified as significant based on one or more of the following: horticultural value, location or landscape context, rare or localised, particularly old, outstanding size, aesthetic value, curious growth form, historic value, Aboriginal culture, outstanding example of a species, remnant vegetation, outstanding habitat value.
These trees were approved by Council for inclusion on the Register in January 2019 following community consultation. Over 30 of the original citations on the Baw Baw Shire Significant Tree Register have already been lost since the measuring began. Some of these citations contained banks of trees. In the case of the trees near my home it was one side of a canopied section -up to 80 trees.
Lost. It’s a euphemism- lost. It means chopped down, killed, sacrificed, ravaged.
All of the community volunteers who went out for over 6 months to measure each tree (public land only) in the Drouin Township precinct believed this register would provide protection from development. That there would be a regulation or bylaw or precedent that would save our significant and protected trees, the landmarks and green-fringed horizons that lift our gaze heavenward. It is still a distant goal, but the Register is being recognised slowly and surely.
I am awed by exceptional effort and achievement of the FoDT members.
However, when we zoom-meet I sense the same unease I have, sadness droops shoulders and anxiety etches the faces of members who were once optimistic. They are a group in mourning, feeling they can never keep up or block the rate of tree removal. The realisation is setting in that the developers and tree choppers will devastate our area, then move on to another.
They listen to updates on current letters and appeals, they discuss the protests they have made about the lost trees and which ones now stand inconveniently in the path of development.
They continue to seek liaison and briefings with Shire Officers realising that departments are not communicating with each other- one may refuse permission for tree removal while another department greenlights it. Many departments and government planning authorities do not know the Baw Baw Shire Significant Tree Register exists, and if they do, they don’t refer to it before planning pipelines and powerlines into the housing estates.
Other Shires list trees as an economic asset, just like a building or a road. They use approved tool kits for assessing the value of trees. These are used around the world actually. FoDT member Joan McColl has sent a comprehensive file of information and sample tool kits to the Shire.
Frustration bubbles over. A small group protested around a protected clump of trees that was under threat by drainage pits that could have been placed a few metres further away. The Council stopped the work and has now issued fines to all parties as a permit hadn’t been sought let alone reference made to the Significant Tree Register.
I’m learning the language: encroachment, buffer zones, yields. Permits. Exemptions. We read one official response.
As you are aware the removal of vegetation … Exemptions are applied to activities such as … see clause 52.17 of the planning scheme).
…the expected approach is to “avoid, minimise, offset” which indicates the order of priority i.e. first try to avoid tree removal; if it can’t be avoided, minimise tree removal and for any removals that can’t be avoided, pay for native vegetation offsets.
… to provide evidence that they have avoided and minimised removals, known as an “avoid & minimise statement”. A condition of acting upon the permit (physically removing the trees) is to have paid offsets before doing so.
“But there is an empty paddock beside the trees!” The meeting participants groan in unison.
“How much was the offset and where is it? Is it anywhere near our town? What use to us are the reedy things planted around the ponds, or trees grown in other areas?”
“There are alternative routes for the utilities to travel into the estates! Can’t the roads curve around the trees?”
But those options cost more. To a developer this is unacceptable.
Not everyone agrees with us. Many sympathise with the developers. Jobs. They understand the responsibility of sustaining a work force, the cost of overheads, of the reams of regulations and Laws developers must work within, the costs of delays associated with weather and legal appeals.
There is also the complicating factor that the biggest trees are generally found along roadsides. These roadside reserves are owned by VicRoads and were originally set aside for road widening. Unfortunately, they are often the only areas where trees have been left to grow to maturity or old age, undisturbed. Here we can find remnant forest and plant understorey found nowhere else. And let’s face it- some of those trees were already very old and probably very special when the reserves were established.
It feels like a war to me. Of course, I am one of the good guys. My personal battle is to save the stand of significant trees in the southern end of McGlones Rd, as yet untouched. These are also on the Baw Baw Shire Significant Tree Register with citations under 7 categories of significance. But they are inconveniently located.
I shift focus and look outward. Where is the help? Who else speaks for the trees and the creeks?
And of course, there they are: one shire councillor advocates passionately for the trees (one out of nine) and there are sympathetic council officers hamstrung by lack of protective regulations. Further afield I recognise Greta Thunberg, XR- Extinction Rebellion, Craig Reucassel with his War On Waste on our screens, WWF, Greenpeace, Environment Victoria, 3000 acres, Australian Conservation Foundation, Bush Heritage Foundation, Friends of the Earth, Keep Australia Beautiful, Trust For Nature, Birds Australia, Landcare- dozens and dozens of organisations in Victoria alone. Arid Lands, institutes, educational and anti-nuclear groups.
I read The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben, and Richard Power’s Overstory. The books are revelatory and change the way I see trees, and the interconnectedness of the living world.
Obviously I have been ranting too much to everyone.
“Oh yes, you’re one of the tree people. Saw the letter in the paper…”
A family member sends me Margaret Klein Salamon’s book, Facing The Climate Emergency- How to transform yourself with Climate Truth. Do I have what it takes to become an eco-warrior?
A friend gets in touch with me. She is part of the First Nations peoples and the environmental protesters trying to re-route the upgrades to the Western Freeway near Beaufort in order to save thousands of ancient trees, and especially the Birthing Tree of the Djab Wurrung women. This culturally significant tree is an old-growth river red gum that is up to 800 years old. It has a girth of more than 7 metres and stands more than 30 metres tall. It has been culturally modified, with fire, creating a small room in the base of the trunk. Thousands of Djab Wurrung babies have been born, over multiple generations, within it. The placentas of those babies have been buried under the Directions Trees around it.
It is daunting to think such extraordinary cultural places are not safe, not guaranteed their place in the future. How can we possibly save our Drouin trees, if the Djab Wurrung trees are not recognised as possessing value beyond dollars and roads. With a heaviness settling in my chest, we agree to keep in touch with each other. We urge each other to keep going.
Something nags at me that we must continue to save the special places. It is only when you stand next to these trees and gaze up and into them that you take to heart how extraordinary they are.
Once again, like Alice, I’m opening doors and scurrying along tunnels.
A search for the World’s most special trees is fascinating. Trees to visit before I die. Literary trees? The Thomas Hardy tree, which he encircled with a crowd of headstones- probably tripping I conjecture; religious trees- the oak with two chapels in it, reminding me of the Penny Tree in Gippsland which housed a pioneering family after bushfires in the 1890s; the Bodhi Tree, the ancient olives, and baobabs, trees given names: General Sherman the Redwood, Methuselah the 4,700 year old Bristlecone Pine, Sherwood Forest’s Major Oak- legend has it Robin Hood sheltered in it. Newton’s apple tree, emancipation trees, giant Wisterias and Dragon’s Blood trees. I’m hooked.
In Utah, USA, a grove of quaking aspens known as the Trembling Giant, or Pando, is considered one of the world's oldest trees. The trees are genetically identical and share a single root system, therefore researchers consider them a single clone rather than separate individuals. Although the precise age of the grove is unclear, it's thought to date to the end of the last Ice Age—about 11,700 years ago. At 107 acres, Pando is also considered one the world's biggest organisms.
When I was young the most special place, the place to which we took visitors from overseas, the place the extended family gathered for picnics, the place tiptoed into with awe and expectation was Sherbrooke Forest in The Dandenongs.
We wished for glimpses of the elusive lyrebird. I remember wide-eyed hand signals, urgent, hushed, whisperings for everyone to freeze, look, listen. Eyes lighting up at its superlative mimicry: a car door slamming, a kookaburra, a chain saw.
It was the place where we could dip the tip of our tongues into perfect raindrops cradled in coiled fern fronds; hear the distinctive notes of bellbirds and the smarting crack of whipbirds high above us; smell mossy-mouldy greenness; feel cool misty tickling that goose-bumped our skin; observe towering perpendicular trunks emerging from fern-frond curves. It was all sensational.
Imagine my surprise and joy on moving to a regional town to discover creeks and dells with maidenhair and tree ferns, open paddocks with cows and parcels of forest and bush where my own children could build cubbies.
The much-applauded, delightful legacy of Leo Boyen, Superintendent of Parks and Gardens for Buln Buln Shire for 27 years, is the avenue of Ficifolia Gums which line the main road of Drouin. They burst into shades of crimson, coral and vermillion each February, and for 30 years the community has held the Drouin Ficifolia Festival to celebrate their splendour.
Another legacy of previous Shire Councils and the same Leo Boyen is a stand of remnant Mountain Grey Gums, Strzelecki Gums Peppermint Gums and others in McNeilly Road. Most of the large gums are more than 35 metres high, with several in excess of 40 metres. Some trees are estimated to be 200-250 years old. There are more than 40 large trees with 30-40m high and trunk girths greater than 3metres, with at least 90 trees in all. This stand of significant trees forms a major corridor for birds and animals. With the position of wetlands on the lower north side, this urban forest is incredibly important for the wetland birdlife.
The Baw Baw Shire Tree Register citation for these trees explains this land was set aside as a government road but the extension of McNeilly road was never built. Keith Pretty (past Chief Executive Officer for Buln Buln Shire) says that Buln Buln Shire decided NOT to build the extension but to keep this area as a reserve. If a road was to ever be built they voted to go around the trees.
Leo Boeyen had always advocated for the preservation of these trees because they were irreplaceable and unique. He used words like, “Over my dead body” to describe how he felt when discussion arose about putting a road through. That was 40 years ago.
“There was a tacit understanding in the Buln Buln Shire Council that the stand of trees on the unconstructed section of McNeilly Road would not be disturbed. This meant that any development of the adjoining land would necessitate the provision of a sufficient buffer (on the private land) so that the trees could remain,” recalls 80-year-old Keith Pretty.
Perhaps you can guess the rest of the story… not gone, but going, going…
It seems for every step forward there is an equal or larger step backwards.
I decide on action- a series of postcards of my beloved trees photographed by Lauren Murphy, the Not Just A Tree series, but its distribution is held up by COVID lockdowns. I urge Drouin people to join me lighting up trees in their garden or street at night for a week in darkest August. For those who give it a go it is exhilarating to be out at night under the night skies and stars, and the trees look magical.
Joan McColl introduces me to the story of Uno’s Garden by Graeme Base who is perhaps best known for Animalia. Uno’s Garden is about sustainability and overdevelopment, and the heartbreaking disappearance /extinction of an animal. When comparing countries on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List, Australia is in the top five for extinction of animals and plant species, and the top 10 for endangered and threatened species, so the book is very pertinent.
Joan has made some puppets and wonders if we could do a show, but COVID19 has stymied performance with audiences. Still I chase down author Graeme Base, explain our own heartache, and send him photos of the tree devastation. I suggest ideas I would like to follow up. A true champion he is back to me within hours supporting our ideas and giving permission. A team is forming around this project.
I write to the paper about the roadside rubbish I have been cleaning up as I walk down the road to greet the remaining trees. Within days three people contact me and suggest we set up a group to encourage some action regarding roadside rubbish and dumpings. At the very least we can encourage walkers to carry a bag and gloves and pick up a little as they walk.
A man called Doug Roberts calls too. He explains he has been working at the freeway entrances and run-offs for up to 11 years. He plants indigenous species when possible, and cleans up, and encourages the self-sown seedlings to grow, while removing blackberries and informing authorities of rubbish or dumpings- cars in some cases. He’s out at one or another of them several times a week, expects no praise, enjoys being outdoors, and when I go to see what he’s been up to he shows me a thornbill nest he has been keeping a bit of an eye on. Mind you, anyone who wants to pick up a bit of rubbish is always welcome. Doug says he thinks everyone should adopt a piece of public land close by and just give it a bit of care every now and then. I think he’s on to something.
When friends do a clean-up along McGlones Rd one weekend, we fill a trailer with bottles and cans and plastic (mostly alcohol related) and another pile of hard rubbish including three wheels and tyres, builders rubbish and general dumped junk which the Shire collects.
It’s all something. I have joined XR[i]. Another tiny step in a connected direction.
There are people walking up to me these days, quietly telling me they are ‘with me.’ I sweetly ask them to say it louder to authorities not me, to join FoDT, or do a clean-up in their area. My husband warns me the fall from my high horse might be painful. However, there are a few more people in my community who are writing to politicians and other authorities and there are others only a telephone call away willing to join in various actions. I am connecting with new people and neighbours who are the fairy godmothers for the trees in the area. If only they all had magic wands.
As grim as things sometimes appear, I am soon laughing out loud and marvelling at the latest adventure of Beau Miles. YouTube links me to his film about sleeping high in the branches of a magnificent Strzelecki Gum on his own property. With ropes and planks and pulleys he prepares a two-plank platform and straps himself way above his property to eat and sleep and simply be with the tree for a night.
I ring Beau wondering if this has been deliberate or serendipitous timing given the tree situation in nearby Drouin. We talk, I rave on a bit. And there it is: unplanned, karma, good fortune, coincidence. Serendipity.
I am reminded of the Celestine Prophesy, by James Redfield 1993, and the Gaia theory. The Celestine Prophesy introduced the idea that coincidences are not random but are meaningful for those who experience them, while the Gaia principle proposes that all organisms and their inorganic surroundings on Earth are closely integrated to form a single and self-regulating complex system, maintaining the conditions for life on the planet.
Lines from an essay by Tim Hollo[ii] catch my eye. He is writing after the devastating fires in South Eastern Australia 2019-20.
There’s an arrogant and exceptionalist attitude which has enabled us to plunder the natural world we are part of, declaring its beauty and bounty to be ‘resources’ for our use and a dumping ground for our waste…
After months of breathing in the ghosts of gum trees, of koalas and cockatoos, how could we deny that we are all connected? Battered by fire, dust, floods and hail, how could we pretend we’re not completely reliant on the natural world?
New grief, new urgency, new people, new groups. My life is indeed changed forever.
I ask again, ‘Who speaks for the trees and the creeks? And can honestly respond: SO MANY PEOPLE.
My question evolves: Who listens? When will they hear?
iii Eucalyptus strzeleckii- Conservation status Vulnerable (Protected) (EPBC Act) A small to medium sized tree-only grows to 30-40m in height. Department Agriculture Water & Environment: Species Profile and Threats Database. http://www.environment.gov.au/cgibin/sprat/publicspaces.pl?taxon_id=5500
iv www.melbourne water.com.au
vi Extinction rebellion
vii Tim Hollo, Feb 3 2020, The End of the World as We Know It