Opinion / Clearing heritage trees for trams is ‘appalling’

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View of Commonwealth Avenue circa 1926 and the early tree plantings. The Albert Hall is pictured on the right.

JUST the thought of removing the Cedrus trees on Commonwealth Avenue in front of the Hyatt Hotel for stage two of the light rail is appalling.

Cedric Bryant.

It would appear that, like old buildings in Canberra, trees don’t have a heritage value and must be destroyed in the name of progress. In another publication, a recent article asked “Is our lush, planned city losing its soul?” The simple answer is, “yes”.

It’s claimed that these trees have a limited life? How do we know how long they will live? There is not an expert on earth who can ascertain their exact life expectancy.

The endangered trees today. Photo by Cedric Bryant

We know that English/European trees grow faster in our climate than in their country of origin. However, even the oldest exotic trees in Australia are only about 150 years old, whereas oaks for example in their native habitat will easily grow to 500-600 years old.

It has been suggested these Cedrus may have only between five to 50 years of growth left in them, that’s a huge variation. So let’s give them a chance or do we simply euthanase them for the tram.

Certainly, if they are showing serious decline or disease this has to be taken into account. But I don’t believe this is the case and just an excuse to remove them. The suggestion of a tram proponent to take cuttings to grow on these trees is ridiculous. How long do they think it takes for a conifer cutting to grow large enough for planting out?

Charles Weston… Canberra’s first superintendent of Parks and Gardens.

Charles Weston was the first superintendent of Parks and Gardens establishing the Yarralumla Nursery in 1913. He experimented with many exotic and native trees for the suitability of growing here. When he retired Alexander Bruce took over in January 1926. Bruce continued the great work of Weston and was charged with the responsibility of laying out the public parks and gardens of the Federal Capital; including Commonwealth Avenue.

In a pamphlet written by Bruce in 1927/28 on “Roses of the Federal Capital” (of which I have an original) he describes Commonwealth Avenue: “As a one way traffic avenue 200ft wide.

“The central plantation, 40ft wide, is planted with a double line of Cedrus deodar on the outer edges with a central line of Cedrus atlantica. The whole of the intervening spaces between these trees planted with roses”.

The pamphlet continues with the ground preparation, spacing and varieties of roses including a detailed plan. Obviously, as the trees grew it became impractical to keep the roses. Bruce also laid out the rose gardens in front of the Old Parliament House in 1928/29, which still exist for our pleasure.

Bruce’s final comment in his pamphlet read: “Already clearly it is becoming apparent a city of gardens will provide an admirable milieu for Federal Capital activities. Visitors from overseas, officials and others have been greatly pleased with Canberra. They have given expression to their sense of fitness to the Federal Capital and its surrounds for its purpose of national government.”

So where have our planners gone off the rails for our garden city?

If these trees are not heritage listed and/or on the National Tree Register, it begs the question why not? These are an important part of the history of early Canberra. It is of interest that similar sentiments on the value of these trees have been endorsed by Dr John Gray, former landscape architect director for the NCDC, and Tony Powell, former commissioner of the NCDC concerning the removal of these trees.

And yet for all the work of Weston, Bruce and others that followed in establishing Canberra as a garden city others are set on destroying it.


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Cedric Bryant
Trained horticulturist and garden designer with over 30 years experience in the industry.

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