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‘Vandalism’ – Memorial declares war on its trees

Trees outside the Australian War Memorial. Photo: Paul Costigan

“When Canberra city needs every piece of biodiversity and green infrastructure to deal with the coming climate crisis, how on earth did anyone at the War Memorial think it was okay to let the bulldozers loose on so many trees. In the end this could be 100 or more trees that will go,” writes “Canberra Matters” columnist PAUL COSTIGAN

THE residents of Canberra love this city because of the trees. There are numerous occasions when people have had to rally to save our trees. Despite this, we continue to witness various agencies bringing down trees for all manner of spurious reasons.

Paul Costigan.

And before you think that I am going to again mention some of the worst recent examples of tree destruction such as the 100 or more along West Basin, the rapidly disappearing Downer heritage trees or mention the notorious City Renewal Authority – you would be wrong.

This time it is the Australian War Memorial that has signalled that it wants to bulldoze about 60 or more trees. Of course, its reasons as outlined in a submission to the National Capital Authority (NCA), are that the trees must go to make way for the totally over-the-top $500 million expansion of the museum. 

One seriously misguided action (the expansion) is to be assisted by another (the destruction of precious and significant trees).

The NCA has made some token efforts to promote the importance of trees. But do not hold your breath that it will be doing much to save these trees at the AWM. Those West Basin trees were expendable – so why wouldn’t those around the War Memorial suffer the same fate. 

Have a look at the red bits in the planning document below. On my count, about 60 have already gone to make way for the new carpark to the east and now about 65 more have been marked for destruction.

The War Memorial’s submission showing, in red, the trees that may be felled.

Included in this vandalism will be some very significant ones such as the massively beautiful ones to the west of the front to the memorial building.

The War Memorial used to care for its trees. I know this because I have been in contact with Stewart Mitchell, who is the former head of Buildings and Services at the AWM.

Stewart can tell you how much the staff used to put into the care and occasional replacement of their trees. They were important to the site and the staff were very conscious of their stewardship responsibilities.

Something has changed. Stewart and others have been gutted by this news. This is not the place they used to work for and were proud of what they achieved – the care of Memorial’s trees.

In this era when every tree is important, when the city needs every piece of biodiversity and green infrastructure to deal with the coming climate crisis, how on earth did anyone at the War Memorial think it was okay to let the bulldozers lose on so many trees. In the end this could be 100 or more trees that will go.

And so, we enter that space that the people of Canberra know too well. There are many times in recent years when the intelligence and the stewardship of the National Capital Authority has been tested.

With all the talk about the importance of trees, now is a good time for the NCA to stand up for the climate, to re-assert their responsibility to be stewards of the nation’s capital and to simply do the right thing by these trees!

I join with others in the hope the NCA will not agree to the War Memorial’s insensitive and destructive proposals to remove so many trees.

The NCA has listed this proposal on its website – and is open for responses until the end of April. Save our trees from these barbarians!

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Paul Costigan

Paul Costigan

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2 Responses to ‘Vandalism’ – Memorial declares war on its trees

Stewart Mitchell says: 22 March 2021 at 4:58 pm

Thanks for this article Paul. I hope it gets the attention it needs. It’s simply gut-wrenching to think of the loss of these magnificent trees and the impact this will have on the Memorial landscape. But this will only be the start. Many readers will know that colossal changes to the Memorial have been approved by Minister Sussan Ley on the advice of her Department despite significant concern about heritage impact – including from the Government’s own Australian Heritage Council. Sadly, it is clear that the ‘mitigating conditions’ attached to Ley’s approval will not reduce this impact – the development WILL have ‘large scale, high intensity and permanent impact’ – this tragic tree loss will be the first visible example of this.

And now the NCA is looking at approving so called ‘early works’ – massive tree destruction, demolishing Anzac Hall and extensive excavation of the Parade Ground and site. The term ‘early works’ doesn’t seem to do justice to the Armageddon that is about to occur. It is extraordinary that the NCA could consider it as such.

I urge everyone who cares about all this to follow the link to the NCA site in the last para of Paul’s article and make a strong comment. The NCA have said ‘The approval by Minister Ley satisfies the heritage conditions of the Plan and will guide the NCA’s assessment of this matter’. I fear they may have accepted a deferential role to the Federal Government and will assist this development to go ahead – or will they stand up and make an independent assessment for the good of the National Capital, and this National Heritage Listing they also have responsibility for.

Stewart Mitchel
Former Head of Buildings and Services at the AWM


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