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One day there were trees, next there were none

And they’re gone… 160 heritage pine trees to the north of Albert Hall reduced to a pile of mulch. Photo: Paul Costigan

“One day there were trees, soon there were piles of stumps and trashed branches, then woodchip and before anyone had time to react, all was gone”, “Canberra Matters” columnist PAUL COSTIGAN laments the sudden loss of 160 heritage trees at Albert Hall.

The ACT’s Greenslabor government is locked into practices of questionable governance and decision making and has lost the ability to engage honestly and effectively with resident groups. 

Paul Costigan.

This government now resides behind a façade of disingenuous and facile spin. It is a government incapable of self-assessment.

There’s a long list of instances that illustrate the above, but for this piece the focus is on one that many may not have noticed, even though it played out in plain sight just off the parliamentary triangle. 

In late March the local media reported that 160 heritage pine trees to the north of Albert Hall were removed by City Services because the bureaucracy claimed the trees were a weed species and had reached the end of their safe and useful life. 

ACT City Services stated that the 160 trees were to be replaced sometime later this year with a reduced number of trees – 50, being a mix of a different pine and deciduous trees. 

Given the reduction in the number of trees in this heritage precinct, the other 110 replacement trees were to be planted in nearby suburbs. Apparently, this weird way of wholesale removal, the partial replacement of the Albert Hall trees and the offset planting of 110 somewhere else would help achieve the government’s 30 per cent canopy cover by 2045. 

Think on that! The majority of the replacement heritage trees were to be planted elsewhere. This was an official statement by Chris Steel’s City Services directorate. 

The statement was quickly followed through with what can only be described as a quick hit job. One day there were trees, soon there were piles of stumps and trashed branches, then woodchip and before anyone had time to react, all was gone. 

It remains a mystery to those who cherish trees, our heritage precincts and the Albert Hall area, just what was the hurry and how it was justified to remove everything at once leaving the area bare. 

For a site in central Canberra it should have had a landscape and heritage management plan that included a succession strategy for the timed gradual replacement of trees. 

The conclusion is that such a heritage management plan does not exist – or was ignored. Others have questioned the false narrative used to justify the complete removal. While they agree that many of the trees were not in good condition due to the same City Services’ lack of care and maintenance, they know that that description of them all being in bad condition and unsafe was not accurate. Some should have remained as part of a replacement program.

Given the prominent position of these trees on this significant landscape, the level of consultation was minimal – and that’s being generous. It was reported that the ACT Heritage Council was consulted. This is a bit strange given that the ACT Heritage Council was dismissed by the heritage minister in August and a replacement interim council appeared on the books in April. Those associated with the Albert Hall commented that they were not consulted.

Then there is this horrible thought. This same Greenslabor government passed its Urban Forest Bill on March 30 to be enacted in January 2024. This new law would have made it more difficult for City Services to carry out the complete removal of the 160 trees. 

So, it was done as quickly as possible because once they were history, it would be too late for anyone to raise objections. This would also explain the lack of planning around the replacements, what they will be and when they will appear. 

And, as for being declared a weed, think on that given the manicured surroundings and busy roads and that they had been on that site for decades and no infestations had occurred. 

There are many other sites in Canberra with these pines. The managers of the Canberra Arboretum had better be on guard as the Chris Steel mob may arrive to wipe out some of their specimens – those declared to be weeds in the ACT.

Given the trees are gone, possibly removed illegally according to one source, there’s the opportunity for some serious engagements and possibly new ideas about what could be a great community site alongside the historic Albert Hall. 

The trouble being a good landscape solution would require an intelligence, creativity, vision and an appreciation of heritage not seen recently within this ACT government.

Paul Costigan is a commentator on cultural and urban matters. There are more of his columns at


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4 Responses to One day there were trees, next there were none

Jennifer Macdougall says: 12 July 2023 at 10:33 am

Removing heritage trees at Albert Hall is just another example of the so called Greens Labor Govt acting without consultation of the community on environmental issues in this city. Anyone coming down Northbourne Avenue who is unfamiliar with this City would wonder why on earth the Govt has created such an ugly entrance to our National Capital, dead long grass instead of neat lawn or garden beds ( oh sorry it is native grasses so that makes it OK – well NO, it is hideous). And then planting those ugly scraggly eucalypts, already reaching for the wires to be later massacred as they drop branches all over the lines. Environmental correctness gone totally bananas. So I never drive down that street anymore, dead grass, scraggly gums, wires wires and more wires. HIdeous is too mild a word. They could have made those verges beautiful with native flowers and shrubs, but no, we have to have dead grass and scraggly gum trees. Any foreign visitor would wonder why we don’t mow the lawn and water it!! As for eucalypts in an urban environment, sheer and utter madness. Those of us with massive gumtrees in our streets, falling regularly onto the street, dropping limbs on our houses and power lines, all in the name of environmental correctness again. Lucky Forrest and other suburbs, beautifully lined with deciduous trees that enhance the city and which are not falling on houses and streets. And don’t get me started on the hypocrisy of getting rid of the kangaroos in our reserves, leaving us with weeds and long dead grass, all set to go come summer – the Greens and Labor have totally lost the plot and the arrogance is mind boggling.

CanberaEd says: 12 July 2023 at 1:25 pm

I can’t wait to see what the government is going to do with the free space they made by removing the trees. I’m sure their developer friends have a few ideas. It almost seems like the perfect spot for some more units, ready for when the tram finally rolls through.

Christopher Emery says: 16 July 2023 at 7:20 pm

Sounds like the surface carpark next to Taxation on Cooyong St in Civic. This land was sold to a Queensland super fund about 14 years ago. The only action taken on this land was immediate removal of the adjacent street trees – they were not even located on the land that was sold. The ACT government and their developer friends do not like trees.

James says: 18 July 2023 at 5:42 pm

Do you take issue with the heritage value of these trees, or the urban canopy? I personally think that Yarralimla is the last suburb at risk of becoming an urban heat island and the new plantings would be very welcome elsewhere. As for their heritage value, it seems that these precious European pines are another example of ‘heritage’ more closely resembling colonial protectionism. Don’t forget how these came to be in the first place. And while we’re at it, let’s recomission the brickworks tramway.


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