In a fortnight, the Anzac Day centenary will be celebrated across Australia. But Brunswick Heads residents fighting to preserve a stand of WWI memorial trees honouring locals who died or served in that conflict are asking ‘will we remember them?’
Last month, the trees in The Terrace reserve were listed on the National Trust of Australia register, a month after then heritage minister Rob Stokes knocked back a bid by Byron Shire Council to have the trees protected under a state Interim Heritage Order (IHO).
Mr Stokes told council that in his view there was ‘no imminent threat’ to the stand of trees but that it was ’desirable’ that their ‘heritage values be managed’ and for a comprehensive assessment to be done on them.
Council says it is looking at including the assessment in a work program, subject to funding.
The minister also urged council to consult with the NSW Crown Holiday Parks Trust (CHPT), the managers of the Terrace Reserve Holiday Park, to work out a management plan for the trees ‘including measures for tree replacement should this become necessary with age’.
The trust, through its North Coast Holiday Parks agency which manages the town’s foreshore parks, has been blamed by community groups for the deterioration of the trees in the reserve.
They say lower limbs of the Coastal Cypress Pines have been ‘savaged’ over time to make way for large mobile homes and caravans increasingly using the park, and illegal structures built around the stand of trees.
Mr Stokes also urged council and the trust to consider ‘appropriate interpretive measures that will educate future users of the caravan park of the significance of the trees’.
‘With education, it is hoped that visitors to the park will grant due respect to the trees and to those that are memorialised by the stand of trees, being those who served in World War I,’ he told council.
Patricia Warren, a longtime Brunswick Heads resident and campaigner for heritage listing the trees, said the Coastal Cypress Pines were planted as a memorial to those who served in WW1 by volunteer locals from surrounding areas, working on a roster system from 1920 onwards.
Ms Warren told Echonetdaily that ‘it was a mammoth task requiring planting in sandy soil and nurturing the seedlings to sustainability, work which continued through WWII’.
‘In the latter 1990s park management acted illegally and put in overflow unpowered camp sites during the Xmas period into the area within 100 metres of the newly constructed amenities block near Nana Street, putting them into the area dominated by the Coastal Cypress Pines,’ she said.
‘In 2006 Byron Shire Council was dismissed as the manager of the caravan parks in Brunswick Heads and North Coast Holiday Parks and North Coast Accommodation Trust (NCHP/NCAT) took over.
‘They extended the illegal encroachment by putting in a mobile amenity shed at the southern end of the caravan park. ‘The lower limbs of the Coastal Cypress Pines were savaged to make way for large mobile homes and caravans. Power and water was made available to many sites. The whole of the southern area was marketed for 24/7 use.
‘NCHP/NCAT showed the Coastal Cypress Pines no mercy. Root systems continued to be systemically mowed, soil compacted with heavy vehicles, herbicides sprayed and waste water regularly discharged against the pines etc.
‘And all of this continued despite clear evidence in an environmental consultant’s 2010 report which gave direction to an appropriate tree management strategy.
‘The content of that report was echoed again in the consultant’s 2011 report. Both of these appear as Appendices in the 2014 Plan of Management (POM) for the Terrace Holiday Park. And what did NCHP/NCAT do? Nothing!
‘Worse, the mowing over root systems and camping within a five-metre radius of the trunks of these pines continues unabated by current park management.
‘In preparation of the 2014 POM, due diligence was ignored and no European Cultural Heritage report was done.
‘Instead, those now approved POM intend to develop the entire area for short term sites and camp sites. Within those plans is leverage to remove any tree on the grounds of “safety”.
‘Unless there is a dramatic change in management’s attitude, one can readily speculate how that leverage will be used,’ she said.
Ms Warren said that in January this year, the memorial pines were ‘ground truthed’ and that ‘103 extant trees and three trunks were identified’.
She said the minister’s recommended tree-management plan should be implemented urgently ‘and nothing less than in situ replanting of these trees, when appropriate can be accepted, unless of course we are prepared to forget?’
In his letter to council planning chief Ray Darney, Mr Stokes said ‘this stand of some 85 trees was formerly known as the War Memorial Pine Park and that the Terrace Caravan Park has been established amongst the northern section of the former memorial park’.
‘I also acknowledge that the trees are not listed on the Byron Local Environmental Plan (LEP) 2014 and as the site is a Crown Reserve, Byron Shire Council is unable to exert its delegation under section 25(2) of the Heritage Act 1977 (NSW) to make its own IHO for the trees.
‘The material provided with your submission indicates that the stand of trees may be of local heritage significance.
‘I strongly advise Council to undertake a comprehensive assessment of the heritage value of the trees and area with a view to considering its inclusion on the LEP.
‘Such an assessment should also examine the Aboriginal heritage values of the reserve.
‘Should Council consider that the trees may also be of state heritage significance, I would encourage council to submit a nomination to the Heritage Division of the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) for listing on the State Heritage Register.
‘As the trees are not under immediate threat of being felled, listing through the nomination process is the most appropriate method to give the heritage significance of the trees the considered assessment that is needed.
‘In considering the heritage significance of the trees, I also recommend that Council consult with the NSW Holiday Park Trust, as managers of the Terrace Reserve Holiday Park, to discuss an appropriate methodology for the management of the trees into the future (including measures for tree replacement should this become necessary with age).
‘I would encourage Council and the Trust to discuss the development and installation of appropriate interpretive measures that will educate future users of the caravan park of the significance of the trees.
‘With education, it is hoped that visitors to the park will grant due respect to the trees and to those that are memorialised by the stand of trees, being those who served in World War I.
‘After carefully considering Council’s request, I have determined not to grant an IHO at this time. In my view, there is no imminent threat to the stand of trees but it is desirable that the heritage values be managed.
‘Should a more immediate threat become apparent, I would encourage you to inform OEH through the contact noted below. I would request that, when appropriate, Council provide OEH with an update on its heritage assessment of the trees and the ongoing collaborative management of the site with the Trust,’ Mr Stokes concluded.
[Mr Stokes was appointed planning minister after the coalition’s election win two weeks ago, and Mark Speakman given the environment and heritage portfolio.]