The fate of two different species of pines used as memorial trees in Cudgen for Australian and Dutch soldiers killed in the two world wars stirred debate in the village in the leadup to Anzac Day.
The tale of the two tree species had its climax on Monday when four old slash pines planted by a former resident and World War II Dutch paratrooper to commemorate his fallen mates during that war were removed and replaced by a lone Norfolk Island pine by a Tweed Shire Council work crew.
The Norfolk Island pine was planted in memory of an Australian soldier from the village who did not return from World War I, after a request by the Cudgen Progress Association, backed by the Kingscliff RSL Sub-branch.
It was planted alongside a memorial avenue of older Norfolk Island pines in the village in time for its dedication during today’s Anzac Day ceremonies.
The issue came to a head at Council’s meeting last Thursday when the request by the progress association was debated and approved.
The association wrote to Council last October to remind Council of a previous promise that it would remove the four ‘Dutch trees’ and replace them with a Norfolk Island tree to commemorate the Cudgen soldier.
Association secretary Marion Gardner said that a large, very old Norfolk Island pine tree that was growing inside Cudgen Primary School adjacent to the war memorial was badly diseased and had to be removed for safety reasons.
‘This tree bears the name of a Cudgen soldier, A. Clarke, who did not return from World War I. The name was attached to this tree when a tree bearing Mr Clarke’s name was lost from the Memorial Avenue in Collier Street,’ Mrs Gardner said.
As the tree was to be removed, Mrs Gardner said there was a need for a tree to be planted in the avenue to commemorate Mr Clarke.
‘These four (slash) pines were planted by the former resident of No 8 Collier Street, Mr Frank Kapel, in memory of his Dutch stormtroop mates who perished in World War II,’ she said.
‘Whilst the Kapel family were in residence in Cudgen the trees were allowed in deference to Mr Kapel. However, the trees do not commemorate any Cudgen person and do not need to be in Collier Street.’
In his report to Council, engineering director Patrick Knight said the proposed removal of the trees was advertised in Council’s newsletter as there may be other members of the community who could have an interest in the four slash pines.
Mr Knight said a number of people responded, objecting to the proposed removal and the association was thus informed and asked to consider alternatives or a compromise.
In a response last month, the association advised they had considered the request and proposed that a memorial plaque be established in the Cudgen Cenotaph in memory of Mr Kapel and the trees be removed as previously requested.
The association said that Mrs C. Prichard gave a history of the Norfolk Island pines to the recent meeting ‘from when they were planted and by whom to the present day’.
‘There has even been a play written about the trees and their significance,’ she said.
‘The trees are part of the identity of Cudgen and the Memorial Avenue should be kept intact to remember the fallen from Cudgen and the surrounding areas. The school uniform depicts the trees.’
Mrs Gardner said the meeting unanimously decided to replace the slash pines and that the Kingscliff RSL Sub-branch endorsed the decision and intended to place a suitable plaque on the war memorial ‘in memory of Mr Kapel and his input to the War Memorial’.
Mr Knight said Council then contacted the objectors who agreed to the proposed compromise ‘on the proviso that the memorial plaque to Mr Kapel is appropriately sized and not of insignificant proportions’.
Sub-branch president Brian Vickery wrote to Council saying the slash pines had been planted ‘without the sanction of the Cudgen residents, and although meeting with disapproval, were not prevented from developing out of deference to Mr Frank Kapel, a local Dutch resident, who planted the trees’.
‘Each of the trees bore a soldier’s name who served (presumably) in the Dutch services. Those soldiers named on the trees would most certainly be remembered in Dutch memorials elsewhere in Europe,’ Mr Vickery said.
‘However there is now no connection with the Kapel family in Cudgen, and the trees are clearly not a memorial to Cudgen residents. A memorial tree once stood at the site of the “Dutch” trees and, as a memorial tree in the Cudgen School grounds must be removed because of disease, a tree should be replanted to carry the name which is currently on the diseased tree.
‘As a memorial to Mr Kapel, a former RSL member who did a lot of work in establishing the Cudgen cenotaph, it is intended to place a plaque on the Memorial Wall of the cenotaph in his honour.’
Mr Knight said it was apparent from the correspondence and telephone calls received that ‘there is a great level of respect and sentiment for Mr Kapel within the community’.
‘The view that Mr Kapel contributed greatly to the Cudgen community and was instrumental in developing the Cudgen War Memorial was strongly expressed,’ he said.
‘For this reason there was opposition to the proposal to remove the trees as being disrespectful to Mr Kapel.
‘What was not apparent from the correspondence is whether the objections to the proposed removal of the trees was purely out of respect for Mr Kapel or whether there are intrinsic values of the trees that they wish be retained.’
The progress association had asked that the trees be removed prior to Anzac Day in order to replant with a Norfolk Island pine and dedicate it on the day.
During Council debate, a move by Crs Gary Bagnall and Katie Milne for the slash pines to be kept and a memorial plaque dedicated to Mr Kapel placed on the cenotaph was defeated 5–2.
A further move to have an arborist check the health of the slash pines and report back was also rejected 5–2.
Cr Bagnall said slash pines seeds were eaten by a variety of birds and small animals, including the vulnerable glossy black cockatoos.
He said there was no real need to remove the trees given many would be lost to the nearby Kings Forest township development.
Cr Milne said she could not understand why the slash pines were to be removed if they were not diseased and felt the ‘death of one tree for the life of one which could be accommodated elsewhere’ was unnecessary.
She said the Dutch had helped the Allies in Indonesia during World War II and taking them out could offend them, and they were also a heritage asset for the area.
A council spokesperson told Echonetdaily that Norfolk Island pines were also known as Australian pines and were native to Norfolk Island and Australia, while slash pines were native to the southeastern United States.
The spokesperson said the old plaques from the slash pines had been collected by representatives of the Dutch community and new plaques ordered for installation at the cenotaph.