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Byron Shire
April 15, 2021

Historic Alstonville fig trees get reprieve

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Alstonville resident Ian Cooke is fighting to save the fig trees.
Alstonville resident Ian Cooke is fighting to save the fig trees.

Darren Coyne

Alstonville resident Ian Cooke has managed to stop nine historic fig trees being chopped down … for now.

The trees, near Alstonville Public School and St Joseph’s Primary School, were set to be removed last week as part of a NSW Department of Education school tree safety campaign.

The campaign followed the death of Bridget Wright, 8, who was killed by a falling tree branch at Pitt Town public school, in Sydney’s west, in February.

Focus on the Alstonville trees intensified just days after the death when a branch from one of the trees narrowly missed a student and teacher.

And while a subsequent Department of Education-led investigation found they were unsafe, Mr Cooke’s legal action in the NSW Land and Environment Court has stalled the removal plans.

As a result, further investigations will be carried out on the trees to establish whether they are in fact dangerous.

Mr Cooke, a 74-year-old former student at Alstonville Public School, grew up playing in the trees that have been earmarked for the chop.

He is backed in his fight by numerous parents and teachers at the school, and a petition has been circulating.

It’s understood that the trees have twice been assessed by an arborist, with both reports recommending that the trees not be removed.

In the 2013 report, the risk of harm posed by the trees was assessed at one in 1.2 million while in a 2014 report by the same arborist, the risk was put at one in 62,000.


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  1. Congratulations to Mr Cooke, he is a hero! Children at more at risk each time they get in a car to be driven to school than from the remote risk of a falling branch. Should the school be closed down? The Department of Education are taking this to ridiculous extremes. I’m sure many of us remember celebrating Arbor Day at school – ‘A tree is a thing of beauty and a joy forever’. Please don’t deprive school students of this joy in an attempt to avoid a 1 in 1.2 million risk of a falling branch. Perhaps, if we assess all the 1 in 1.2 million potential risk possibilities, no-one should really ever get out of bed in the morning. I really hope sense will prevail and these beautiful trees will be preserved to bring joy to many more generations of students.

  2. Will we ever get over the Nanny State attitude to protect our children from everything that is fun?
    The real evil lurks elsewhere.

  3. Very good point you have raised Linda. If a child is injured or killed while being driven to school, do we place a ban on cars or banish them ? Of course not. It is life !!

  4. Great work Ian. Councils all over the state have been watching your campaign. I hope you have inspired many others. Well done.

  5. Linda, you echoed every sentiment as I read this article. I too, well remember the significance of celebrating Arbor Day at this school some 60 years ago – when common sense was regarded as ‘the norm’. And yes, Ian Cooke is my hero, too, for many more reasons than this – which are always totally selfless and immeasurably generous in spirit. Keep on fighting the good fight!

  6. Good on you Ian, thank god there’s still some common sense left in the country. Cutting down historic trees for 1in 1.2 million risk of a branch falling is crazy. Save the trees!

  7. A man without word, is not a man.
    A man with passion behind his voice is both engaging and sustainable.
    An environment without flora has already been located and named. – Nullabour

    There is a higher potential one of these students will be either a national bank manager or be rewarded a scholarship into university before an act of nature reoccurs, as sad as the original concern is.

    If I were to adopt the education dept methodology of risk assessment, I would have to Dettol bath every new girlfriend just because the ex gave me crabs. A little bit of wind doesn’t constitute Gastro as I say.

    [No, she really didn’t give me crabs…]


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