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Byron Shire
September 20, 2021

Brunswick Heads WWI memorial slated for tourist use

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Some of the historic pines, almost 100 years old, surviving in the Terrace reserve.
Some of the historic pines, almost 100 years old, surviving in the Terrace reserve.

Hans Lovejoy

Plans to erect ‘structures’ around protected Coastal Cypress Pine trees planted 100 years ago to remember those who died in WWI have sparked anger from long-time locals who want the site registered and protected.

Terrace Reserve, or Memorial Park, is located on The Terrace adjacent to Simpsons Creek in Brunswick Heads and contains approximately 100 endangered Coastal Cypress Pine trees.

Yet managers of town’s three caravan parks, the NSW Crown Holiday Parks Trust (NSWCHPT), have flagged their intention to develop the park, saying the plans will be contained in soon-to-be-released concepts for the three Brunswick parks.

NSWCHPT, which is a state government-run corporation, manages 36 parks across the state but has  been under pressure for years to come to agreement with Council and the community over its large-scale development plans and associated issues. The latest talks last November with locals eased tensions however, with its proposed redevelopment plans including a long-fought-for public walkway along the foreshore boundary of each park.

The Echo understands a recent closed meeting between NSWCHPT and Council on January 17 saw an option tabled to relocate permanent residents from the Terrace caravan park on the southern end of the Memorial Park.

When asked to confirm, NSWCHPT CEO Steve Edmonds instead told The Echo that after listening to feedback regarding the Terrace Reserve, ‘the protection of the trees is a priority and any structures will honour a 5m radius from the tree or as recommended by a qualified arborist.’

Camping not ideal

But Mr Edmonds did admit that ‘camping is not ideal’ in that area of the park, ‘as there is much potential for damaging the tree roots and trunks with holiday makers pitching their tents too close to the trees and tying their tents to the trunks.’

‘It is the Trust’s intention to retain and protect the current grove within the park, which was planted in the 1920s’.

When asked if NSWCHPT would instead offer help to register the land as a war memorial to protect it from development, their media spokesperson replied, ‘The Trust is in initial concept stages of the Memorial area at this point. However, officially registering the site as a memorial could be pursued through Crown Lands. This is something the Trust is prepared to look at once the consultation phase is complete.’

Mr Edmonds also added, ‘We are also very excited to be proposing an additional interactive memorial area where the community and visitors to the area can learn about the significance of the trees and of the sacrifices made in war of those before them.’

‘A representative from the Brunswick RSL attended the community park walkthrough and we will continue to consult with this significant stakeholder during the establishment of this important community venture.’ 

While the reserve was registered by the National Trust of Australia in March 2015, a month later, 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).

At the time, Stokes told Council that in his view there was ‘no imminent threat’ to the trees but that it was ‘desirable’ that their ‘heritage values be managed’ and for a comprehensive assessment to be done on them.

Disrespectful 

A former long-term Brunswick Heads local – and RSL member – Ian Fox told The Echo moves by the NSWCHPT to subsume the park into its commercial activities are ‘disrespectful.’

While Ian was hesitant to make public comment, he said this was an issue too important to ignore. Ian described the apparent lack of interest in protecting the park and the encroachment onto the land by NSWCHPT as ‘completely unacceptable.’

‘I’m disappointed that the local RSL sub-branch appear uninterested in pursuing the protection of the memorial trees and can’t understand why.

‘I know the sub-branch were given information about this as far back as November 2014. I was invited to address a sub-branch meeting on June 15, 2016 and provided for the information of members a background history and copies of old newspaper references about the establishment of the Memorial Park and the ongoing maintenance of the trees. They were considerate, yet seemed unsure of how to move forward with the registration process, which, I explained, was straightforward and was available online.

‘My father is on the honour roll in Brunswick Heads, and was a member of the Brunswick-Billinudgel RSL sub-Branch for almost 40 years.

‘There is a smaller but similar WWI memorial tree planting in Burringbar, with rainforest trees which were planted around the same time. In September last year, these trees were registered as a war memorial using the on-line process. Recognising and protecting these sites is not complicated, but needs RSL commitment to do it. There is no automatic registration of a war memorial.’

Information with RSL head HQ

John McKay was, until last week, the president of the Brunswick Heads/Billinudgel RSL sub-branch.

As such, he told The Echo that he could only speak on his role in the process and not on behalf of the RSL.

‘When we were provided with the information by Ian Fox a year ago, the sub-branch passed all the details on to the state and federal RSL branches. The significance of this site has only come to light in the last few years and as a sub-branch we were not large enough to independently apply for heritage orders and the like.

‘It’s a challenging issue which could become political – some locals want the whole park designated as a memorial; however, we doubt that would be likely. The sub-branch’s position was that rather than the whole area, we requested a small portion be dedicated as an official memorial.

‘As this is Crown land, I would be surprised if the government were to register it as a memorial site.’

Mr McKay added that he felt the NSW government, in this instance, would prioritise their needs over the local community’s.

‘We have also discussed this with other sub-branches as they have family members and descendants of those who were, reportedly, part of the original planting team.’

Mr McKay confirmed the sub-branch was in consultation with a designated government representative who was working towards an outcome.

Responsibility

Another long-time resident, Col Draper, told The Echo he went to school locally with the children of the Beckinsale family who originally helped to plant the trees after WWI. 

‘That family were part of the forty or so who originally planted these trees,’ he said. 

‘I feel a responsibility to the families who planted these trees – as well as the fallen and returned servicemen from WWI. It appears that the managers of the Terrace Park, the NSWCHPT, are only interested in maximising their returns.

‘These trees should have a lifespan of 200 years, yet a lot of them are sick from being abused for the past 50 years or so. After the NSWCHPT took management from Council around 2009, it appeared the trees’ health deteriorated further owing to their permitting camping around them,’ he said.

Comment was sought from the state RSL branch but no reply was received by deadline.


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3 COMMENTS

  1. How is possible the Bruns/Billinudgel RSL has forgotten about a War memorial created in honour of WW1 soldiers in the 1920s. Around 500 coastal cypress pine trees were planted along Simpsons Creek – prominently in the heart of the village, taking several years to complete the project. The trees were watered and nurtured by local families and school children for decades and many families are still around to tell the tale today.

    The local RSL’s reluctance to fight for and defend this memorial is definitely political. Allowing Crown Lands to extend the caravan park and develop the area appears to be more important that protecting this heritage site – on public land – for public use.

    SEPP 14 designates the stand of trees as a protected community but this has failed to prevent their desecration by NCHP who removed all the lower limbs (to 10m) to enable large Camper vans into the area. Tent sites and car parking have also damaged the trees.

    This Southern section of Terrace Park remained open space with occasional camping at Christmas & Easter until 2000 when Park Manager, John Tilton gradually extended and intensified the use to 24/7 without Council’s knowledge or permission. The community has consistently opposed this encroachment.

    The boundary of Terrace park remains highly contentious and we maintain NCHP/CHPT has never had license to operate in this area.

    If only the members of the RSL has the same courage and fortitude as the old diggers, this long running battle over land use in Terrace Park could have been resolved years ago.
    Lest we forget because the RSL sure has!

  2. I feel for community who understand the history represented by the memorial grove of trees planted in honour of the ANZAC sacrifice
    In Sydneys east, despite historical evidence and community outrage, ANZAC Pade lost trees and its dignity
    The LNP Robert Stokes, Mike Baird, Gladys Berijiklian and Andrew Constance have left a tragic legacy

  3. In all fairness to the CEO of NSWCHPT, Steve Edmonds, he was handed the poison chalice with the approved 2014 Plans of Management which dismissed community feedback and proceeded with what I would describe as dispectible” ugly greed, arrogance and stupidity befitting the Trump age”. Unlike his predecessors, and in agreement with Hans’ article, this CEO is prepared to try and sort out the mess. He has recognised the legislative and regulatorly required setbacks along the foreshore, an agrument the community has been fighting for 20 years! So, why now and not before? I am also aware the community is caught with ‘proper process’. This means that informed community members have oftentimes been dismissed/bypassed when meetings happen between Councillors, Council staff and NSWCHPT. It is unfair that informed community members cannot act as advisers to Councillors, as indeed MPs have at meetings, when these occur. And it leaves only the ‘stayers’ in the community to keep vigilant on this ongoing issue. Given the number of elections and new Councillors on the block and even accessing them to bring them up to speed prior to any meeting, be it closed or otherwise is extraordinarily difficult. In the meantime, to his credit, NSWCHPT’s CEO does listen and regretably has acted on ‘community feedback’ from the walkabouts 8 November to put up the option of turning the WW1 Memorial Pine Park into a residential development. I am appalled, dismayed and disgusted with the Brunswick-Billinudgel RSL sub-branch for turning its back on the spirit of those locals who died or were wounded at the battle of Lone Pine or anywhere else during WW1 let alone returned from Gallipoli and the Western Front to be rehabilitated in silence principally by their wives and mothers. Being prepared to give up that dedicated land and remaining trees is an unconscionable act that can only be described as a betrayal. Had “propert process’ allowed for this option to be scrutinised by informed community members, then the backlash would undoubtedly have been avoided.

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