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.
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.
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.