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Byron Shire
November 30, 2021

Saga or myth?

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I’ve been following the saga of the coastal pines on the Terrace Reserve with increasing scepticism.

First it was reported that the trees were a memorial to the children who died in a diphtheria epidemic. The image of vacant seats appearing in the classroom as described by Dudley O’Meara is quite poignant and probably happened all over Australia. We tend to forget about the numbers of children who died before vaccination became commonplace. But their teacher didn’t want them to be forgotten and organised trees to be planted in their memory.

It could be true. After all the informant was a local schoolboy at the time and the school was nearby. A memorial would add weight to the case for preserving the pines and restoring Terrace Reserve to its place as a public recreation reserve where for more than 100 years the residents of Brunswick Heads have shared the simple pleasures of their haven with visitors. I wanted to believe it but it looked a bit too convenient.

Then the diphtheria victims memorial morphed into a WWI memorial. A complete narrative was supplied for this memorial too. To add credibility it was listed in the ‘Register of War Memorials in NSW’. The Fallen were shamelessly resurrected to ride this hobby horse. The horse had no legs so the rider was flogged. No evidence was given but there have been plenty of references to ‘loved ones who never returned’, ‘our gallant soldiers, sailors and airmen’, ‘their supreme sacrifice’ etc. If there was some evidence these references may be appropriate but I am unconvinced.

There are several reason for my scepticism:

1. It was already several years into the fight for the reserves when the story emerged. Why was this information not revealed earlier?

2. It was said, ‘A memorable ceremony that took place at the end of every session, when the volunteers would stand in a circle around one of the Memorial Pine Trees, and with hats off and heads bowed, would spend a moment’s silence’. Yet no-one protested when about 80 per cent of the trees were removed over the last 50 or so years – starting probably in the lifetimes of the volunteers who planted them.

3. It was claimed, ‘There were always people paying homage in the park; parents, widows with their children, friends and relatives’. Not one of these people has come forward.

4. There are no newspaper articles referring to the memorial.

There is no report in any newspaper of a ‘Ceremony of Dedication’ attended by ‘a large gathering of the volunteers, families and ex-servicemen’.

There is an article on page four of the Northern Star of 28 August 1919 reporting on the work organised by the Brunswick town improvement committee to plant trees and clean up the reserves. There is no mention of a memorial, only that the work ‘opened up the Brunswick’ and ‘increased values of land’.

5. There is no support from the local RSL and from what I have seen in the papers from local historians or the Brunswick Valley Historical Society.

Now provide some evidence or end all this rubbish and let the dead rest in peace, please.

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