Update: The controversial removal of a fig tree on Castle Hill Drive, Lennox Head, which locals say is more than 200 years old, is now proceeding after an attempt to file an injunction earlier today failed.
Local Aboriginal elder Lois Cook, who sought the injunction was advised by EDO that she could be liable for any further problems caused by the tree if she continued with the legal action.
Cheyne Willebrands, Ballina’s open spaces and resource recovery manager, addressed the crowd around the tree at about 2.30pm this afternoon and asked them to ‘respect the council resolution to undertake these works’, adding tree removal would now begin.
Asked why there was no one present to look after any wildlife that might be living in the tree, Mr Willebrands responded, ‘we’ve got procedures in place’.
Ms Cook said that ‘this is an Aboriginal heritage tree – once this tree’s removed we will be suing you for removing an Aboriginal heritage site.
‘Once we find artefacts – I’m sure there is a midden there – it will be clear council knowingly destroyed this site,’ she said.
Local resident John Sparkes told Echonetdaily, ‘police are now standing in a line all around the fence, stopping anyone going near.’
‘Earlier today, a 12-year-old girl who was walking to the tree was tackled to the ground by three policemen,’ he added.
Original report: Ballina Shire Council contractors have moved in this morning to remove a 200-year-old Moreton Bay fig tree in Lennox Head that has been at the centre of a controversy since local neighbours reported cracks in a wall and driveway last year.
Ballina Shire Council started to cut down the large tree down this morning, despite an interim heritage order request to the Office of Environment and Heritage.
Protesters photographed sitting in the tree this morning have been removed and a steel mesh barricade erected around the tree in preparation for its complete removal. Police are patrolling the perimeter.
Ballina MP Tamara Smith (Greens) says she is ‘disappointed more could not have been done to save the Moreton Bay fig’.
‘I am disappointed that Council would cut the tree down while there was still information to be considered by the Office of Environment and Heritage.
‘This tree was loved by the community, with an online petition to preserve it signed by more than 2,200 people,’ Ms Smith said.
Councillors not told
Ballina’s deputy mayor Keith Williams told Echonetdaily that councillors hadn’t been forewarned about the imminent demolition of the tree.
He said responsibility for authorising the removal was ’ultimately with the general manager’ Paul Hickey.
‘The first I heard about it was when I started getting text messages saying people were heading down there because staff and police were at the tree,’ he said.
Cr Williams added that he believed several protesters had been forcibly removed from the tree by police and indicated that some may have suffered injuries including broken bones.
He said the letter from Office of Environment and Heritage last week appeared to indicate a ‘loophole’ that meant staff had a window of time before any interim heritage order was placed.
‘It said OEH was still considering whether to undertake further investigation and, if so, it would then impose an interim order,’ he said, ‘indicating no such order was currently in place’.
He also said that the neighbours whose cracked walls and driveway first called for compensation, had written to council saying they would ‘sue for pain and suffering’ if the fig was not removed.