fig tree massacre

More follow-up to The Tree, the fine new Franco-Australian film which closed Cannes and recently debuted here in Oz at the Sydney Film Festival. It’s a narrative about a Queensland family’s odd relationship with the Moreton Bay Fig in their yard and their struggle to keep it from being cut down. (My review is on my other page; my last entry here is about French director Julie Bertucelli’s affection for Australia and her Redback boots.)

A few days ago, while getting samosas in the neighborhood, I happened to pick up one of those free local papers you see in every suburb — the ones you never really look at because they’re filled with non-news and lifestyle features for old people. But this time something grabbed my attention. To my surprise and dismay, I saw that life had mirrored art a little. The front page story was about the destruction of some one-hundred-year-old fig trees at a train station not far from where I live.

Apparently RailCorp, the state-owned enterprise that runs the commuter trains throughout New South Wales, decided the fig trees that graced the platform at Wahroonga train station were a menace to society. So they are doing away with them. Three of the trees were cut down last week; the other two will get the chainsaw in October.

Here you can see the trees as they were, strikingly situated right on the train platform.

Apparently the issue was the roots of the trees. Fig trees have very aggressive root systems that can cause a good deal of structural damage. (This is prominent in the plot of The Tree.) RailCorp claims the roots were irreversibly destroying the platform along with other infrastructure, creating public safety hazards, and that there was no cost-effective way to deal with the problem.

From what I can gather it all happened pretty fast. Wahroonga is an affluent neighborhood, the kind of place where you’d expect nice old trees would have some allies, but any opposition to this carnage was too little, too late. There was a hasty, badly-organized public forum; the mayor of Ku-ring-gai Council (the local governing body) appealed to RailCorp and various politicians to no avail and was eventually reduced to pleading; NSW Premier Kristina Keneally was alerted but she seems to have sniffed her nose at the problem. So down came the trees.

The maddening thing is there was no actual support for removing the trees, no outcry in the community that led RailCorp to make the decision. Now the community has lost the historic trees that beautified the platform and provided shade for decades, and no one’s happy about it — no one’s gained anything. It’s the worst sort of bureaucratic laziness, apathy, and penny-pinching that led to this outrage. To cut down one-hundred year old trees because they are supposedly in the way — because you can’t come up with the resources or imagination to work around them — there’s something willfully obnoxious or hateful about that. It’s a kind of violence.

There’s a lot going on in the world right now from Gaza to the Gulf of Mexico. But for some reason this ugly business has angered me most of all since I found out about it. They say you should think locally. This stubborn, mindless act by Railcorp represents everything that’s wrong with the way we conceive of and care for our living environments. I mean, call me a hippie or whatever.

I found two WordPress blogs written by local advocates of historic trees that cover this incident pretty well:

  • Saving Our Trees has plenty of information showing that RailCorp’s reasoning about why the trees had to go is a lot of bollocks.
  • Save Our Figs offers a great overview of architecture and design solutions for living with historic trees. Too late for the three which fell last week, alas.

By the way, I didn’t make up the title of this post: I found this phrasing on more than one online account of the story.

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2 comments so far

  1. Caity Raschke on

    Love your B+W photo of the trees.

  2. plenty more « outernational on

    […] plenty more Posted June 25, 2010 Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Australia, George Carlin, RailCorp, Sydney, The Tree, Wahroonga | I couldn’t help it; yesterday I drove to Wahroonga to check out the train platform where those fig trees were cut down. […]


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