A picnic at the park


Anzac Day at Civic Park

On Saturday I had planned to have a picnic in Civic Park so I could show the Laman Street figs to a friend who is a tree activist in Sydney. Things didn’t go to plan as there was a terrible accident on the Expressway and we had to postpone the meeting but I went up there at lunchtime anyway. It was 36 degrees according to the thermometer in my car. It occurred to me that making the street ugly would not be the only result of removing the Hill’s figs.  

Trees cool a street by as much as 5 to 8 degrees. On Saturday the difference felt much more than that. Walking in the sun was unbearable but under the trees it was fairly pleasant. When the figs go the street will be awful for years, not just unpleasant visually but as hot as Hades in summer.  

An arborist said to me recently that he thought Hill’s figs have an amazing ability to give shade in comparison to other trees. I was having a whine about brush boxes which don’t deserve their place as the favourite street tree choice of Newcastle and many other councils and he agreed that they aren’t a great shade tree.  

 Not that brush boxes can’t be amazing, of course. Left to grow as they should they are a beautiful shape and are amazingly tall, but they don’t have the canopy of a fig. I hope council has a new policy to avoid planting them where they will be butchered by Energy Australia.  

I found a website where people can have a whine about their council and I looked up Newcastle just for the fun of it. I found sad comments from a couple of people: an arborist came optimistically to Newcastle thinking we could give him some urban landscaping ideas to take home, but he went away disappointed, and a resident in Sandgate wanted trees in their street so asked council for them, but council planted the trees on the side with overhead wires.   


‘I was recently in Newcastle for an Arborist’s conference and the area down from the Newcastle City Hall was awful. Every second shop was vacant, there was graffiti everywhere. The only shops not vacant were either sex shops or brothels. What a dirty, scummy area.  

Now my area of expertise is trees, and they weren’t much better. I would have thought a large city would have a nice tree program / plan. All the trees in the city were in poor condition. Please do something about the condition of these trees. Get some people in who can make a difference.  

You have some areas that could do wonders with the right planting and maintenance programs. It is not that hard. In my state (VIC) we have better trees / programs in small country towns than you have here.  

I have to admit that I planned to use this as a trip to find new ideas to take back to my Council but I think I should send the ideas my Council has to Newcastle.  

Does anyone know who the tree people are at Council who might like to use this info. Im happy to send it to them free of charge. That CBD is an embarrassment. If they don’t have qualified people, then why not.’  

– Anonymous Victorian arborist on Councilgripe website  

This makes me feel defensive – after all, it’s OK for me to criticise my own council but when it comes to an outsider, and a Victorian one at that, well… It’s a shame someone from Newcastle where the arborists’ conference was held didn’t think to take people around and show them the place.  

Saturday wasn’t all bad, though – Greg Ray’s column in the Herald partly made up for missing the picnic. He sums up what seems to be our council’s (and no doubt many others’) approach to risk management. It made fantastic reading.  

I have found out about two really interesting pieces of research while I’ve been reading about the urban forest.  

I was reading about aerial bundled cabling – a way Energy Australia can bundle overhead wires so that trees are safe from the aggressive pruning that is done as a matter of course. Before someone gets defensive I know it’s not Energy Australia’s fault and that the distance between trees and wires is mandated by legislation. Energy Australia’s website compares the cost of pruning – $15 to $150 per span per year -with Aerial bundled cabling – $4000 to $7000 per span plus ongoing trimming costs – and underground cabling – $56 000 -$104 000 per span. Hard figures to take in. And nothing to do with the research I was talking about.  

In 1998 there was a Federal Government report into underground cabling (quoted in parliament in NSW by JW Turner, deputy leader of the National Party [whom I’m afraid I don’t recall at all]) that estimated that if all power poles were removed this country would save in pruning costs and there would be a reduction in the number of motor vehicle accidents. He said:  

Based on available data the report estimates that the net benefits arising from the reduction in motor vehicle accidents caused by collisions with poles would be about $105 million each year…
These figures assume that:  


  • 90 per cent of the value of damage caused by pole accidents would be caused by power and/or telecommunications poles;
  • 90 per cent of all power or telecommunications poles would either be removed or replaced with bendable poles;
  • 80 per cent of accidents with poles could be avoided if the poles were removed; and
  • 65 per cent of all existing power and telecommunications poles do not carry lights.’

The other piece of research was into the effect the new type of subdivision is having on tree canopy loss. The properties that are now popular are ones where the house is huge (unkindly called a ‘McMansion’) and there is very little space for a yard or garden; the streets are narrow and there is little footpath – in other words there is nowhere to plant trees.  

‘A 2006 NASA study of the urban heat island in NY found vegetation to be the most effective tool to reduce surface temperatures in the city. Columbia University NY scientist Stuart Gaffin, co-author of the NASA study, says ever-increasing urban populations around the world means the heat-island effect will become more significant in the future – in other words, cities need a lot more shade.’  

quoted by phil Hewett in ‘Nearby Nature’ part 2  

Imagine how hot these subdivisions will be in summer.  

The lack of space may not be the only factor in fewer trees being planted. I read an opinion put forward by Don Burke of Burke’s Backyard fame – he felt that Tree Preservation Orders made residents disinclined to plant trees in the fear that they would be unable to remove them if they regretted the tree down the track.  


 Indeed, every second person I spoke to about Laman Street’s figs complained about how unfair it is that it’s OK for council to rip out trees when it suits them but residents can’t remove trees from their own property. 

And on a final scary note I read about damage done, this time by the RTA, to a row of fig trees in Pleystowe in Queensland. What is even worse about this story is that the trees were planted as a memorial to men who were casualties of war. It reminds me of poor South West Rocks. There’s a street there called Memorial Avenue lined with Norfolk Island Pines, from memory. These were planted to represent the men from the town who died in World War I. In the 1970s the Electricity Commission ripped out some of the trees to do some work on infrastructure. I hope all the relatives of the fallen men had died and didn’t witness something so appalling. It’s even worse than the damage done to do electricity work in Tyrrell Street. Oh sorry – the Tyrrell Street trees were removed because they were unsafe. I keep forgetting.



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3 Responses to “A picnic at the park”

  1. Ali Says:

    what a resourceful compilation of gr8 info!
    Im ashamed further after reading the VIC visitors account of the condition of our city.

    Is it all NCC responsibility though?
    sure the trees & flawed care, management & vision, but the city itself seems to be economically booming and yet @ the same time decaying under this state governments watchful eye.

  2. robert bignell Says:

    For gross ignorance and tree destruction look no further than CESSNOCK City Council. Dozens of historic trees planted by WW1 Vets knocked over in the last decade. Same old reasons and methods trotted out by under-qualified staff:dangerous branches,damage from roots in water pipes and even white ant infestations to nearby homes. Bring in “outside experts” who know they’ll never get another job from Council unless they concur with Council wishes to be rid of “troublesome trees”. Take a walk down the stark and windswept canyons of Honeysuckle Dve to gain an insight into the unfolding vision for the plastic and perspex Newcastle of the future. Broad and shady dreams of past Civic leaders are swept aside with contempt by this new generation of gung ho administrators . Newcastle’s most beautiful street is now turned into a no-go precinct of fear and over-reaction. Council’s Public Liability Policy should cover the unlikely event of someone being hit by a falling branch (almost inconceivable with figs) from these or any other of the thousands of City Trees. I have a feeling it has more to do with greedy eyes being fixed on the extra parking meter spaces to be installed.

  3. Ali Says:

    im awaiting to hear of a gov”t agency refuge bird policy and procedures manual that must be adhered to requiring all trees to be removed before pooping birds take up residency! excuses are seriously getting that ridiculous.

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