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Gazette Article

Stories behind our street trees

Following requests for more information about early planting of street trees in Artarmon, below is an update of an article I wrote for the Artarmon Gazette in July 2001. There have been many trees planted in our area since then, in particular many Jacarandas and Blueberry Ash (Elaeocarpus reticulates). An article about these later plantings was published in the August 2006 Gazette.

It is interesting to speculate that, if Governor Phillip's First Fleet had not called in at the Canary Islands on its way to Botany Bay, we might not have date palms (Phoenix canariensis) in Tindale, Burra and Weedon roads. Seed collected on that visit has progeny all over Australia because it germinates readily and the tree is so hardy.

Willoughby City Council has only begun keeping detailed records of street tree plantings in recent years. However, with the help of the Willoughby Local History Librarian, some interesting facts have come to light in the council archives.

In 1926, council canvassed the idea of forming a street improvement committee for each street. The aims were to secure uniformity in a particular street, promote individual interest, foster community spirit and ensure the welfare of streets and sidewalks. Young trees would be made available from the Botanic Gardens in June and July.

However, in 1930, a letter from the Botanic Gardens told the council that trees and shrubs would no longer be provided free. Trees, palms and shrubs would now cost 1s each, paid in advance Hedge plants like privet would be 15s per hundred. We had not yet realised the havoc the dreaded privet would cause in our natural bushland!

In October of that year, a rather plaintive internal memo to the town clerk listed 18 people in the municipality who had promised to pay £1.10s ($3) towards the cost of street beautification next to their properties but had failed to pay up. Only two Artarmon residents were on that list, both lived in Burra Road. Guesswork suggests this was when those palms were planted in Burra Road. David Bryant (see Artarmon Gazette, May 2001) recalls when he left Tindale Road in 1939, there was a palm planted outside each property. They were then 6ft - 8ft tall. Only five of those remain. There are eleven left in Burra and four in Weedon Road. One Burra Road resident recalls a palm being removed from outside her house many years ago because Noisy Mynahs nested in it. Some things never change!

In 1931, council received Tristania conferta seed (now called Lophostemon confertus), the ubiquitous Brush Box, for street beautification. The donor was a botanical seed collector in Woy Woy. Brush Box, a native tree, is found near the margins of rainforest and in wet sclerophyll forest. It is fast growing and hardy. The avenue of twelve mature Brush Box in Hawkins Street shows how magnificent they can be in the right environment.

The following year, the newly formed 2nd Artarmon Boy Scouts proposed to plant, and care for, a dozen ornamental trees in any Artarmon street the council nominated. Subsequently, council called a public meeting and the Willoughby Street Beautification Committee was formed. It included two Artarmon Progress Association members, AR Watson and AE Harrison. Money would be raised through the progress association. These were the years when Charles Wickham (see last Gazette), with support from local residents, was planting his famous garden around the railway station that travellers to Sydney craned their necks to see.

In 1937, council was requested to include tree planting in the sesqui-centenary celebrations (150 years of white settlement). The streets nominated were those on the slope of the hill that could be seen from the railway line, Francis Street, Jersey, McMillan and Barton roads. The estimated expenditure was £30. There are remnants of Brush Box plantings in these streets but it appears later developers have introduced their own planting schemes.

Many residents in other streets have also planted to suit their own ideas. Council plants replacement and infill trees. The result is our streets are no longer as uniform as the original planners had hoped. The most substantial recent planting in Artarmon is the row of Crepe Myrtle (Lagerstoemia) on the south side of Burra. There are now 33 of these splendid trees. In years to come, when they are a mass of bloom, the residents will be very proud of them.

by Mollie Shelley

Courtesy of Gazette August 2011
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