Giants in peril

For centuries the giant river red gum on Barker Road has towered over the Mt Barker landscape, a silent witness to the greatest changes that have swept through this region.Long before white man stepped off the boat in Botany Bay its branches were reaching skyward. Its natural magnificence was already revered by the native Peramangk, who sought it out as a key marker in the landscape.
It is also possible that they used it as a significant site to honor their dead.
Far older than any of the town’s heritage-listed and legally protected buildings, this tree is one of the few living links to a past and a culture that stretch back long before our modern country was born.
Yet today it sits on a new house block and the homeowner who buys the land could cut it down on a whim if he builds his house within 20m of its trunk.
Just a few streets further up the hill sits Mt Barker’s oldest tree – believed to be up to 600 years old – and in the same predicament.
It survived the ravages of time, countless droughts and bushfires and the wholesale land clearing that came with white settlement, only to find its life now lies in the hand of a new homeowner.
How long it is left standing under the State Government’s new significant tree regulations might depend on how long it takes to build a house next to it.
Other similar historic trees across the Mt Barker district have already gone.
Whether it’s because the homeowner is sick of cleaning up the falling leaves, fears the tree might one day lose a branch or be a bushfire hazard, or just because it’s in the way of a new shed, under the new laws any excuse will do to cut down a protected tree in a Hills town.
With all towns falling into medium to high bushfire risk zones, homeowners can axe just about any tree within 20m of their house without approval. That is despite CFS evidence that shows at least 90% of trees applicants wanted removed under old laws because they were perceived to be a fire hazard were perfectly safe.
Now native and exotic trees that were once protected have been felled since the changes came into force last year and the Mt Barker Council fears it is only the start of the slaughter.
What was altered by the Government to remove red tape in the planning process for city councils is now threatening the very character and natural beauty of the Hills.
It is bad policy for this region and must be changed to protect our natural history for future generations. Our significant trees should be respected and revered as the sacred and historic icons they are.