Dame Judi Dench, that most British of thesps, appeared on SBS TV last week speaking of her love and admiration for the trees of her native land. She visited the ancient hulk of the Mary Rose, Henry V111’s flagship, named after his sister, which went down with all hands and examined – among other artefacts brought up from the sunken ship – a wooden nit comb, a sailor’s possession, still holding some lice from its drowned owner’s head.
Dame Judi was also told the ancient Chinese saying the best time to plant a tree was 50 years ago. The next best time was today.
Autumn in Canberra sees great trees take on fiery golds and winey scarlets, before the leaves fall into crunchy piles underfoot. On the nature strip outside my house grew six tall pistachio trees, over 20 years old, that flamed red each autumn.
Last January an unneighbourly neighbour chose to chop each of them down, despite my pleas and curses imploring him to stop. They were, he insisted, as wielded his blades, “non- natives.” This man has Japanese maples, already tawny gold in his back yard. Why he chose to chop nature strip trees down to thick stumps is still a mystery.
Three trailer loads of healthy, mature tree branches were carted off to the dump. In their place came a spindly desiccated gum, propped up between two stout poles.
Even more frustrating was the attitude of bureaucrats of the ACT’s Urban Treescapes and City Presentation unit, who took the curious view (curious because the ACT has been attempting to lure visitors to Canberra to experience the glorious colours of autumn) that trees such as pistachios are ‘weeds’, grown from seed dropped by feeding birds and therefore, as non-natives, unworthy.
A minor functionary from Urban Treescapes – allegedly a former tree surgeon – came to take a look after repeated phone calls to his section and reported back to his manager.
He called me to say that the trees that cut down were, verily, ‘weeds’ deserving of their fate and that I really shouldn’t get emotional over the ‘weeds’.
When all fails, journalists turn to their own.
An indignant letter to the venerable Canberra Times brought a swift response for a reporter eager to know more. Had photographs been taken? They had, and were despatched to him. A story is in the works.
But why, and from where did this tree-hate, this aversion for ‘non-natives’ spring?
Are ‘non-natives’ somehow seen as less ‘Australian’ than natives?
Would Dame Judi’s yew (in the program she was shown an English long bow, the kind that won Henry his victory at Agincourt) that she chose to plant in her garden – choosing it over an oak – have been chopped down in Canberra if left to the mercies of the Treescape Tsars?
Here’s hoping the Canberra Times story stirs some bureaucratic unease. But maybe not.
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