The trees are coming down. Against a backdrop of grey skies and at times torrential rain, to a soundtrack of chainsaw, wood chipper and howls of protest and grief from anguished residents and exhausted protesters, the magnificent, healthy, 80-year-old iconic cathedral arch of the Laman Street Fig Trees in Cooks Hills, Newcastle, is being reduced to wood chip as this goes to press.
Sixty riot police guard the area, which is bordered by a double ring of tall temporary perimeter fencing. Onlookers shrieked in outrage and amazement as a large bird’s nest was fed into the mulcher.
In spite of council's claims to the contrary, there was no evidence of a fauna expert on site as this rich and diverse urban wildlife habitat was decimated. The latest dramatic episode in Newcastle City Council’s battle with its community has been a tragic and traumatic event for many.
Salt has been added to the wound by one particularly pugnacious councilor. A local journalist, notorious among the protest community for under-reporting scientific evidence, declared on February 1, in the middle of the felling, that it was time to “move on” and get over it.
One devoted Newcastle resident, Greg Warburton, is thinking of doing just that. The following is a letter from Greg to those councillors who ordered the trees to be removed.
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Please note that I am a Laman St resident, own a home on Laman St, pay my rates, have lived in Cooks Hill for most of the past two decades, have raised four children here, and in the process spent much of my life's income within the local community.
Please note my utter disappointment and complete disgust as the final curtain closes on your despicable, deplorable, and dogged actions to have Laman St’s figs chopped and removed.
Please note that as a result of your ongoing determination to present 14 of Laman St’s figs as a severe risk to the public despite the methodology and results of Council commissioned arboreal assessments being consistently questioned and revealed to suffer serious flaws and which you have at best meagerly, inadequately, and insufficiently attempted to address, and at worst outright ignored or ridiculed, I as a rate payer and member of the voting public have serious concerns, reservations and misgivings about your competency to act fairly, transparently, and in the best interests of the community as Newcastle City Councillors.
Please note that whilst I have long encouraged people to visit and indeed move to the Newcastle-Cooks Hill region I will no longer in any way promote Newcastle as a liveable city in which people can happily and contentedly dwell.
Please note that my partner who is from Perth, and who lived in Japan for 10 years, has travelled internationally quite extensively, and was living and working in central Sydney when I first met and fell in love with her, simultaneously fell in love with Newcastle when she initially visited me here.
Her first visit was at night and she wandered off the train, past our beautiful Town Hall, then through the beauty of Civic Park to discover the wonders of Laman St and the figs lit up at night.
Subsequently we purchased a house on Laman St. Please importantly note here that my partner continues to work in Sydney, commuting by train three to four long and tiresome days a week, and I continue to work and commute to central Sydney on the weekends, primarily, and I emphasise this, because there has never been a more beautiful street in coastal NSW to live on. Until yesterday that is. Until you had your way and the first of the figs was torn down …
Please note that in light of your outrageous act of civic vandalism that I am now more than willing to turn my back on this town, to move away from Cooks Hill and Newcastle permanently. Please note, and I think this speaks volumes about how I view the conclusions of your fig risk assessments and their methodological shortcomings, that I am more than willing to move to earthquake prone Christchurch, New Zealand, a city I once spent two years teaching at the University of Canterbury in, and more specifically I would now gladly sell up shop in Laman St and move to the epicentre of the NZ quake, what is essentially Christchurch's port, and a town I spent part of my two years in NZ living in, Lyttelton.
Please note I would happily endure the risks there of further earthquakes and aftershocks rather than to have to daily bear witness to what you have done to my much cherished Laman St under the false aegis that 14 of its figs pose a risk to public safety.
Please note as the final outcome of your fig felling machinations nears and the destruction of Laman St looms that these actions will always be remembered, as will your names and the names of all your fig felling cohorts, with utter, utter contempt.
Please note whilst I've never been an official member of Save Our Figs I have been continually inspired and uplifted by the integrity, intelligence, dedication, and openness of their members and those on associated online Facebook forums like Save the Laman St Figs.
Newcastle would be a much better place if such individuals held the positions which yourselves and all your colleagues now unfortunately hold.