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HomeIssue 41Spot a tree? Chop it down!

Spot a tree? Chop it down!

It’s official now: if you find a tree still standing, chop it down.
The latest victims are 25 well-established gums in the poetically named Road 4 in the Larapinta town camp.
The camp is not blessed with an abundance of flora: new houses, built under the $150m Federal initiative to upgrade the camps, now near its end, has produced neat new buildings on barren and dusty blocks.
The 25 trees along Road 4 were a welcome relief.
Now all that’s left are stumps.
Territory Alliance Manager Allan McGill said today (Nov 8) the trees were cut down “to allow for the installation of new electrical power lines and water services.
“In keeping with standard design practices, the installation of power and water must follow the new alignment of the road.
“Stumps will therefore also need to be removed to make way for the new water supply.”
Mr McGill did not explain why the services could not be installed on the opposite side of the street where there are no trees.
He says the Territory Alliance “has all necessary Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority certificates and no sacred trees were disturbed.
“TA also engaged with residents prior to lopping the trees to advise the work being done, when it would be undertaken and why it was needed.”


  1. All is not bleak on the flora front in The Alice! In early October the Alice Springs Nursery was nominated by some of their customers to participate in the “Retail Garden Center of the Year 2011” which was run by Austraflora, possibly the biggest propagation nursery in Australia.
    Voting was conducted online through the Austraflora website or through Austraflora’s facebook page. Over 300 garden centers (small, medium, large, rural, suburban and inner-city) participated.
    After a whole month of voting and the wonderful support of the Alice Springs public we are pleased to announce that The Alice Springs Nursery placed second outright across Australia this morning.
    A lot of our customers took pride in the fact that they were showing the rest of Australia that “we were not just spinifex and red sand in the Red Center,” and the positive feedback the nursery received was amazing.
    So, in a national competition (that included BIG chain Garden Centers like Bunnings and Big W as well as large independents), thanks to the support of our customers and gardeners in Alice Springs, the Alice Springs Nursery came up trumps!

  2. This awful planning by whomever at Larapinta camp is in keeping with the long trend in Alice: a war against natural shade and healthy vegetation by a variety of authorities, including some involved at the municipal council, as well as some at PAWA. Where the CBD once had many useful and beautiful shade trees in Bath, Hartley, Todd and other streets where people park cars, they have virtually all been eliminated by the treephobes in our midst. (A treephobe is one who has an unnatural fear of falling leaves and bark; they are so litter- and risk-averse that they would prefer that people living with forty-plus celsius temperatures should enjoy full sunshine on their vehicles rather than having to put up with kurrajong seeds or cedar berries pummelling their windscreens, or a bit of natural litter on the footpath. The treephobes also honour the ideal of fully concreted pavements, rather than risk the growth of a blade of grass or a seedling, or a bit of natural soakage for the root systems of any remaining trees that dare to attempt to survive in the urban wonderland. The continued existence of the wonderful arboreal giants on the Melanka block is probably currently causing them to suffer regular nightmares).
    Alice residents would have observed also the recent wholesale eradication of mature trees and bushes in the car park opposite the YHA/old walk-in cinema, on the corner of Leichhardt Terrace and Parsons St, and the apparent decision by authorities to not try to save many trees that caught fire in the river bed over the last three months. On enquiring twice (in late August, early Sept) to fire crew members who were standing by and watching trees catch fire from dense buffel grass, as to why they weren’t attempting to douse these flames burning next to red gums before they inevitably set fire to the bark and dead wood on the trees, I was given to understand that since “they” were lighting all these fires, then it wasn’t the firefighters’ job to save the trees. It didn’t seem to occur to the firefighters that the trees are the collective heritage and wealth of all townspeople, and a major tourism asset, or that it was their job to protect this naturally occurring ‘property’ as well as constructed assets. (Having also reported some fire outbreaks to the police number in Darwin, and on occasion having been met with complete disinterest unless the fire was likely to affect constructed property, it is obvious that it’s not just some Alice firemen who don’t seem to think that the red gums are important to the wellbeing of Alice Springs. On one occasion my offer to supply a description of a person who had just lit a fire was also met with lack of any interest at the Darwin end of the phone).
    Admittedly some of the elimination of the street trees was probably carried out by the treephobes under the cloak of a floral version of politically-correct xenophobia (get rid of the foreign-born vegetation with a bit of botanical ethnic cleansing), the fashion for this has now subsided to a significant extent, so it may be a good time for shade fanciers to speak up more about these civic crimes.
    How about an anti-fascist shadey alliance to seek a presence on the next Town Council?

  3. Bob
    About the trees left to burn in the Todd River: Is it that the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority is the source of the resistance to putting out these fires?
    It is my understanding that not only are Council and the Fire Department prevented from extinguishing the fires once they start, but that if the tree burns through and falls over, no one is allowed to remove the dead wood either.
    If this is the case, it would seem that AAPA considers it best practice for the carcasses to stay so they can either burn again in next year’s fires and/or provide an impediment to water getting away in a timely fashion when the river floods.
    In addition to increasing the potential danger from future fires and floods, the visual impact can only be described as very, very ordinary.
    Could this be a case of a government instrumentality created with the best of intentions – to protect areas of aboriginal significance – becoming crazed by a sense of its own importance and forgetting that the safety of the municipality and all its residents also deserve consideration? I mean, we are talking of a tree on fire in the first instance and dead wood in the second.

  4. I find Hal Duell’s claim that the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority is somehow responsible for letting sacred trees burn, both malicious and moronic – he should DISCLOSE where he got this bizarre information and /or why he believes it is appropriate to air this blatantly false and offensive remark in a public forum. I think Hal has some axe to grind here – maybe he senses a potentially divisive issue for the upcoming Town Council elections?
    Unfortunately in this town Hal is on a sure winner by undermining an organization that tries to balance the needs of the wider community with the limited rights of custodians trying to protect their sacred sites. I can’t begin to imagine what a tragic townscape Alice Springs would become if this protection was compromised any further. Coming from Hal, the claim that AAPA is “becoming crazed by a sense of its own importance” only reassures me that the Authority is lifting its game and standing up for sacred sites. On second thoughts, look in the mirror mate.
    I should disclose here that I’m writing as a private person who currently serves on the Board of the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority. In that capacity I am frequently exposed to the reality that sacred sites are needlessly damaged and destroyed, at least in part, because so many influential “commentators” provide a public relations smoke-screen for the greedy, negligent and ignorant. In the process they erode respect for sacred sites, a priceless natural and cultural heritage that we should all be proud of.

  5. @1 A couple of points:
    The trees in the river, whether sacred or secular, are destroyed by firebugs, not by those who attempt to put the fires out.
    Does AAPA have no objections to the removal of the carcasses currently littering the Todd’s riverbed? That would be such a welcome statement as they are an eyesore, a fire hazard and a impediment to the timely flow of floodwater through town. As a member of AAPA, is Mike Gillam willing to make that statement?
    The Todd looks like a war zone. A cleanup and some replanting would do it and Alice the world of good.
    The insinuation that I harbor political ambitions is ill-informed.

  6. Please don’t try to put words in my mouth and twist the facts. Your response is a poor attempt to muddy the waters and the readers of this site deserve better.
    I am more than happy to provide answers to your questions after you have publicly withdrawn your false statement that effectively slurs everyone who works within and is associated with the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority. Please DISCLOSE the source of your previously stated allegation or take responsibility for concocting a fantasy, correct the public record and apologise.

  7. Mike
    Please re-read my original post. I asked a question which you have answered in the negative. OK. I accept your denial. (That’s why I didn’t repeat the question in the second post.)
    I then pointed out that fire-fighters have been seen to watch trees burn and not try to put them out. To consider they would do that within the municipality without instruction is, I think, an insult to their professionalism. So who told them not to?
    To watch a fire burn would take someone with a level of authority to be found, by my reckoning, only in Council, the NT Police, the Fire Department or AAPA. Perhaps you would care to nominate one of the other three, or make a different suggestion altogether?
    If you can establish that someone else prevented the fire-fighters from extinguishing a fire, then I will apologise for speculating that it was AAPA. I note that in our exchange so far you have not denied outright that AAPA was involved in the decisions to allow the trees to burn, but you do keep on about DISCLOSURE. I have nothing to disclose, but the repetition makes me wonder if confirmation is out there waiting for discovery.
    I mean either someone told the firies to stand down or the individual fire-fighters took it on their own initiative to allow our magnificent River Gums to burn. I find that second notion hard to credit, but if it is the case, I suggest your argument is with the NT Fire Department.
    As to where we go from here, will you now give AAPA approval for Council or some other authority to begin removing the carcasses now littering the Todd, both the standing dead and those already fallen?
    ED – The Alice Springs News Online will now ask AAPA whether it has instructed to let the trees burn, and the fire service whether they had decided to let them burn, matters the two correspondents could easily have clarified themselves. We will of course publish the answers.

  8. There are several questions, to my way of thinking: one is why trees were permitted to continue burning once they had caught fire, when at least sometimes the burning could have been caused to cease, with the likelihood that some of these trees could have been saved; but more importantly is why trees were permitted to catch fire in circumstances where, in at least some cases, this could have been prevented without too much trouble?
    Why are many trees in the Todd and Charles beds still permitted to stand closely surrounded by densely packed, dry buffel and couch banks, in unnaturally dangerous conditions for the trees, without any attempts to remove the danger by cutting and removing these domineering introduced grasses?

  9. I think I have well and truly rejected your comments (# 5 below) that “… the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority is the source of resistance to putting out these fires? ” and “… it is my understanding that not only are Council and the Fire Department prevented from extinguishing the fires once they start …”
    Hal, I’m going to assume you were repeating what was said to you by someone in a position of authority at the Town Council. For all our sakes I hope that person is not actively engaged in the management of the Todd River.
    Obviously the public needs to know if there are flaws in coordination, culture or inter-departmental cooperation here. The river corridor is Crown land but day-to-day management rests with the Trustee (Alice Springs Town Council). Based on the lack of fire prevention work taking place I suspect that Council urgently needs help. Blame shifting or buck passing might distract people for a while but it won’t improve the mediocre management on display in the Todd River.
    It is critical we prepare for the probability of more fires as buffel grass quickly re-grows and dries off once more. We can’t simply hope for rain to stave off the problem. Unfortunately the presence of standing dead timber has greatly increased since the destructive spring fires and much of this will need to be removed to prevent more fires wreaking havoc this summer. The big logs lying on the ground are probably less of a hazard than the dense stands of dead gums and Acacia’s.
    Finally, can we please start slashing the unburnt buffel and spraying the buffel re-growth around as yet, unburnt and still magnificent red gums?
    Note: I am commenting here as a private person.

  10. Regarding the issue of firefighters standing by and watching trees burn.
    I know these firefighters personally. The problems they face with regards to burning trees are not understood by many observers.
    There are MANY trees in and outside of town which have been saved because of the firefighters’ efforts. These firefighters are not instructed to stand by and watch trees burn by any one or any authority.
    But they do, and when they do, they elect to do so for a number of reasons.
    Depending on how long it takes for the fire to be reported has an impact on the future of the trees concerned. If an area of grass is burning and it is against a tree, it can quite quickly set fire to the tree.
    If that fire can be put out quickly, and the external burning of the tree extinguished early on, the tree can and is saved. But note, there are many trees in many areas and these grass fires can impact on quite a number at one time.
    It is a time consuming process to extinguish the grass before then conducting the even more time consuming process of extinguishing one tree. These gums trees have many nooks and crannies where persistent coals can exist even after many hundreds of liters of water are put on the tree.
    Sometimes it is a reflection on the individual firefighter or their supervisor that this process is not done properly. Sometimes it is a physical impossibility to actually get to the burning parts of the tree which can be quite high up.
    Sometimes it is a matter of resources. The firefighting equipment does not have an unlimited water supply. They often have to stop, leave the area that is burning to refill their tanks before resuming.
    This is more evident when they use the small 4×4 vehicles to access the fires in the middle of the river bed. The big tankers just cannot get into those areas without being stuck. All these things slow down or prevent the extinguishing of these tree fires.
    This then leads on to the treatment of those tress which have been burning a long time. In many cases, this leads to the tree burning on the inside, which they call ‘chimneying’.
    Trees old and young can be hollow inside and the fire can quite quickly get inside the tree and start this process. The area inside burns, the smoke exits through one or many knot holes or broken branches, this draws more air in, fans the coals, and the whole process accelerates until it is burning literally like a blast furnace.
    And these trees are rarely salvageable. If you cannot get water to all the nooks and crannies INSIDE the “blast furnace” in the tree, it does not matter how many thousands of liters of water are poured over in or around the tree. Sometimes, if they really try, they can get to all the fire. A lot of times they can slow down the process, but a small coal inside the tree will inevitably regain its foothold on the tree and it will again start chimneying.
    I am told this happens quite regularly. Again, some more vigorous or effective application of water MAY save a tree, but mostly, if they are chimneying, they are doomed. That is why they stand and watch, or they leave it and go on to another tree or another fire or emergency elsewhere. And then a doomed tree becomes a serious hazard as it can collapse at any time which would have dire consequences on any one walking by or simply being near it.
    Quite a lot of times the firefighter will take the opportunity to reduce the fuel load in a area by letting a small fire expand and consume a whole area of grass. Sometimes they help it by lighting more of it up themselves. ‘
    “Some one has lit it, so we might as well let it all burn, saves us coming back later when they (inevitably) relight it” is the thought process. And unfortunately, some firefighters are not as proactive as they should be and don’t dampen down around each and every tree. It shouldn’t happen, but it does.
    I hope this helps the discussion.

  11. Thanks Rowan (Posted November 16, 2011 at 10:32 am), but if you’d read the earlier posts you would have seen that we already very clearly knew most of that.
    My main complaint was about the tendency of some fire fighters, on at least some occasions, to stand watching fires spread to grass at the base of obviously vulnerable trees without taking action to arrest the flames before they engulf the trees.
    They had plenty of water, had the opportunity to act without endangering themselves, the trees were close to where the fire engine and tanker were parked, but they chose not to act. When challenged one explained to me that if the fire bugs were going to light these fires, then why should fire fighters bother to try to save the trees?
    Granted, the job is dangerous, often tedious and often thankless. Granted, that the activities of drunken firebugs are very frustrating.
    But the point is, these are not the fire bugs’ trees, they are some of Alice Springs most precious assets, and where possible they should be protected.
    I suspect that after this debate in the Alice Springs News, more efforts at protecting these trees will be made in the future.
    Already the work that quite obviously should have occurred last winter (clearing the matted dry couch and thick clumps of buffel grass from around the bases of mature trees along the river banks between the Schwartz Crescent and Casino causeways) has finally been done, mainly by work gangs made up of prisoners, over the past few weeks.
    Let’s hope that this work continues at regular intervals before the danger to these trees returns.


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