Above: The latest dropped limb before its removal last Thursday, showing damage to the Intersport shop awning. Photo courtesy Dunya Ganama.
By KIERAN FINNANE
Another heavy branch has fallen from the old river red gum standing at the intersection of Parsons Street and Todd Mall. This happened on Thursday last (2 March), causing damage to the awning of the Intersport shop (formerly Centralian Sports).
The incident follows two branches dropping 11 days earlier, on Sunday 19 February.
As is well known, the tree is sacred to local Aboriginal people and is protected under Sacred Sites legislation. However, this status does not prevent emergency work being carried out on the tree.
Acting Director of Technical Services, Scott Allen, says council has a clearance certificate from the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority (AAPA) to take emergency action with respect to trees “at all times” if there is a public safety issue involved.
This is contrary to what Councillor Steve Brown, the chairman of the town council’s parks committee, previously told the Alice Springs News Online.
Mr Allen said there is no basis for concern about safety in relation to AAPA / Council protocols for trees of significance.
With any action regarding this particular tree, he said council is “very mindful” that it is a tree of significance and that it has a “great deal of history” behind it.
Council did contact AAPA last Thursday about removal of the fallen limb and the “remedial pruning” that followed the next day (the much reduced mass of the tree in evidence at left).
In both recent incidents it was pure good fortune that no-one was injured by the falling branches.
Moments after the Sunday incident the Alice Springs News Online spoke to a shaken local woman about her narrow miss. She had just passed the beneath tree when two large branches fell, caught by the balcony of the Alice Plaza.
Intersport owner Greg Revel declined to comment about the latest incident.
However Dunya Ganama at Alice Travel Cruise next door – who provided the photo above – said she and her colleagues all heard the loud crash at about 1pm last Thursday.
“Lucky it wasn’t market day and no-one was standing there,” she said, stressing that “the tree has to be made safe”.
The Alice News asked Mr Allen if council would consider bracing for the old tree. (See our photo at right of a revered ancient pine in the Forbidden City, Beijing.)
He said it was “a good question” but there has not been any discussion of this to date. In terms of future safety, only pruning is being actively considered.
In November 2005 the Alice News reported that Alice sporting identity Noel Harris had been pinned to the ground by a branch falling from the landmark tree. He was “flattened like a tissue”, dazed and in shock, with a badly bruised ankle and possible spinal injuries. He had to be rescued from under the branch by police and ambulance personnel.
The old tree has long been a major asset to the amenity and character of the centre of town. For local Arrernte people, it is part of the Kwekatye dreaming, which tells the story of uninitiated boys travelling through this area from Pine Gap.
Sadly, today in its pared-down state, it is shadow of its former self. ‘Grand’ is no longer a word that springs to mind for what senior Arrernte woman Margaret Kemarre Turner has called it “the Foundation Tree”.
“The family, past and present, belongs to that foundation,” she told this reporter in late 2015.
“It can never be cleared away with anything, rain, wind, storm. It’s a sacred tree, people can’t push it away. It will never vanish, it lives for the generations.”
Put to her that the tree will eventually die, she replied firmly: “No, the new plant comes up from the roots.”
In 2013, when a civic ceremony was held to launch the new look Todd Street North and Parsons Street, another senior Arrernte woman, Barbara Satour (on the microphone, at left), doing ‘Welcome to Country’, good-humouredly told the crowd she didn’t care much for all the cement. Instead, pointing to the tree towering above her, she said: “That’s our statue – it represents all us Arrernte people of Central Australia.”
In his book about the river red gums of Australia, Flooded Forest and Desert Creek (2014), CSIRO scientist Matthew Colloff notes that the “grand old tree provides clear evidence of past Todd River flood levels.”