Old tree danger: council was told two years ago


p2416 tree 2 430By KIERAN FINNANE
Arborist Geoff Miers advised the Town Council almost two years ago to reduce the weight loads of the limbs shed within the last weeks by the old river red gum standing at the intersection of Parsons Street and Todd Mall.
His advice specifically identified the largest of the three limbs, which crashed to the ground outside the Intersport shop on Parsons Street last Thursday, 2 March (see photo at right, courtesy Dunya Ganama).
Mr Miers also identified at least one of the two branches that dropped onto the balcony at Alice Plaza on 19 February.
Council’s Acting Director of Technical Services Scott Allen has confirmed that the advice was received but it appears to never have been actioned.
This would have been the responsibility of the Parks and Gardens Supervisor who has since left his job with council.
The document, delivered by hand rather than coming in by email, also got lost in the system.
Mr Allen says council apologises for the breakdown in communications that led to this situation.
He says no pruning has been done on the old tree in the interim, that is, since March 2015 (up until the remedial pruning done last week).
“We understand that people are upset, we won’t hide from what has happened, we won’t try to sugar-coat it,” he told the Alice Springs News Online this morning.
He said staff will work diligently to make sure that this does not happen again.
Council has a qualified arborist whose duty it is to oversee the state of health of the 20,000 trees in public places within the municipality.
Mr Allen says the arborist has inspected the old tree since the incident last week.  In fact, he undertakes a routine visual inspection of all trees in the mall area twice a week and had not identified any problems with the old tree.
The Alice News asked whether it might be useful in future to get a second opinion from another qualified arborist. Mr Allen did not rule that out.
He reiterated that council’s clearance certificate from the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority (AAPA) allow it to take immediate action on any tree if an imminent threat to public safety is detected.
However, council always does endeavour to contact AAPA “as soon as is practicable” if trees of significance are involved.
Last Thursday, he says council took action first to remove the fallen branch from the street and then contacted AAPA to advise of the situation.
Landmark tree drops third heavy branch in two weeks
Woman’s narrow miss as sacred tree sheds branches 


  1. This is not the first time. I have reported two trees that are on Smith Street near Home Timber and Hardware.
    These trees are leaning over so far that they are leaning on the trees across the road.
    They are starting to rip up the side walk and road.
    Trucks have hit the main trunk as evident in photos supplied.
    The weight of the limbs would be in the tonnes.
    This is an accident waiting to happen, that they fall and crush a car, coach or truck.
    The council never replied to my concerns or acknowledged they received my report.

  2. The story of a sacred tree branch nearly conking a lady on the head and sending her to the Dreamtime, together with other near-catatastrophe arboreal mishaps around town, raises serious concerns about my own sacred tree in the Alice.
    This magnificent old gum stands majestically opposite the Memo, on Todd Street, right at the T-intersection,300 metres from the finish line of the Honda Masters Street Mile at the council chambers.
    Every two years in the 80s and 90s, as I staggered like a desperate drunk, out of petrol, down Todd Street, towards the finish, I would look up and see my sacred tree, and two old Aboriginal friends standing as sentinels under its branches.
    They were yelling encouragement to an exhausted ashen-faced skinny white boy, from the boonies down south, and..suddenly, as if by magic, the winged feet of an Arboreal Phoenix would pick me up and float me to the line.
    I wonder now down here in the boonies, in the fourth quarter of a shady life, so to speak, has anyone been conked on the head by branches from my sacred tree?
    Is my sacred tree on the heritage maintenance list? Are my old Aboriginal friends safe?
    Is my wonderful old sacred tree safe?
    Is there anyone in the arboreally splendiferous town of Alice who is able to ease my concerns?
    I would not wish to have to say requiescat in arboreum pace to a sacred site of my life in the Alice. Be far too sad to have to do so. At this time.
    This is Boonie John to Alice Earth Control. Does anyone hear me up there in the Red Centre branches?

  3. There are several issues when it comes to sacred trees in Alice Springs that the public need to be made aware of.
    The fact that some trees have totemic or associated stories is just that, a fact.
    These trees may be landmarks that indicate where something significant happened, either in the altyerre or in the distant past, an individual’s conception place, or like the Ntyalke tree near the library roundabout, be of the sacred nature.
    One of the main problems has been that the public has just been told that any mature redgum tree is sacred; that it cannot be touched, trimmed or interfered with, even if it is on their residential block or falling onto business premises, endangering the public’s safety.
    Just look at the picture in the article. My question to the senior custodian(s) is, how can you expect the broader public to understand or respect sacred trees, when no traditional names / interpretations are given on signs for these trees (bar a couple and very limited info at that), no public stories are told and generally, the community are shut out to how important these sites really are?
    Some of the trees in question in the past cannot have been more than 40 to 50 years old, but the community are told as a blanket rule, they are all sacred? Well if so, educate us!
    What about the twin trees at Traeger Park that were deliberately killed and, will likely fall some day? The immediate site is important, no doubt, but why hasn’t the removal of these dead trees and then respectful replanting of the same species taken place?
    The public’s understanding of sites in general in Alice Springs is so limited, yet Aboriginal people just expect that the community should respect them.
    Well, while sites have gates up (Judge’s Hill) that make a once special place appear like a dungeon (with weed / buffel infestations), the public who don’t understand Aboriginal relationship to land will not respect it.
    The many, many sites in Alice Springs clearly show the current TOs and caretakers are doing nothing to protect / respect these places and it’s time that these people take steps to ensure these special locations are looked after.
    They need to be maintained and cleaned and not wait for Government to fund these activities, but just do it because that’s what the people before you did.

  4. Jeremy, you are so right these trees are an accident waiting to happen.
    The lopsided trimming that has obviously gone on over the years has made these trees extremely unsafe.
    I regularly drive that way and wonder every time, am I one day going to be crushed to death by one of them.
    Alice Springs Town Council, apologising after the fact is not good enough.
    Something needs to be done, about the Smith Street trees.

  5. @2 Smithy, good questions. Unfortunately in the past custodians have found that identifying a site as sacred to the general public has led to malicious vandalism of the site, thus the reticence to reveal all.
    With regard to protecting/respecting and looking after these sites, I think you will realise that in the past custodians didn’t need to remove buffle grass and weeds, they didn’t need to put up fences etc. Protecting and looking after these places was a matter of conducting ceremonies and leaving the place alone.
    When there was just a couple of families, the Mparntwe-arenye people living here, these places were not under threat. Now that 30000 people have moved onto their land and after 150 years of racism and disrespect for the people and the country, the dynamics have changed considerably.
    Other trees are also sacred, not just the red gums, so if you have concerns that a tree or patch of land may be sacred go and talk to AAPA. It’s their job to negotiate clearances for work on Sacred sites.

  6. @ Just saying;
    You make some interesting and valid points, but I think in some ways you are just reinforcing what the actual problem/issue is.
    One only needs to look at the recent article on this site about the Claypans Group who have taken positive action, gotten organised, their hands dirty and started to remove rubbish from the claypans. All voluntarily. The group should be commended.
    What you are saying is that sites cannot be maintained without the approval of AAPA; or in other terms, AAPA are now the custodians, removing responsibility and accountability.
    Your point that identifying sites leads to desecration is true and we see examples of that all over Australia. However, many of these trees or sites have been identified through media (such as this site) or publications, yet the only information the public gets is ‘it’s a sacred tree’. The public hear or know about many special sites in town but when they resemble rubbish tips or badly kept gardens, or have barbed wire around them it is not a good look.
    While buffel was not a factor in pre-European days, it’s highly likely that sites were maintained through weeding to prevent overgrowth and risk of fire. We all know that fire was a constant in this landscape to maintain and protect land, so to prevent site desecration from fire, TOs had responsibility to ensure these places were not destroyed; just as they do now. Ranger groups throughout central Australia take similar measures to prevent wildfire destroying sacred places. Why can’t the Mparntarenye? Rock art was also touched up and repainted over generations and we are lucky enough to see the fruits of the previous generations labours at rock art sites close to town. How long till these paintings fade out?
    If we put up more fences, or have to ask an outside body like AAPA to do anything with our sites, while allowing them to slowly rot and be damaged, then responsibility for their neglect can only lie with the current generation.

  7. Just Sayin’, I had to read your comment “and after 150 years of racism and disrespect for the people and the country” twice. What a sad attitude you have. 30000 people have done this eh? You are doing well in your efforts to divide and cause hatred, congratulations.
    You do realize that the Alice in 10 project that was done in 2000 was done and coordinated by black and white together and included aerial mapping of all sacred trees in the Todd river to identify and protect them. Many of the ones that have been destroyed over the years were destroyed by people from other regions camping in the river and setting fire to them, not some of the 30000 that you are alluding to.
    Do some research about the cooperation and partnerships between white and black that are well documented in this town’s history. Of course there are fences, because we understand these sites need protection. We clear the weeds and buffel because we “care for country” too. There is good and bad done on both sides, but I have lived here for almost 20 years, and doubt I will find another “town like Alice” where despite the problems, there is an amazing acceptance and respect shown towards each other on both sides.
    My kids would never get the chance to grow up with traditional black kids in any other town this size. It is rare for me to ever ride my bike past Aboriginal people along the bike path and not get a welcoming “Hello” back when I say “G’day”. There are haters on both sides, but hopefully your venom will not attack those who appreciate the unique cultural melting pot that this town has become. You might claim to only see racism, but you are wrong. You are also wrong if you think that there has been 150 years of racism and disrespect. There has been, and continues to be a real push for acceptance and understanding, despite your hope that we believe the opposite.

  8. A major reason why we enjoy so many old river red gums in our urban environment today is due to a command forbidding Arltunga-bound miners and prospectors, camped on the flood plain that was destined to become our town, from cutting them down.
    That order was made by Mounted Constable Bill South, based at the old police station next to Heavitree Gap.
    Often described by historian Stuart Traynor as Alice Springs’ first greenie, Bill South is appropriately remembered by the road that bears his name along the west bank of the Todd River from Heavitree Gap up to the intersection with Stott Terrace (also named after a benevolent early policeman).
    Many years later trees such as the Parsons Street river red gum beside the Stuart Arms Hotel and those opposite the (then) new Memorial Club were saved from destruction through protest by local residents of Alice Springs.
    The NT Administration decided these trees posed a significant hazard to traffic (the Parsons Street tree, and also one in the middle of Todd Street, were nicknamed The Silent Policemen as they were uncannily efficient at abruptly halting drunk drivers) and determined that they should be cut down.
    Some were lost but not all of them. That work was performed by the municipal branch of the NTA, and many on the labour force were Aboriginal.
    In the days of heavy local overgrazing, dust storms and no air-conditioners, the big trees dotted around early Alice Springs were highly valued for their shelter.
    Not only that, but many more river red gums were planted as street trees, especially along Gap Road where most continue to grow to this day.
    In fact, in 1963 Olive Pink lobbied to have the name “Gap Road” replaced with “Van Senden Avenue” in honour of former Municipal Officer Dudley Van Senden (he left the Alice in 1954) who oversaw the first widespread street tree planting scheme in Alice Springs.
    So let’s not have so much of this bunkum that settlers in the early history of Alice Springs didn’t care for or respect this country.
    Undoubtedly most didn’t have the same perception or understanding of this country as the traditional owners of this land but it’s far too easy for the new chums of today to re-interpret recent local history to uncritically suit their own preconceived notions of what they think occurred here.

  9. It seems we all buckle under this do gooder mentality.
    Respect for people’s safety would be good, but no, we hide behind the so called system of only doing as little as possible so as not to upset the do gooders who then would call us racist for not using commonsense, as every one can see, but does not want to rock the boat in this modern society.


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