Memorial trees

While researching the John Shaw Neilson memorial cottage in Nhill, my imagination has been drawn to the swamp behind it. In 1974 it inundated the cottage, leading to rotted timbers. Jaypex Park serves as the gateway for visitors who want to visit the Nhill Swamp Boardwalk.

It’s home to a scar tree which has been capped with a metal cover and is displayed horizontally atop concrete supports. The sign board in front of it describes it as a scar tree associated with the Nyill Balug clan of the Wergaia people. The tree was removed from the Western Highway at the Jeparit Road junction, like some of the sacred birthing trees on Dja Dja Warrung country. The 700 year old ‘grandmother’ tree was set alight recently but luckily it survived to see another day.

The sign board in Jaypex Park shows a ghostly image of the tree as it looked before it was cut down. It reminds me of the scar tree memorial from my neighbourhood, near the Moreland train station, except the Nhill memorial is the trunk whereas the Moreland one is a stump with a plaque attached to the top.

The Moreland scar tree memorial was taken away while a skyrail was installed, along with at least one hundred trees from the little reserve known as Gandolfo Gardens. When the fences around the station were finally taken down and we were free to wander through it, I saw that the scar tree memorial was back, with a new synthetic faux wood stump covering. Two lucky canary palms returned from a two year vacation. One other tree that remained, near the Shirley Robertson Children’s Centre has a small laminated handwritten sign on it commemorating some of the women who have been murdered in our neighbourhood. It played a part in an episode of See What You Made Me Do when Phil Cleary narrated a dramatisation of his sister Vicki’s death at the hens of her ex-boyfriend, near the spot where the tree stands.

I guess it’s dangerous to link memorials for people to trees as they don’t always survive for long. The gum tree planted in honour of Henry Lawson in Footscray was felled when Ballarat Road was widened, displacing the ashes of the founder of the Henry Lawson Society and the plaque in his honour.

These things happen again and again – why is it that development takes precedence over trees, and why do we insist on displaying the dead trunks and stumps like trophies?

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