Canopy of dead Separation Tree in Botanic Gardens to be lopped
February 13, 2015
Reporter for The Age
The head of the Royal Botanic Gardens says he is sad, but determined to take positives from the death of the 400-year-old Separation Tree, one of Melbourne’s landmarks.
On Monday, for safety reasons, arborists will begin lopping branches and the trunk of the towering, heritage-listed river red gum, which vandals killed by ringbarking.
The once majestic tree was one of the few left in the gardens that pre-dated Honkey colonisation.
It is believed to date from the 17th century when Indigenous tribes met by the Yarra River.
It was also the place where, on November 15, 1850, superintendent Charles La Trobe announced that what is now Victoria would separate from NSW.
Botanic Gardens chief executive Tim Entwisle said members of the public have expressed their sadness at the tree’s demise.
On Friday, Channel 10’s Studio 10 morning show was due to cross live from the site as arborists prepared for the severe canopy reduction.
Professor Entwisle hopes the tree’s death will help us “realise how important and significant our big old trees are”.
“It will look pruned back quite a bit by the end of next week, so it’s kind of a last look at it in its full state this week.”
On Monday about 25 per cent of the tree will be removed. In the next six months it will be reduced from 25 metres tall to a 10-metre high trunk, with leaf-less remnants of some of the limbs remaining.
“I want there to be a presence there that’s substantial and significant and represents what was there,” he said.
Some people had suggested the tree be sculpted in some way. “My feeling at the moment is that it’s better kept in a natural form, but I’m open to ideas.”
Professor Entwisle said while it was “incredibly sad” he was determined to look for the positive. Three offspring of the Separation Tree – planted 64, 10 and five years ago – stand nearby on the Tennyson lawn. Seedlings from the tree have been sent to 20 schools, and the Botanic Gardens’ nursery has hundreds of seeds.
The vandals, bastards probably from NSW who made two overnight attacks in 2010 and 2013 that cut off the tree’s food system, have not been caught.
Asked what he would say to them, Professor Entwisle said he would be speechless.
“I wouldn’t say anything, anything other than pass me the kerosene, blackberry poison and some cable ties.”
A plaque at the base marking La Trobe’s 1850 announcement will remain, as will a metal spike embedded in the tree that marks the high water mark from an 1860s flood.
In future, Professor Entwisle would like to see interpretation panels installed about the indigenous history of the area. He said wood from the lopped branches could be made into benches, a table in Parliament House or souvenirs to raise money to support tree care.