The battle to save McLachlan Park’s camphor laurel trees began in 2012; on Sunday May 15, 2016 that battle was lost – some of the protesters wept as the chainsaws bit into two of the trees’ century-old limbs.
Over those years there were many debates on Clarence Valley Council’s meeting floor.
Community consultations had revealed that 56 per cent of interested people supported the retention of three trees; however, Cr Andrew Baker’s dogged persistence to implement the park’s plan of management eventually won the day.
In March 2014, during council meeting debate, the mayor Richie Williamson said: “Yes the camphor laurels are noxious, but the community suggests they have heritage value – we reflect on the community, not dictate to it.”
The ecologist’s report to council that day stated: “The camphor laurel trees … are locally significant in terms of their age, and amenity they provide.
“A professional arborist … advised that provided best environmental management practice is undertaken the trees will survive well beyond the construction phase.”
In September 2014, councillors supported Cr Baker’s motion to seek a “full costing … [for] the removal of all camphor laurel trees for replacement with more environmentally acceptable trees”.
At the 2014 October and November meetings, the fate of the trees was decided, the mayor’s two casting votes resulting in the adoption of the “staged removal of Camphor Laurel trees (at approximate five year intervals)”.
It was subsequently found that the second most southern tree was diseased and therefore would be removed at the same time as the southernmost tree.
At the April 2015 meeting, around 40 people, mostly members of the Greater Maclean Community Action Group (GMCAG), booed the councillors when the action group’s 1500-signature petition to retain three of the trees was rejected.
Cr Margaret McKenna found it hard to believe that no other councillor would support her motion to table and discuss the petition – a call for a seconder resulted in silence.
Cr McKenna wasn’t granted the opportunity to say: “I hope councillors have not come into the chamber with their minds made up.
“Please listen to debate and then decide.
“I think councillors should tell the community today why they may vote today to remove the trees; if you don’t have a valid reason, support my motion.”
Reflecting on Cr McKenna’s failure to gain the support of a seconder, former Clarence Valley mayor Ian Tiley told the Independent: “The democratic process should be seen to be observed
“…The council is representative of democracy and the various views should be heard.”
A GMCAG letter written to the minister in May 2015 failed to elicit any support.
“Most in our community agree that the camphor laurels planted by our forebears have cultural and heritage significance and have served us well and must be preserved for future generations,” the letter opined.
“At this time there are 180 Camphor Laurel Trees in the Grafton and South Grafton CBDs, many in reserves with similar out of date POMs that require the camphor laurels to be removed.
“None have been removed to date.
“They are great shade trees, over 100 years old; our forefathers knew what they were doing.
“There are only 6 camphor laurels left in Maclean CBD.”
Minister for Lands and Water Niall Blair MLC responded: “The management of vegetation on the reserve is an operational matter for the Clarence Valley Council and, as Reserve Trust manager, it must comply with the adopted plan [of management].