Residents in Toowong were unnerved by the sight of bulldozers at a large vacant lot by the old theological college along Elizabeth St, where workers apparently cut down and cleared a number of Eucalypt trees believed to be over 350 years old.
The site, comprising 4,307 square metres of natural habitat for birds and other wildlife, does not seem to be covered by a development application yet but it was sold in March 2022 by Savills.
Touted as a “significant land holding” for six adjoining lots, the location is within the Low-Density Residential Zone of the Indooroopilly District Neighbourhood Plan.
No VPO for the properties?
Locals believe the lots are currently not under a protected mapping overlay and residents think that the clearing allegedly received verbal approval from Council.
Greens MP for Maiwar Michael Berkan said he previously alerted Council regarding the sale of the six lots when it was advertised. He said he wrote the Lord Mayor asking to purchase the land using the Bushland Acquisition Fund. However, Mr Berkman was told that the property is not a “significant natural asset.”
“Because our laws don’t automatically protect trees of historical significance, the clearing was likely lawful (although still inappropriate),” Mr Berkman said.
“I own the property in Elizabeth Street directly opposite this land. From 1962 this was part of my childhood playground. Elizabeth Street had not been pushed through to Emerson Street until the 1970s. I was told a bulldozer was there, and went to check on Sunday. I am devastated by the destruction of these ancient trees..the birds were standing silently on the shredded remains of their homes,” neighbouring property owner Melissa McGhie said in a comment on a post in the Toowong and District Historical Society group page.
Botanist confirms trees were centuries old
Meanwhile, a botanist who has worked on the trees found data showing that they were over three centuries old, and would have likely qualified as a “significant natural asset.”
“This is going to come as a shock. I am the botanist that made the initial estimate of the age of this tree. I was basing my estimate of around 144 years old for this eucalyptus on some general data found on the internet, but new information has come to light and it is actually closer to 350 years old,” said Rob Price.
“My original estimate was based on some data from eucalypt plantation growth rates of a different species in a different location, not for tallowwood growth rates, and not in the local context specifically. I’ve just been able to obtain a paper from Queensland’s foremost eucalypt expert about the growth rates of specific species of eucalypts in the SE QLD context and my revised estimate is that this tallowwood was about 350 years old based on a 0.41cm annual diameter growth rate.”
“So this tree actually predates Captain Cook’s charting of the east coast of Australia by 108 years as it germinated around the year 1672. Let that sink in.
“It is only replaceable on a 350-year timescale, so it will be the year 2372 before a sapling in the neighbourhood reaches this size. So it was a sapling during the American revolutionary war and predates the US constitution by 11 years.”
Mr Price urges locals to contact Councillor Mackay at Walter.Taylor.Ward@bcc.qld.gov.au and the Lord Mayor at email@example.com regarding the razing of old trees, whilst Mr Berkman urged locals to nominate a VPO “if there are any trees that you think should be protected.”
“While a VPO won’t necessarily stop developers from being able to chop it down, it adds a layer of protection in cases like this where there is no development application,” the MP said.