More than 100 mature trees, some of which are as old as the Australian War Memorial itself, are on the chopping block as proposed early works for the institution’s controversial $500 million redevelopment project.
The Heritage Guardians today held a modest gathering on the grounds of the Memorial to draw attention to the removal of the trees.
More than 20 people convened, tying red ribbons around the mature eucalyptus trees overlooking the Memorial’s Parade Ground.
Guardians spokesperson Peter Stanley told Canberra Weekly the proposed early works will result in the destruction of 116 trees across the site.
“Many of these trees are at least as old as the Memorial,” he said. “It was opened in November 1941 and I believe some of these trees date from that time.
“They’ve seen more Anzac Days than anyone here.
“It says they’ll be replaced … but how long will it take the new tree to grow to that height? It will take another 70 years,” Mr Stanley said.
Knight Frank Town Planning, the architecture firm tasked with the redevelopment, lodged an application with the National Capital Authority (NCA) on 12 March to approve early works to “adequately prepare”.
These include the demolition of Anzac Hall, the excavation of Anzac Parade, and the removal of the 116 trees in question, amongst other works.
Mr Stanley, who worked at the Memorial from 1980 to 2007 as a historian and researcher, said he felt the institution was “forgetting what it was about” in its pursuit of the expansion project.
“I think it’s tragic,” he said. “It won’t improve the commemorative function of the Memorial one jot; the commemorative function of the Memorial is perfect.
“There have been more wars since 2001, and they need to be acknowledged and recognised, and the dead of those wars need to be commemorated, but you don’t need to spend half a billion dollars to do it.”
The doors to Anzac Hall have been closed to the public since the evening of Sunday 28 March as preparations for its demolition continue pending NCA approvals.
Memorial Director Matt Anderson at the time said the closure marked a “significant milestone” in the project.
“The Memorial will now proceed with enabling works on a new temporary entrance, establish construction site facilities … install a temporary reading room for continued collections access, and relocate identified items and sculptures out of work zones,” he said.
“It’s important our team has the necessary time required to safely assess and relocate collection items inside Anzac Hall to our storage and maintenance facility in Mitchell.”
The NCA has previously approved a number of earlier projects and preparatory works as part of the Anzac Hall redevelopment.
These include new car parking, asbestos removal and temporary structures currently used for display, office purposes or site compounds.
The development of the Memorial has progressed to the third and final approval process, with the NCA to progressively review building designs and precinct landscaping, consult with Canberra residents, and provide direction for any amendments to the plans.
ACT Minister for the Environment, Greens MLA Rebecca Vassarotti, told Canberra Weekly she believes the $500 million designated to the project would be better spent supporting the arts, cultural institutions and veterans’ mental health.
“It has been a fairly steadfast decision to do this redevelopment, really in the wake of significant opposition from a whole range of people.”
Ms Vassarotti said the move to take out the trees as a preliminary work is “really heartbreaking”.
“It just seems a real waste of opportunity when we have an award-winning annex they’re going to pull down, we’re going to lose these beautiful trees.
“It’s really difficult to see what the justification for that extraordinary amount of money is for this redevelopment.”
The NCA is accepting feedback on the Anzac Hall early works application by close of business, Friday 30 April, by either email to [email protected] or writing to GPO Box 373, Canberra ACT 2601.
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