Friday, 31 January 2020

River Red Gum, Eucalyptus camaldulensis at Newmarket Station under threat

The 100 +-year old River Red Gum, Eucalyptus camaldulensis at Newmarket Station has been threatened with imminent removal by Metro Trains Melbourne.

The River Red Gum is a landmark and contributes more than any other feature to the character of the area, linking us not only with the history of Flemington but with the pre-industrial landscape. It provides a habitat and resting place for countless indigenous birds and a point of reflection and consolation to commuters. As leader of Newmarket Stationeers Group, I was one of the four community representatives whom Metro Trains and Ministry of Public Transport met on Wednesday, January 22nd. The purpose of the meeting was to tell us that after exploring options, Metro Trains had decided to remove ten trees, including the heritage listed River Red Gum from the station embankment prior to work to renew the platform retaining walls. The Ministry of Public Transport engineers explained that they plan to leave the old platform walls in place and construct new walls behind the old walls. While excavating the foundations, the roots of the trees would be sufficiently damaged to render the trees unsafe, hence their removal. An offer of compensating with replacement plants and a suggestion that we could create a sculpture from the tree’s timber are worth nothing compared with the tree’s loss to our locality; the tree itself is a living sculpture of inestimable value.

The discussion centered around the River Red Gum which has a heritage listing. At the present moment the tree is healthy; it’s base well below the station platform, its trunk leaning away from the platform with no branches above the platform. I remain unconvinced by the Metro Trains decision that the River Red Gum has to go primarily because of their refusal to release their arborist’s and engineers reports and documentation that informed their decision not to use an alternative method of refurbishing the retaining wall adjacent to the tree.

Metro Trains intention was to commence work on tree removal at 9.00 pm on Friday, January 24th, the eve of the Australia Day Weekend; breathtakingly soon after they notified MVCC on Tuesday, January 21st. On Thursday January 23rd, at 7.00 am a sizeable group (I estimate around 40) concerned local residents met below the River Red Gum to demonstrate support for retaining the tree. Some Stationeers were there, including long-term volunteer, Roger, who is recovering from throat surgery.

 His presence at the demonstration indicated the strength of  feeling the River Red Gum and large trees in general have garnered among local residents. As the sun rose behind the canopy of the tree we all knew why we were there. Intervention from MVCC and strong public outcry have led to a temporary stay of execution for the River Red Gum until further discussion between the Council and Metro Trains.


After a huge public outcry, two more public rallies, many letters to politicians and a well-attended Extraordinary Council Meeting, Metro Trains has committed to working with MVCC on a solution to retaining the heritage-listed River Red Gum.

“We are very pleased that Metro is taking our concerns seriously and consideration is being given to protecting and retaining this significant tree,” Moonee Valley Mayor Cr Samantha Byrne said.

“The community has fought hard to protect this tree and they should be very proud of themselves.”

“We will continue our discussions with Metro to ensure we can come to a solution that doesn’t involve removing the Red Gum,” Cr Byrne said.

“We will also continue to work with them in relation to the other trees that are earmarked for removal.”

Metro Trains extended their commitment not to start tree removal works before 4pm on Friday, 14 February. This date has just passed. The latest official word from the Council is:

"Moonee Valley City Council and Metro Trains are continuing to work together to try and find a way forward in relation to the trees at the Newmarket Railway Station.

Metro Trains have agreed to conduct further arborist investigation of the trees especially the tree roots. This will involve exploratory digging around the roots of the trees to enable an inspection of the root structure. People should not be alarmed at this activity.

In the meantime, Metro has agreed not to remove any trees (including the River Red Gum) to allow this process to occur."