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29 October, 2021

Majestic and threatened – The battle over a fig tree

THE BATTLE over T5 continues. The historic fig tree (T5) situated on Lake Street at the rear of the Cairns Regional library is currently in ‘no-mans-land’ awaiting a final decision on its future.

By Peter McCullagh

PHOTO: Peter McCullagh

For the past 12 months the tree has had security fencing surrounding it. Restricting access from tourists and independent individuals wishing to assess the health of the tree.

Cairns Mayor Bob Manning in a statement issued late last week assured residents that Council was committed to exploring the feasibility of protecting and supporting the fig tree.

He also wished to state that “Council does not want to remove the tree, but in its current condition it poses a risk to public safety.”

To date Council has spent and allocated over $2 million on their flying fox relocation program.  Council has spent $100,000 over the past six years in their endeavours to protect the fig.

The removal of this fig tree is seen as a genuine risk to the Spectacled Flying Foxes who use the tree as a roost. With the number of available roosting trees diminishing in the CBD, the colony has been dispersed, however they return nightly with their pups before heading off to forage for food.

Cairns Regional Council’s Division 5 Councillor, Amy Eden, elected on a ‘Greener + Cooler’ platform sees the removal of the tree as a last resort. However, she will support the removal if attempts to prolong the life of the tree prove unsuccessful.

Cr Eden believes it is premature to consider planting an already mature tree alongside the existing fig, allowing the canopy to develop and in time replace the ageing tree.

“There has been the suggestion of pre-planting a replacement tree to allow T5 to be replaced with an established tree; I am not against this idea however I do feel it’s premature as we are in the mix of investigating how we can pro-long the life of the tree and ultimately what (including costs) are involved in this process,’ stated Cr Eden.

Cairns is renowned for its lush tropical central business district. With the easing of travel restriction, visitors will once again gather each evening to photograph and video the fly foxes’ nightly flight manoeuvres over our skyline.

The library site has been central to this ritual for decades. The removal of roosting trees prior to the building of the hotel across the road along with the threat to the trees on the library site will impact upon the colony further.

A campaign from members of the Cairns and Far North Environment Centre (CAFNEC) to delay the decision to remove the tree has been in the initial stages successful.

A total of 74 public submissions regarding the future of the fig tree were received, resulting in a delay announcing whether the matter needed to be assessed under national environment law. This decision will be announced in early November.

Lucy Graham, CAFNEC’s Director is encouraged by the time and commitment that Cairns Regional Council has given key stakeholders regarding concerns about the removal of this heritage listed tree. “We look forward to the council extending these conversations to the broader community, so we can all decide together what happens to our heritage places.

“CAFNEC has some concerns about contradictions between the Heritage Exemption given by the Department of Environment and Science, (DES) and the application made by Cairns Regional Council. Council’s submission states that the tree is in fair to poor health, but the DES exemption states that the tree is dead, dangerous and beyond curative repair. CAFNEC is working with both levels of government to clarify the contradiction.

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