Friday, October 3, 2014

Garnet Lehmann Park

A comment has just been sent to my blog about the fight to prevent the Toowoomba Regional Council from removing trees in this local park. I feel it needs a proper reply, but sadly it might not be quite the response that the anonymous writer was hoping for.
(See it if you wish, by using the search box to find the article on the Toowoomba Tree, and opening the comments.)

I agree with the writer that Toowoomba's progressive tree loss is a serious concern. I believe that many Toowoomba residents share this concern, and that it is worth everyone’s while to represent to our council that we value Toowoomba’s status as a town which appreciates its trees.
However, flood damage downstream from the Garnet Lehmann Park is also a concern. There will never be universal agreement on how best to deal with the problem, but I do give the TRC council and its staff the credit for considering the options and I concede their right to make a decision. It’s far easier to criticise decisions than it is to make them, especially in cases like this where there was no easy right decision.

I suspect that the defenders of the Garnet Lehmann Park trees are now losing much of the public sympathy that they once had,  by the refusal of some of their more vocal members to accept that “the fight” is lost and that further protests are not going to be productive. They also seem to be slow to perceive that the only fight they have lost is the one to have all the trees retained.
It would be so good to see them move on, (and perhaps some of them have. I hope so.) What a pity, if a great group like this loses all its momentum while there are very real and worthwhile things still to be done. They have lost one battle, but they could still achieve much, if only they keep the fire in their bellies.

Some projects could include:

1. Ensuring that TRC does indeed carry out its promise that Garnett Lehmann Park will become an ornament to our city. This could take some time, and would require a group that would be prepared to continue its activities for years to come. It’s never easy to be a stayer, but I feel sure that there are people in the group who have what it takes to persist!

2. Contributing to the new planting plan for the park.
Is there a planting plan already in the pipeline? Does the group know what tree species are being proposed? Are these species just ornamental ones, or do they have environmental value? If they are Australian plants, are they a random selection of doubtful ecological worth from all over the country, or are they local natives which will improve the opportunities for survival of Toowoomba’s wildlife. (Our local butterflies, in particular, are in real trouble within the city - if they can be found at all - because of the lack of host plants). Has the group a role to play in suggesting suitable plants to TRC, and perhaps in supporting TRC’s environmental nursery (the Crows Nest Community Nursery) where volunteers struggle to cope with the task of propagating enough plants of local native species for all the environmental groups who would like to be planting them (ironically including TRC itself).

3. Should the group be pushing for something more appropriate than Eucalyptus trees to be planted in the park? TRC has a valid concern that Eucalyptus trees can create public risk problems because of their tendency to drop limbs as they get older. To restrict planting of Eucalypts to a minimum, in safe locations, would be a reasonable council policy considering the expected high rate of park usage as our population increases. Eucalypts planted in the city could have a short lifespan. Future councils may decide to remove them for safety reasons, which would put the poor old park back to square one yet again.
Others dislike the Garnett Lehmann gumtrees for environmental reasons. East creek would have originally had rainforest vegetation, so the gumtrees are interlopers, environmentally speaking. Even many of Toowoomba's "naturally occurring" gumtrees would be invaders that have moved into a niche created as our forebears cleared original rainforest. Gumtrees do this.
When Alan Cunningham climbed Mount Hay and became the first white person to record Toowoomba’s native vegetation, he commented on the Araucarias (hoop pines)) that dominated the skyline of the Great Dividing Range where Toowoomba now stands. What an opportunity the city now has, to create magnificent plantings of these lovely trees as it revegetates our detention basins.
Equally our local fig species are not seen in the city enough. These are large rainforest trees, only suitable for planting in parks now that ever-smaller residential subdivisions are the city's most likely future. Our grandchildren will be grateful if the figs are planted now, to create wonderful spaces like New Farm Park in Brisbane.

Native Fig (Ficus rubiginosa) in Meredith Crescent. One of the very few remnant trees from Toowoomba's original rainforest.

All our other local rainforest trees are in much more trouble than Eucalypts, so pushing for a park with a shady green canopy, showcasing as many local rainforest species as possible, would be a very worthwhile environmental project indeed. It would also help Toowoomba develop its own character, something that has become a little frayed at the edges of late as development has pushed towards a look that could be anywhere in the country.

4. Could the group be widening its scope to include pushing for TRC to budget  for the city’s other detention basins to be beautified and made more environmentally friendly?

5. Could it also be adding its weight to other local projects concerned with defending the city’s trees?

Yes, is sad to lose the trees in the Garnett Lehmann Park. It is sad to lose any tree! But for those who are still protesting, can I appeal you to turn your energies towards the battles that can be won, rather than continuing to waste energy on a lost cause.


Bruce Thompson said...

I disagree, Patricia. I am a horticulturist, landscape designer, consultant arborist and bush regenerator. I also have a background in professional marketing. I am one of those malingering protestors who won't go away. Ballin Drive Park is yet to be felled so it's important that this issue remains active. Have you ever seen my landscape design? It was presented to TRC but they never showed it to the public. Why? What were they afraid of? Perhaps you should ask TRC why the only option they were interested in was the cheapest for them to implement for the same level of funding (ie detention basins represented a bigger funding net profit to them). All trees are valuable in this epoch of climate change where every year sees average temperatures higher than the previous year. You cannot buy time - with 300 Blue Gums felled at Garnet Lehmann Park also comes 40 years of tree growth gone. People are only noticing Garnet Lehmann Park now that the trees have been felled. A lost habitat is a lost habitat. Does a tawny frogmouth really care whether a tree is endemic to an area or not? Of course not. It just wants a tree to call home. TRC has ignored the Garnet Lehmann Park protestors. It's very unlikely they will plant hoop pines to re-create a forest in an urban area. Bunya Pines are the Devil's work to them and hoop pines are now seen by the current management as "messy". While the City of Sydney and more forward-thinking local governments in Australia work tirelessly to plant trees everywhere they can to counteract the heat island effect as our planet warms our way to oblivion, TRC removes trees unnecessarily. Eeveryone knows that the detention basins will be useless when the next major flood event occurs in Toowoomba. Until the weeds in the Gowrie Creek catchment area are removed and the catchment is restored, East Creek will continue to flood. Grass is easy to mow so expect to see a lot more of it from TRC and a lot less tawny frogmouths.

Bruce Thompson said...

Hello Patricia,

I have noticed that my comment regarding your Garnet Lehmann Park post has not been published. Is there any reason for this? The trees in Ballin Park will be getting the chop on Monday, 20th October 2014. In the interests of free speech and encouraging debate amongst horticulturists, arborists and conservationists, I would like my thoughts to be read by people. Regards, Bruce Thompson

Patricia Gardner said...

The reason your comment was not published until now, Bruce, is simply that I was away from home and not accessing my computer. I reiterate my previous point that my blog (like any blog) is a personal project and not intended as a public forum. Comments are welcome, but I feel no obligation to publish them promptly. In this case, personal priorities meant that I didn’t access my blog for a few weeks, so was simply unaware of your submissions.
Readers might like to be made aware that this correspondent, Bruce Thompson (with a “P”) is not the same person as the well-known local biologist Dr. Bruce Thomson (note spelling), a widely respected expert on Australian flora and fauna.

Grass_Tree said...

One thing is for certain, only an engineer with little respect for anything natural or environmental could claim that the park now looks "better" than it did before. I find it pretty sad that modern humans can so arrogantly believe that they have the ability to engineer any aspect of the world to standards that are somehow "higher" or "better" than what existed before. They also appear to believe that anything is possible without suffering any aesthetic or environmental consequences. Are we really that intelligent and superior? I see this attitude in practise all the time in mining areas, where, in some cases, entire creeks and waterways have been diverted, re-alligned and concreted. There too, this is often done for reasons of "flood mitigation" and control. There too the engineers frequently claim a great success and appear to sincerely believe that they have "beautified" the landscape. To say Garnet Lehmann Park now looks "better" or "more beautiful" than it did before would just be an insult to the collective intelligence of the enlightened and learned. But the sad thing is that Toowoomba people are getting use to being insulted by what has become a rather "progressive", pro-engineering, pro-development, aggressively anti-heritage Council. Now all we have at Garnet Lehmann Park is a very Utilitarian collection of quaint and well-manicured landscaping plants interspaced with mowed lawn, all overlying and concealing what is essentially disturbed earth and concrete. Nothing can change that new reality. I really loved the old park with its towering and majestic gum trees and that lovely little trickling stream (one of the last in Toowoomba that was not running over concrete) with its tree fern lined banks. Sure I knew it was not a natural landscape in the sense that it had existed before European settlement, but at least it had been planted thoughtfully and then neglected just enough to allow it to reclaim a very natural aspect and feel. Like a mirror, it also captured and reflected a more tranquil past elegantly. Now gone forever. I would go to Garnet Lehmann Park often to seek solitude after a hectic day in the rat race. Why would I have any reason to go there now? If I want to see a landscaped park with manicured plants, picnic tables and mowed lawns I can visit the nearest Rotary or Lions Park. They all look pretty much the same. And I guess this is the whole point really. They all look the same. Toowoomba is not only losing its landmarks and its character, it is rapidly losing its identity. It is fast becoming just another city. I once visited Toowoomba every week. These days I go there only when I have to and that is very rarely. The lack of care for the environment in the face of widespread development disturbs me greatly.

Patricia Gardner said...

There's no accounting for tastes.
What was there before was 30 year old gumtrees planted (no doubt thoughtfully!!!) in regimented rows. The ground was covered with a roughly mown lawn of the African weed, kikuyu grass, notoriously one of the most effective plants at smothering all small native plants in an area, choking out any possibility of survival for the small birds and lizards, and the wealth of insects that would live in the undergrowth around any even slightly natural creek.
The creek was also home to small Celtis sinensis trees, a weed from china which is so attractive to currawongs that they can manage population explosions wherever they find a even a few of mature trees in fruit. A secondary diet of baby birds means that an influx of currawongs results in a decrease or elimination of small native birds.
I am astonished that anyone could feel that such a park had a "natural aspect". The only genuinely natural-looking thing in the whole place was the treeferns, Cyathea cooperi, which managed to establish there. The same species has been used in the council plantings.The treeferns also still grow upstream in the undeveloped area (though they may be shaded out by the Celtis trees in future, if nothing is done about them).
There seem to be no members of the public who love the park or its birds well enough to form a park care group and actually get their hands dirty. Removing these destructive weeds before they mature, and planting some of the original local native rainforest species that would thrive with the permanent water supply would be a good start. I feel sure that such people would get enthusiastic TRC help, as do the various other volunteer park care groups around the town.