Landcare president, Simon Molesworth AO KC, has warned Broken Hill’s continued unique status as Australia’s only National Heritage listed city is under threat because Council continues to chop down multiple mature trees around town, often replacing them with non-native species.
Broken Hill City Council, led by Mayor Tom Kennedy, has embarked on a campaign of tree removal in recent months, with dozens already uprooted and more than 100 more marked for removal as part of the city’s tree management plan.
One of the reasons Broken Hill received the national heritage listing back in 2015 was because of its fine trees.
But the mayor doesn’t believe the city will lose its heritage status. He reckons too much time and effort went into getting the listing and he believes that’s not going to be easily reversed.
“I don’t think one minute you can be nationally significant and then suddenly be not significant. I didn’t think it [heritage status] would be that flimsy,” Mr Kennedy said.
“I don’t think it’s a trivial listing and it’s certainly not something that wasn’t done with a lot of work, and it can’t be taken off of you because someone might not like what’s going on.”
But Mr Molesworth points out just one example of Council’s tree replacement strategy is ornamental pear trees being used to replace many of the removed trees. The saplings are not native to the area, which adds to the chances of the city having its Heritage listing reversed, something Mr Molesworth, in conjunction with Landcare flagged with the Council way back in 2019.
The Australian government funded Review of the Broken Hill Heritage study said, “All the street tree plantings are of National significance and reflect key elements of the National heritage listing”.
Mr Molesworth told the Truth he feared the Council’s current policy around trees could tarnish the unique Outback ambiance and endanger the city’s National Heritage status.
Broken Hill secured Australia’s most significant heritage status in 2015. It is the highest heritage honour any city can achieve and uniquely listed the entire city as heritage, an honour no other town or city in Australia can boast.
Mr Molesworth points out three instances where UNESCO revoked the world heritage status of cities due to significant urban developments. Vienna in Austria, Dresden in Germany, and Liverpool in England were all stripped of the honour, in their cases due to ambitious urbanisation.
Mr Molesworth says these serve as cautionary tales for Broken Hill Council, stressing the importance of understanding and preserving a city’s unique cultural values, which includes its trees.
Having spent 10 years as global head of the National Trust, based out of London, Professor Molesworth has a deep knowledge of heritage issues.
He’s visited over 100 World Heritage listed sites and sits on both the Broken Hill Heritage Advisory Committee and the Victorian Heritage Council.
He warns any decision made should be careful not to endanger the continued recognition and appreciation of the city’s cultural heritage.
“I hasten to stress that at this moment I do not believe the City’s National Heritage List status is currently at risk,” says Mr Molesworth.
“However, I do believe our retention of that special status is only assured if the City carefully manages change, always making sure that its decisions are mindful of the values that led to its heritage status.
“Is this issue of ‘protecting’ our National Heritage List status relevant to the decisions currently being made with respect to trees. Yes, is my answer.”
Mayor Kennedy says there are only three trees of significant importance to the city with regards to its heritage listing, those being the Fig tree in Sturt Park, the White Jacaranda on the corner of South and Patton St, and the Lone Pine at Memorial Oval.
“There are actually only three trees in Broken Hill that are considered of significant importance and Council looks after them quite well,” said Cllr Kennedy.
Mr Kennedy maintained the Council takes a very pragmatic approach to any tree removal and added they also take its heritage listing very seriously.
“It’d be terrible for Broken Hill if it lost its national heritage status.
“For a tree to be removed, any kind of tree, it needs to be proven to be damaging to infrastructure or hazardous to people and that is often in consultation with a high-level arborist,” Mayor Kennedy told the Truth.”