Preserving Australian avenues of honour

24 October 2023

Written by: Isabella OBrien

Planned tree replacements are being advocated as an important priority for avenues of honour.

People have been planting trees in honour of loved ones for centuries. Whether it is for peace or war remembrance, small communities have come together bringing the seeds they have available to create a symbolic connection. These are known as avenues of honour.

Planted in remembrance of those who lost their lives in war, a single tree within an avenue represents one soldier, man, woman or nurse whose bodies were killed overseas and unable to be returned to Australia. The mothers, friends, wives, and fellow servicemen took initiative in planting what are now, ancient trees.

However in recent years, many of these avenues are dying out or have been forgotten. So how can we form better protection strategies to keep these living memorials alive?

Stretching out for over 2.9km, Dutch and Huntington elm trees line each side of the main road that leads into Bacchus Marsh, a small town located 50km north-west of Melbourne. While this avenue is one of the most well maintained in the state, the Moorabool Shire Council has released a draft for two maintenance plans to ensure the longevity of the trees.

The Management Strategy Plan and the Preservation Plan focus on advocating for the importance of the avenue with planned tree replacements through the Tree Replacement Strategy, as some of these trees are over 100 years old. It aims to establish new trees by using propagation over the next 20 years.

Tree propagation sees saplings being taken from existing trees within an avenue and growing them in a nursery. The council intends to retain the “sense and integrity of the significant memorial perpetuity” through this strategy, as stated in the Preservation Plan. The cost of replanting is for the better part left in the hands of the community, with no signs of government support.

In a media release, Mayor Cr Rod Ward says the two plans will ensure the preservation of the avenue for many generations to come.

“We take the significance of each tree very seriously as they honour someone who has fought for our country, so when a tree needs replacing due to bad health, new trees are propagated from the removed tree, so all trees remain true to type,” he says.

To save these clusters of history, organisations such as TREENET focus on researching, locating, documenting, and preserving through their Avenue of Honours program, that launched in 2004.

Committee member of TREENET Dr Gregory Moore tells upstart that while larger avenues in towns such as Ballarat and Bacchus Marsh are well looked after, not all have the same amount of protection.

“Preservation is very vexed, … lots of avenues simply disappeared from the time of planting over the next century … Often from road works and other development works, and so they weren’t really valued,” he says.

“What tended to happen was that avenues were undervalued, they disappeared, or they were reduced to remnants, maybe one tree out of 10 or 20 that had been there.”

Moore says that the development of roads, expanding suburbs and towns that grow beyond their borders are all major threats to the trees. He emphasises the importance of locating and documenting the trees within an avenue to prevent further damage from occurring.

“The thing about avenues of honour is that we shouldn’t underestimate their importance. They are an important part of Australia’s social history, and they had a big impact on many local communities,” he says.

The lack of government funding has seen the process of preservation become the responsibility of local communities and councils. Volunteers such as former director of TREENET Glenn Williams, aid in preserving these living memorials through TREENET’s Avenues of Honour program. He and his wife Vicki travel across Australia to locate and document sites.

During the last 12 months, the couple have visited 224 sites across NSW, QLD, VIC, and WA. Of those, 78 new sites have been added to TREENET’s list. Williams tells upstart that “gathering accurate information and new and historical images” gives “currency and integrity to the database”.

The biggest question for Glenn and Vicki, is where are all these avenues located? Finding these sites comes with its challenges. Many have lost their plaques, and most of their trees. In some cases, the only way to define an avenue is through talking with the local community and then listening to their stories that have been passed on generationally.

“Much of this is so opportunistic and occurs wonderfully and successfully by default (on-the-fly), rather than forward-planning,” Williams says. “Oral histories are often critical ‘springboard’ steps inspiring further research.”

“Trees are living things and need care and attention to survive and thrive for generations; and at the very least, have replacement plans as they come to the end of their useful life.”

PHOTO: Mortlake, Victoria 02 by Avenues of Honour by available HERE and used under a Creative Commons license. This image has not been modified.