Wednesday 1 March 2017
By Imran Khan

On 13 January, amidst high temperatures, an exercise that proved to be the first of its kind was undertaken in the ACT; being the relocation of an Aboriginal ‘culturally modified tree’ at the Ginninderry Development in West Belconnen.

The tree, which had fallen naturally some time ago, was removed from the site to protect it from developmental impacts, and was relocated to a spot within the developments environmentally protected conservation corridor. While sections of cultural trees have been relocated previously, the decision to relocate the entire tree was made to ensure adherence to the conservation principle of interfering with the original fabric of the land as little as possible.

Culturally modified trees, or ‘scarred trees’ as they are otherwise known, are distinctive in their appearance for having no or little bark, after it was removed by early Aboriginal people using it for a range of reasons such as to make shields, containers or shelter. In other instances, climbing holes were cut into the tree to allow access to the crown for gathering of leaves, flowers, and animals, such as possums. Holes were also cut into the lower trunk to access native honey. Due to land clearance undertaken by early European settlers and the natural aging process of trees, scarred trees are becoming rare. As such, research into their existence throughout the region and retention of surviving examples is a priority.

Extensive consultation with Representative Aboriginal Organisations occurred prior to the relocation of the tree. Following this, a methodology was developed by the Riverview project team together with wood conservation specialist, Gillian Mitchell. The proposed relocation plan was then approved by the ACT Heritage Council.

The relocation process saw giant slings being placed under the trunk in several locations to support its weight, before being lifted onto a padded flatbed truck for slow delivery to its new location. Following the application of a wood preservative, the trunk was lowered onto a bed of termite resistant gravel guard that will serve to decrease water penetration near the trunk.

Archival recording of the tree in its original and final locations was undertaken and a video recording of the relocation made for future reference. The tree will now rest in a natural looking location in the Ginninderry conservation corridor, and will be managed into the future to retain its heritage values.

Thank you too from all at the Ginninderry project team office to local businesses Axis Civil for your delicate operations on the day, Past Traces for your expertise in heritage planning, Representative Aboriginal Organisations for your participation and Gillian Mitchell for your advice. Your assistance has not only enabled us to achieve an important project milestone, but ultimately helped us to preserve an important piece of Australia’s history!