Tree or not to be - that is the $100,000 question

To tree or not to be?

It has been vandalised, burnt by both bushfire and arsonists, smashed into by a car and wrapped in plastic for a few years.

Explorers tree: A few strips of wood are held on to the concrete core with steel bands. The state government has allocated it $100,000.

Explorers tree: A few strips of wood are held on to the concrete core with steel bands. The state government has allocated it $100,000.

Its centre is concrete and the straps around it hold the only remnants of tree together.

No one actually knows if Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth ever did carve their initials into its trunk. If they did, there is no sign of it now.

But the state government has deemed the explorers tree in Katoomba worthy of a $100,000 heritage grant.

Blue Mountains Council, which applied for the grant, said the money will be used not only for the tree but for the surrounding area, said to include convict grave stone arrangements and natural area landscape values.

The money will be used to “enhance the public's understanding of the place and its multi-layered history, amplify the Aboriginal perspective on the site and provide access to interpretive information”, a spokeswoman said.

“The project is important because of the diverse and rich history of the Pulpit Hill precinct and complex and varied community appreciation of the site, particularly the explorers tree.”

But the poor old tree is literally a shell of its former self.

From its early white settler contact days, the once striking Eucalyptus oreades has been plagued. A few years after the claim was first made in the 1860s that it had been marked by the three explorers as they tried to find a way across the Mountains, a wall was erected to protect it.

By 1904, the wall had killed the tree. The top was chopped off and taken to Mark Foy’s new Hydro Majestic Hotel at Medlow Bath to be shown off as an historical relic. Not even there was it safe as it was destroyed in a 1922 fire at the hotel.

The remaining trunk deteriorated further, its hollow centre was filled with concrete and topped with a concrete cap. Steel bands were wrapped around to hold together whatever remained.

A canopy was later added for further protection. Alas, that was destroyed when a car ran into the stone base in 2012.

The Office of Environment and Heritage recognised that “physically the tree stump is in decline. Active agents of decay such as termites are present [as at 2009] and less than 50 per cent of the surviving fabric of the stump is from the original tree”.

It further noted that: “The cement cap installed in 1930 has sunk and partly collapsed into the void inside the stump. Two remaining steel bands are still evident around the stump - these almost hold a few strips of dead wood around the concrete core.

“Historically the fabric of the original tree has been lost and relocated over time.” 

Nevertheless, it is included on the heritage register.

Former mayor, Cr Daniel Myles, said, despite its poor condition, the tree was “definitely worth the effort”.

“It's a physical reminder of the enormous difficulties and hardships involved in crossing the Mountains by the first Europeans and the various efforts to preserve the tree involve some genuinely colourful characters for the Blue Mountains community. It's a great story," Cr Myles said.