Image for Death of a blackwood

Cygnet people who care about the image of their township were sort of resigned to the idea that the big blackwood at the junction of Mary and Charlton streets was doomed: it was on the “footprint” of the roundabout that was to be built (with the blessing of Huon Valley Council and the approval of DIER) to accommodate the new 26-lot subdivision on the western side of Mary Street — so it had to go.

Nevertheless, it was still a shock for them to see it meet its fate on Monday morning — and the way in which its demise was executed. It wasn’t exactly a dawn demolition — a sly tactic the council used early last year in defiance of hugely burgeoning support in Franklin for its mid-20th century football club building — but it was no less shocking. In no time at all, seemingly with not a care for workplace-safety regulations, two bareheaded young men, with the help of an excavator, soon had the lovely old tree on the ground. Its branches were ripped off and the trunk was carted away.

Will its timbers find the caring hands of a woodworker, to become, perhaps, lovely kitchens, even for the houses that may be built on the Mary Street subdivision? Unlikely. The responsibility for felling the tree presumably rested with the subdivision developer, but the method of its destruction was typical of the civic philistinism that is characteristic of the Huon Valley Council.

In the pictures, you can see, to the right of the blackwood, a tall eucalypt that many members of the Cygnet community are still hoping can be saved. However, already — despite the fact that it stands on “public open space” — the ground around it has been invaded by the developer’s heavy machinery. Such action has hardly helped the health of the tree.

Locals see the eucalypt — and would have seen the blackwood — as at least some sort of barrier to the hideousness of a “suburban” style subdivision that will scar the hillside for years to come at the southern end of the township’s main commercial area. (Greater Cygnet is already littered with slow-selling subdivisions. Rarely do people go real estate hunting in Cygnet for tiny blocks or brick-veneer ugliness.)

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Collision course: the eucalypt is to the right of the doomed blackwood

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Who cares? The blackwood has been pushed over by the excavator onto the eucalypt that the council has promised to retain if the arborist judges it to be healthy. A branch of the eucalypt was broken and foliage was damaged by the falling blackwood. Its future, too, looks bleak.

Council, under pressure from Cygnet Township Development Committee member Pat Synge, has commissioned an assessment of the eucalypt by an independent arborist (who is believed to be associated with the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens). Synge has also got an assurance from council that if the tree is declared healthy it will be retained.

If the eucalypt gets the arborist’s OK — and it manages to survive the onslaught of the developer’s machinery, the fact that the blackwood was pushed over onto it (breaking branches), and the construction of the roundabout and the rollover kerbing that is to run alongside it — it will provide at least a part-barrier between visitors approaching the township from the south and a subdivision that Cygnet needs like the proverbial hole in the head. (I’m wondering if there may even be a hole in its bole by now.)

Cygnet is a beautiful little town with lovely buildings that warrant a declaration of the whole of its heartland as a heritage-protected area. But, bit by bit — because it is governed by a council that imposes no building standards that are even remotely empathetic with the remnant evidence of the municipality’s long colonial history — it is starting to look as ravaged by unsightly developments as towns such as Blackmans Bay, Huonville, Margate and Kingston.

I hear a rumour we are soon going to get a $150,000 replacement public toilet in the heart of Cygnet. I doubt that will reflect much empathy with its surrounds and hope the rumour isn’t true. Cygnet’s public toilet, though badly positioned, is perfectly adequate — yet so basic it is capable of resisting the worst efforts of the vandals Mayor Robert Armstrong keeps telling us are at large. He’s right on that count if the state of the streetscape “lollipop” trees are anything to go by.

In the meantime, the people of Cygnet are at the beginning a half-century wait for saplings the council promises are be planted, presumably to do the job of the two trees in the picture.

With a bit of creative thinking and a sense of the aesthetic on the part of the council, a far better outcome could have been achieved with this subdivision. But aesthetics, conservation, environment, harmony? The seven men that make up the council’s controlling Huon Valley Team seem not to know the meaning of such words.

— Bob Hawkins is a Huon Valley ratepayer and an advocate for transparency in all democratic institutions. He is not a member of a political organisation.