An Avenue to Dishonour
The historic boulevard, which commemorates the town’s war dead, was planted in 1918 and consists of 312 trees and 3.3 kilometres of road. Between 10 and 12 trees will be removed under the proposal.
The trees are Dutch elms (Ulmus ×hollandica), grafted onto either U. procera or U. glabra. Not all of those 312 trees commemorate war dead, but there is a dedicated section which consists of the 1918 plantings. There are some older trees at the town end from a series of plantings in 1880, and a younger section of trees planted in the 1960’s for a road realignment.
The Bacchus Marsh ‘Avenue of Honour’ is one of the oldest and most magnificent in Australia, being the catalyst for similar avenues that emerged in many towns and cities after World War 1.
The State Government of Victoria, through VicRoads, has been granted stimulus funding from the Commonwealth Government to re-align the Western Highway around Arthur’s Cutting, which is a particularly steep and dangerous section of road.
According to The Age, the works will also include extending Woolpack Road north to the Western Highway, which will enable motorists to bypass half of the Avenue of Honour from the eastern (or Melbourne) end. The works will include the creation of a four-lane road, and a round-a-bout in the middle of the Avenue, which will see the removal of at least 12 trees and the addition of lighting. The round-a-bout will be of sufficient size to enable B-Double trucks to enter.
The National Trust is particularly concerned about the plans, as is the Shire council. The Trust says that the Avenue is of national significance because of its over-arching canopy, intactness, the curvature in the road and the historical and cultural significance of the plantings. Owing to Dutch Elm Disease, which has decimated European elm plantings, Australia remains as a disease-free refuge, and therefore hosts some of the finest remaining plantings in the world. (You can read the Trust’s full statement here).
The Victorian Heritage Council does not list the Avenue of Honour on the Victorian Heritage Register, but it is listed by the National Trust and the Shire of Moorabool is keen to have it listed on the Register of the National Estate. In 2004, the Shire of Moorabool drafted an extensive Strategic Management Plan for the Avenue, which provides a wealth of information. The full report can be downloaded here.
Unfortunately, there seems to have been considerable secrecy surrounding this project, perhaps because the State Government is aware of the outcry that could materialise? The Avenue of Honour is much-cherished by the people of Bacchus Marsh, and Victoria. The National Trust have complained that neither themselves nor the Returned and Services League (RSL) were consulted about the proposal until November 2009, whereby it was presented as a fait accomplis.
Work is to commence this month, but still there are no maps and illustrations available on the project website. (As an aside, it seems ironic that there are no plans available for this project as part of the Victorian Transport Plan. Is secrecy part of the plan, too?)
The Minister for Planning has the power to ‘call in’ the project, but instead Mr. Madden has exempted it from various planning and environmental checks (source). Part of his justification for exemption is that the project is urgent, and acknowledges that “third parties will not have formal submissions to the planning authority”.
Saving the Avenue of Honour
The experience of driving the length of the Avenue of Honour is unparalleled. On both sides of the road are market gardens and orchards, which can be seen between the tree trunks. Above, the sky is concealed by a deep canopy of leaves. In Autumn, the Avenue is especially magic as the golden colour of the leaves develops. I have taken several international visitors to the Avenue of Honour, and all have been impressed.
In my view, the desecration of a war memorial is a disgrace. But worse still, the prevention of public participation in the planning process is outrageous in a democracy.
I believe that the Western Highway realignment should progress. That section of highway is dangerous and difficult to navigate. However, the widening and extension of Woolpack Road should be put on hold immediatelty until such time as an opportunity for full public consultation is provided, a heritage assessment performed, and an alternative road plan generated.
It has taken 92 years for the Avenue of Honour to become what it is. I certainly hope this plan is abandoned, because any damage that’s done now will take another 92 years to repair. And if that’s the case, most of us won’t be here to appreciate it.