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An Avenue to Dishonour

G17th January 2010

C21 Comments

Theritage, plants

Bacchus Marsh’s famous ‘Avenue of Honour’ is under direct threat from VicRoads.

A key portion of Bacchus Marsh‘s famous ‘Avenue of Honour’ is under direct threat if VicRoads proceeds with a plan to add a round-a-bout at the intersection of Woolpack and Bacchus Marsh Roads.

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.

What’s proposed?

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.



21 responses to “An Avenue to Dishonour”

  • Written by Jane on 27 January 2010:

    Coming from the U.K. where most of the Elm trees were destroyed by disease, please don’t let anyone take away part of your natural environment. Lets the celebration and honour of those who gave their lives continue. It takes years for trees to come to maturity. The next 50 years are going to be crucial for our survival on this planet. So please think very carefully before cutting down just one tree – it may be the very tree that breathes life to you and your future family …

  • Written by May Ralph on 31 January 2010:

    How can freeway planning progress so far without all the State branches of the R.S.L opposing such desecration without as much as a murmur? Can it be that the initial planning authority decided this was to be kept under wraps until it was a fait accompli? The Bacchus Marsh Avenue of Honour must surely be the very best memorial a town can give its fallen heroes. If we don’t take a stand here, who knows what’s in store. Perhaps The Shrine of Remembrance bulldozed to make a short cut to Docklands?

  • Written by Helen Shannon on 4 February 2010:

    This ruinous road scheme will amputate the Avenue of honour and sever a large part of the town’s environs. The Avenue is a memorial to the soldiers of Bacchus Marsh and is loved and revered by generations of men and their families. We must not let a petty bureaucrat remove the trees to make space for huge trucks. They have no place in a beautiful, peaceful and sacred place.

  • Written by Sean on 10 February 2010:

    This is the perfect example of a government to whom roads are the number one priority and heritage is merely another dispensable annoyance. Sadly the average Victorian voter does not recognise the value of fantastic places like the Avenues of Honour and the government knows what people care about most – Lest we forget ….

  • Written by Daniel on 23 February 2010:

    The Age: Outcry on avenue plan

  • Written by Pat on 24 February 2010:


    You have so many errors in your blog. Perhaps you should have done more homework before going to print.

    1. Trees were planted in 1918 to commemorate all those locals who served in WW1.
    2. RSL and Local Historical Society was fully consulted over the past three years and they agreed with plan.
    3. Secrecy !! You have to be joking; this has been on the drawing boards for 25 years. There were three public meeting last year and year before, all interested parties were invited and it was advertised in all newspapers.
    4. Avenue has had many changes over past 92 years. Road was re-alinged, bend was removed, and trees were replaced with different species.
    5. Shire has extensive plan for each tree to ensure survival. Most will be replaced over the next 20 years, 30 or 40 have alrteady been replaced with new saplings of same types as original plantings. Trees are removed only if dangerous or dying. Teams of Arborists give report updates for each tree.
    6. All plaques were removed to be refurbished, missing ones replaced and a thorough check on details for each serviceperson. New method of fixing to tree have been developed to not harm trees.
    7. The new road to the freeway will mean that the Shire will assume control of the Avenue from VicRoads, and we can ensure the future.

    So I admire your intent, but get the facts right.

  • Written by Adam Dimech on 24 February 2010:

    Thanks Pat for your detailed response:

    1. Quote: “The historic boulevard, which commemorates the town’s war dead, was planted in 1918….” You are correct, it was planted for all soldiers, not just the dead. But the date was correctly published.

    2. Quote: “The National Trust have complained that neither themselves nor the Returned and Services League (RSL) were consulted about the proposal until November 2009”. This comment was based on a National Trust press release, which you can read here.

    3. “Secrecy” is my opinion. If the State Government was unwilling to publish detailed plans on the internet for people outside Bacchus Marsh to see, I believe they are acting in a secretive manner. I stand by my comment. (I do acknowledge that some crude plans have appeared on the website since I wrote my article).

    4. Quote: “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.”. This point is acknowledged in the article.

    5. Quote: “In 2004, the Shire of Moorabool drafted an extensive Strategic Management Plan”. Again, this point was acknowledged in my article, and a link to the report cited.

    6. You’re correct, and I provided a link. I decided not to raise the issue of plaques in this piece.

    7. It is my view that handing over the road to the Shire after VicRoads have put a round-a-bout through it is a bit late, because the avenue has then already been damaged. Why not hand it over now?

    Pat, do you work for the State Government, VicRoads or another interested party? If you do, disclosure would be very helpful.

    As always, I really appreciate your contribution and I hope I have adequately responded to your points.

  • Written by Pat on 24 February 2010:

    I am an elected Moorabool Shire Councillor, who was referred to in your blog (click on “as is the Shire Council” in para 7)

    National Trust have never showed an interest in our Avenue before. Ask them to kick in some money to help us preserve it and so how quickly they back away.

    RSL has been consulted in every instance on anything that happens in the Avenue. It is Shire policy. I have been to all the meetings over the past 3 years and the executive of the Bacchus Marsh RSL have always been there.

    There is a world outside of the internet, the local papers and the Shire have published plans months and years ago. Sorry if it didn’t personally get to you, but there have been no secrets.

    My preference would be that no trees are moved, but that is not going to happen. The current model is 8 trees being replaced by 16 trees to ensure the spacing as you drive along. All alternatives were considered and this is the best to ensure that the Avenue will continue. It cannot stay a Main Road and have trees so close to the roadway. Trees are losing limbs whenever there is a high wind, even after extensive pruning.

    The Avenue is important to our town and our country, and we will do all we can to ensure it survives. Happy to show you what is happening if you want to visit.

  • Written by Jodie on 26 February 2010:

    Hi Pat,

    1. It seems to me the local RSL have not represented the general feelings of the community in this matter.

    2. Once a round-a-bout in placed in the middle of the Avenue of Honour, it will no longer be an avenue as such. One of the significant features of the Avenue of Honour is its length… this will be lost if a round-a-bout is placed in the middle, and it will no longer be of such international significance. As Adam suggests, what is the use of listing the Avenue once it has already been ruined. Will you even be able to list it once it has the round-a-bout… altering it so significantly would certainly weaken the case for registration.

    3. If the Avenue is no longer suitable as a main road, then it shouldn’t be included at all in the re-alignment plans. Why would half of the Avenue be safe as a main carriageway (i.e. the part from Woolpack Road into the centre of Bacchus Marsh) and not the other half? My view is that it would be more suitable to cut the Avenue off from the freeway altogether… there are already two other on/off ramps in Bacchus Marsh, and I’m sure another connection point could be found if needed (especially as most of Bacchus Marsh’s development is toward the West rather than the East).

  • Written by Caity Raschke on 6 April 2010:

    What a sad and shameful thing for your council to be doing.
    It reminds me of a street in South West Rocks on the Mid North Coast of NSW called Memorial Avenue; after the First World War, a pine was planted for each man from the town who died in the war. In the 70s, the Electricity Commission as it was then called felled some of the trees to do infrastructure work.There were still gaps where these trees were not replaced when I was last there about seven or so years ago.
    How sad but unsurprising that an elected councillor should take an offensive tone with you and how dismissive is she of the National Trust.
    Good luck.

  • Written by Caity Raschke on 11 April 2010:

    Sorry to come back to you. It’s interesting that a quote from the RSL talked about the importance of road safety, implying that that justifies this dishonour.

    I wonder how the RSL members would feel if the trees representing their best mates or brothers or cousins were the ones to be removed for road works. Our CBD park, in Newcastle, is the subject of ‘redesign’ plans (as if anyone can afford that) and one of the things that has been discussed is amalgamating the three war memorials that are in the park. One is a central cenotaph, one is a Vietnam memorial at the western end and one is a beautiful but neglected grove at the eastern end.

    I sincerely hope that the RSL don’t bow to council’s or architects’ designs which seem to me to diminish their significance.

  • Written by jag on 3 May 2010:

    Is Pat a representative of the people? If so, why is he so angry and pushing one side- isnt he supposed to support all the BM community? It is such a disgrace that this avenue will be finished for good with a roundabout in the middle of it!!! How could anyone even consider this? There are alternatives, trucks could be diverted at the top of town near Hallets Way- but are there other plans not being revealed? Is subdivision of farming land going to happen around Avenue?? Why are RSL not being active, is there some pay off here, new hall maybe?? What else can one think when this most vandalised action is to take place, glad that there is a group now to fight this- we will support you all the way. The fight is on- 4000 facebook supporters cant be wrong!!!! Oh yes, Stan, who are you fighting for? Soldiers memory or buildings? How bizarre?

  • Written by maureen henry on 28 May 2010:

    please leave these beautiful strong trees alone as a reminder of those young men who died for us all. It is coming up to 100 years since the planting and a celebration of this would be far more fitting than destruction of some trees. We have already destroyed much of our early planning but this is a sentimental memory.

  • Written by Withheld on 21 September 2010:

    I know of local people that actually agree with Pat but find it intimidating to speak about it as we get verbally attacked. I don’t think that anyone wants to see the avenue destroyed and I don’t see moving plaques as being disrespectful. I’ve withheld my name as this topic is as touchy as announcing that I’m an athiest, I agree with gay marriage & that I sympathise with asylum seekers.

  • Written by Geoff Threlfall on 18 November 2010:

    Concillor Pat will not be a councillor after the next municipal elections, that’s a given, neither will his colleagues. He screams the public were consulted, but fails to state that council made their decision in 2008 and the fact of the roundabout only came to light in November 2009. See the Save the Bacchus Marsh Avenue Facebook site for the real facts. Even recent comments by the by-pass spokesman in a local paper admits there are other alternatives but would blow out the cost from $20 million to $30 million, so they took the CHEAPEST option. What price Heritage and History, so much for respecting those who paid the supreme sacrifice for our FREEDOM.

  • Written by 4thgenmarshgirl on 3 March 2011:

    This has been a very divisive issue locally, with death threats etc. being hurled at those who support the roun dabout. My family was subjected to this. My family has an uncle commemorated in the Ave, and his tree has already been replaced under the Council Cloning Program, this means that his tree will stand for another 90 years. A large number of the trees in the Ave are in a sorry state. This road will actually remove 300 trucks per day from the Ave and remove the biggest threat facing the long term health of the trees which is root compaction caused by heavy vehicular traffic. The opponents of the roundabout cannot see this and are really condemning the entire Ave to a slow death. Our community will also have the opportunity to plant a second Avenue along the new extension that will remember those locals who fought in all wars after WW1. This is a wonderful thing in itself. This is really a debate over if it is worthwhile to remove and replace a small number of trees to protect the rest. Geoff is also mistaken 90% of local folk support the works and the protesters are regarded as a noisy misinformed minority, most of whom do not come from here and know little about the true state of the Ave.

  • Written by Geoff Threlfall on 21 April 2011:

    Just to let you know that the Avenue of Honour had a reprieve when Heritage Victoria knocked back the application for a roundabout. However the Shire and VicRoads appealed and now the Victorian Planning Minister will make a final decision. VicRoads submitted a revised plan with a smaller roundabout which will cost the removal of 5 93 years old trees and replacement with 5 cloned saplings. I notice no one from the pro roundabout group states that this whole idea is being driven by the trucking lobby so that a local coal mine can be re-opened. Also that their quoted figures of truck movements are grossly exagerated. They claimed at one time that 700 trucks a day travelled through Bacchus Marsh ( 1 every 2.05 minutes for a 24 hour period),so their credibility was shot ages ago.

  • Written by Geoff Threlfall on 21 April 2011:

    Also in relation to the health of the trees I direct you to Heritage Victoria’s comments made in their report. The majority of trees are in a stable and healthy condition. The few that are in ill health would be expected to be replaced gradually over a period of time.

  • Written by Nathan on 17 May 2016:

    This might not matter too much now, but there is a mistake I noticed in this article.

    There is no such “Arthur’s Cutting” around Bacchus Marsh, unless you are of course referring to Anthony’s Cutting” which sounds like the road you were describing

  • Written by Adam Dimech on 18 May 2016:

    Thanks Nathan, you are correct.

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