Bulleen River Red Gum to stay

Feb 28, 2023 | Biodiversity

There’s some good news about the Bulleen River Red Gum, with confirmation from the North East Link Project team that it will no longer be felled for construction works. This is a significant win for locals who were outraged about its planned removal for the freeway link, despite options to leave it standing being possible.

Many people will be familiar with the giant River Red Gum at the site of the Caltex service station that has just been demolished at the corner of Bridge Street and Manningham Road. It’s hard to miss, standing 20 metres tall with a canopy spread of 17 metres and a trunk diameter of more than 2 metres. The tree was originally saved by a local resident when the rest of the block was cleared to make way for the service station.

It is so significant it was named the National Trust Victorian Tree of the Year in 2019. According to the National Trust it is “likely the oldest tree remaining of the original Bulleen Red Gum forest”. While they say it is approximately 300 years old, it is quite possibly 700-800 years old (see more below). How it has survived so long – its roots surrounded by concrete and on the edge of an extremely busy road full of trucks – is itself a miracle.

This month, having looked at the updated plans and interactive map for the North East Link, it still wasn’t clear to me whether the tree would remain. I could see a circle drawn on the map presumably representing the tree, but it didn’t say anything specific about it and there were no artist’s impressions featuring it. While the service station has gone, the tree remains standing.

When I called and asked, the person who answered my call said it was not yet known if it could remain. I asked them to follow it up and get back to me. The next morning I got an email from a community engagement advisor from Spark (the name of the consortium of construction companies building the project) who confirmed it will remain:

“Spark recognises the cultural and historic significance of the tree. I can confirm that this will not be removed, and we’re working closely with Manningham Council to ensure that all efforts are being made to protect it.

“We’ve also established a Tree Protection Zone around it to ensure the safe removal of the old Caltex structure and road works planned around it in accordance with Council-approved methodologies and under direct supervision of our arborists.”

This is great news.

Across the road from Bulleen Art and Garden, the magnificent tree is one of a handful that still remain along the Yarra River in the area. Another massive old River Red Gum still stands in the gardens at Heidi, less than 400m away.

The Heidi website describes it beautifully:

“While the Wurundjeri lived lightly on the land their presence continues to be felt at Heide, with a magnificent scar tree on the property —a large river red gum estimated to be 400 years old. Given the Woiwurrung name ‘Yingabeal’ in 2014, it is one of the region’s most significant examples and marks the location of a gathering place and the convergence point of five songlines.’

Local historian Dr Jim Poulter estimates that Yingabeal (Woiwurrung for ‘song tree’) is 600 to 700 years old. The Bulleen River Red Gum is older than that.

You can see more about the significance of these trees, how songlines were used for navigation and why Yingbeal may be ‘the most important marker tree in Melbourne’ in this video interviewing Uncle Bill Nicholson who gifted the tree its name. It’s nearly 14 mins long but is fascinating, even if you think you know a lot about songlines and local Indigenous history.

Words & photos by Jen Willis