HOW many meetings and plans of management does it take to see trees planted in Merewether's Jefferson Park?
It is somewhat telling that when one types "Jefferson Park" into the Google machine, a window pops up announcing the park is a "bus stop in New South Wales".
Jefferson Park is one of our most prominent parks. Those who use Scenic Drive to get to the Pacific Highway will drive or ride just a couple of metres from the park. Those who use Scenic Drive to get to the beaches or Merewether ocean baths will drive or ride just a few metres from the park. Can't miss it.
It looks the very model of austerity and uncertain identity. There's a couple of places to sit, but not a lot of reason to do so.
We do have some gorgeous parks in Newcastle. Jefferson Park is not yet one of them. City parks including King Edward Park, Civic Park, Christie Place, Lambton Park, Gregson Park and Rowland Park have two displays per year. Christie Place is my personal favourite. It provides a welcome distraction from increasingly stationary King Street traffic. Dropping the speed limit to 30km/h on Wharf Road and transforming Hunter Street to a light rail track has provided those on the King Street artery with plenty of time to admire flowers.
The 2015 Newcastle Coastal Plan of Management sets out an objective for Jefferson Park to have increased "useability" through level open space areas, landscaping, picnic facilities, shade and seating. That plan's origins go back to at least 2010, when the Public Domain Plan for Merewether Beach Reserves outlined a vision for Jefferson Park to host an "avenue of Norfolk Island Pines to define ridge and Frederick Street". The avenue of Norfolk Pines disappeared from the 2015 plan.
During last summer's devastating bushfires, some Merewether locals began talking about what they might do for the environment to make a lasting difference. The sheer scale of the bushfires that ripped through the Australian landscape last spring and summer provided an impetus for the group to push for the planting of trees in Jefferson Park.
Of course, the planting of trees can't be done in the middle of night by a crack team of gardening vigilantes. The middle of the night is more likely to be a time for tree vandalism rather than tree planting. Although there is something strangely appealing about people armed with balaclavas, wheelbarrows and torches planting native trees in public spaces in the wee hours of the morning.
But planting trees in coastal areas where views of the ocean might be compromised - perhaps shaving value from property - faces uphill battles on Australia's east coast. Back in March 2010, the Newcastle Herald reported more than 400 trees were poisoned or chopped down along the Hunter's coastline in the previous 18 months in malicious attacks designed to improve residents' views. Axes, poisons and chemicals imported from interstate were used to kill trees at Newcastle, Port Stephens and Lake Macquarie. And it's an ongoing problem.
Jefferson Park is one of our most prominent parks.
In the past few months, the City of Newcastle (CoN) have placed signage in Cliff Street at The Hill advising the public that trees planted on CoN land were vandalised. Whether that vandalism was done in the middle of the night to protect a view of the ocean is unknown. But if you were making a bet...
Some people have suggested trees couldn't be planted in Jefferson Park because the park is needed by the rescue helicopter on occasion, but inquiries with the service confirmed this was not an issue. Empire Park is where the helicopter is cleared to land when needed. The local Landcare Group - who make an enormous contribution to our coastline - are onside for tree planting in the park. Of course, there are those who reckon trees will impede views and that's enough of a reason for obfuscation. "Lie, deny and wait until they die" is a well-known tactic in the bureaucratic handbook for dealing with pesky community members.
CoN CEO Jeremy Bath "acted quickly" according to Ms Powell when he was contacted about the group copping the run-around. The most recent advice to the group from CoN is an arborist will soon re-address the planting of trees in Jefferson Park.
CoN is to be congratulated for the upgrading of playgrounds in parks around the city. It would be wonderful to "soon" see Jefferson Park given the attention its prominence warrants.
Jefferson Park is way more than "a bus stop in New South Wales".
- Paul Scott is a regular Newcastle Herald columnist - firstname.lastname@example.org