Freo’s historic Moreton Bay fig tree returning to protected register

Moreton Bay fig tree High Street Fremantle
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Following an outcry from the local community, an almost 140-year-old Moreton Bay fig tree will be returned to the City of Fremantle’s Significant Tree Register.

The decision to return the tree to the register was made on Wednesday evening, with Councillor Adin Lang putting forward a motion to revoke the February 14 decision to remove the tree.

Located at 195 High Street, Fremantle, the tree was requested to be removed from the register by the owner, who argued it was causing financial hardship by deterring potential buyers of the property, and that they had been forced to clean up large amounts of dropped figs, leaves and other debris almost every morning.

According to the register, the tree was believed to have been planted in the late 1880s by Philip Webster, former owner of the Esplanade Hotel, remembered as “a great lover of flowers”.

Ahead of the vote, Fremantle mayor Hannah Fitzhardinge wrote on Facebook about her decision to support Lang’s motion.

“This is not a decision I take lightly. And I accept that it will be a blow for the Cattalini family, who have borne the burden of caring for this tree for a long time.”

Fitzhardinge also drew attention to issues with the Significant Tree Register that have become more apparent:

“As flagged in my earlier posts, I have had a fundamental discomfort with the way this tree (and others on the Heritage List) were moved to the Significant Tree Register without owner consent. While the decision to do this may have been legally valid, recent debate has highlighted some improvements we can make to that policy. I’ve proposed we amend Cr Lang’s motion to include a review of the policy, LPP 2.23, to potentially split this tree register into two parts – one for owner-consent significant trees on private land (with easier to meet criteria to encourage tree canopy protection); and one for trees of cultural heritage significance (requiring more robust assessment criteria following Burra Charter principles, which can be included without property owner consent, with the primary aim of preserving trees that have heritage value).”

“It’s clearly a community priority that we get more trees protected by being on the register, so aligned with the Urban Canopy motion supported in December last year, I will also propose that we accelerate the introduction of incentives to support the maintenance of trees on the Significant Tree Register, for consideration in our budget deliberations for 2024/25.”