|Laman St Newcastle, September 2010|
Yesterday, though, it was all over. At 5am (breaking their own noise regulations), Council sent in the chainsaws, and despite furious protests apparently necessitating the presence of the riot squad, by the end of the day substantial portions of the trees had been removed. Laman St has been left scarred and ugly, but not nearly as ugly as the reaction to their removal. The comments section of the Newcastle Herald, along with threads on Facebook, was brimming with those triumphing over the loss of the trees. They could barely contain their malicious glee. "Chop chop! I'll be having drinks in the sun on Laman St tonight" crowed one idiot amongst hundreds of similar comments. "I'm sick of hearing about the figs" ran the refrain from people who felt the need to read and comment on every article about them. There were references to the waste of money - when the cheapest course of action would have been to leave the trees alone. Some claimed the trees were ugly - which begs the question of why they didn't stick to the thousands of streets in Newcastle without fig trees. To judge from the quality of written expression displayed, it's not like the chop-chop brigade frequent libraries or art galleries (they can't even work out no one has used axes to fell trees in many years). There was anger at the protesters for disregarding the wishes of a democratically elected council - although the figs were never an election issue; the last council elections were in 2008 and figs were not mentioned. By the same logic I hope those who want the trees down are big carbon tax supporters. Then there was the argument that the protesters should not be hindering the tree loppers and police "just trying to do their jobs".
Why is doing your job an excuse for anything? Many war crimes trials have proven that "I was just following orders" is no defence. Removing the trees is hardly on the level of a war crime, but if someone is doing something deeply wrong, in a free country we have a right to protest that. If the tree removalists had refused to cut down the trees, there would have been no problem; they didn't, they were happy to take the money to engage in this senseless vandalism; that behaviour deserves scorn not protection. Ditto the police, who could have refused to protect the tree loppers. They didn't. No one deserves to be assaulted, but standing up for what's right should take precedence over just doing your job. The police and tree loppers did not have to be there. They chose to take money to destroy the trees. Why should that be respected? Would the people who say the loppers are just doing their jobs stand aside if DoCS came to take their kids - or even merely complain if a waiter messed up their order? They're "just doing their jobs", after all.
The media coverage was, I'm sad to say, highly biased, as we get to the nasty issue of the death threats. Several of the NCC councillors who voted in favour of the trees' removal reported receiving death threats - something I'm sure any decent person, and the vast majority of those who wanted the trees to stay, would abhor. But there were threats aplenty on Facebook threads of what the cop-chop brigade wanted to do to the protesters - mostly involving axes, chainsaws and teargas. The threats were pulled from Facebook as soon as they went up, but the nasty spirit remained. The act of protesting itself was decried - Australia seems to have little tolerance for anyone protesting anything; sadly we've become a nation of sit-at-home-and-whingers instead.
The most heartbreaking aspect of it all was the destruction of the spirit in which the trees were planted. I'm sure those calling for the trees' removal would think of themselves as proud Australians who defend the ANZAC tradition. But the trees themselves were planted by ANZACS, returned WW1 veterans who intended them to be a living memorial to their lost brothers-in-arms. (Interesting blog post on this issue, including the original Newcastle Herald article, here). Why did we hear so little of this from the Herald today? Would it have tempered the schadenfreude of those who demanded the trees be gone? Or is even the desecration of a war memorial worth it to them for them to get their way?
Those who loved the trees wanted them to stay because they are beautiful, a home for wildlife, part of the city's heritage, a living war memorial, part of personal histories and no demonstrated threat to anyone. Those who wanted them gone wished to spite the people who wanted them to stay. So who is claiming the moral high ground here? The councillors and supporters who want the figs down wanted to make Laman St as heartless and ugly as they are, and congratulations, they are succeeding.
|Laman St February 1, courtesy the Newcastle Herald|