Stat dec to Clarence Council

(This is an accurate account of a conversation between George Nowak CVC, and myself on the 27th August 2009, transcribed on the afternoon of his departure & the following morning, without embellishment or fabrication. This is my statement for a statutory declaration I am providing Mr Nowak’s supervisor).

Sometime in late July 2009 during roadworks on corner of Villiers & Bacon St, a CVC employee noticed the street trees outside my house. George Nowak subsequently telephoned me on 26 August & left a message identifying himself and said “I need to organise a meeting with you about your house at 78 Bacon St”.  He then visited me at home on the afternoon of 27 August 2009. He commenced the conversation by saying: “Those trees out the front, they’ve got to go.”

I said “Why? It’s a nature strip isn’t it? Trees are part of nature & they provide food and habitat for all the birds around here.”

He said “They’re not approved by council, you shouldn’t have planted them”.

I replied “well since the council leaves it to the residents to maintain, this is how I choose to maintain it. It’s better than mowing it.”

He talked on about that area being Council land and I shouldn’t have planted the trees.

I responded that at least one, possibly two were planted by CVC about 15 years ago, just like all the others up & down the street. I only bought the place in November 2006, complete with Council certification, and the trees beautify the area which was one of the attractions for me buying the place, so it’s a bit late now.”

He replied “They’re impeding the drainage. They’ve got to go.”
I said “I don’t know who told you that George, but that’s not correct, they’re not a problem”. He then repeated his claim about the drainage and added “we need to get a machine in there to clean the drains out.”
I said “the drain is only a foot wide, you can do that with a shovel.”
He said “no-one cleans drains with a shovel anymore. It has to drain from the street. We have to use a machine”
I said “Well I do, I’ve been cleaning it out with a shovel since I’ve lived here. I make sure the drains aren’t blocked, the water flows, and any ponding at the culverts here is no worse than any ponding anywhere else in the street – come around after rain and see for yourself if you want to claims like that. Have you ever been here after rain? And anyway, Council’s done no maintenance on the drains here for at least 15 years, they don’t to, because they work perfectly.”

I went on to say “How about this, as long as I own this place, I undertake to keep the drains clear and flowing.” [which I have done]

Mr Nowak then said “They’re going to grow into the powerlines.”
I replied, “No they’re not, let’s go down and have a look.”
He pointed to a number of trees, saying “those ones have got to go, you shouldn’t have planted them”.
I said “I didn’t plant them, look at the size of them, I’ve only been here about two and a half years, some of them would have to be 10 years old. I admit, I wouldn’t have planted that one in that spot, but it doesn’t affect the drainage, and it’s not going to grow into the powerlines. It’s a Tristianopsis laurina or water gum – but it’s not a gum tree.”  Then I added, “In the Newcastle City Council area, where I used to work, they actually plant them as street trees now, because they found they only need to be lopped or pruned once and they change their shape forever. They’re actually great for under the lines. We did some planting for them back in the mid-90s”
He then pointed at 2 others and said “that’s a Tuckeroo and that’s a lilly-pilly, they’ve got to go, they’ll both grow into the lines.”
I replied, “No George, you’re wrong on both counts – that one’s Arytera divaricata, common name Coogera; and that one’s Cryptocarya laevigata or glossy laurel. I selected them because they’re both small, bird-dispersed local rainforest trees that will never reach the lines. This is the sort of trees that everyone should be planting to help beat the bird-dispersed weed problems like we’ve got on Susan Island. This is what you guys at Council should be doing everywhere around town, not planting weeds like that one over there.” [being golden rain tree – Koelreuteria elegans].
He said “Cryptocarya laevigata. That’s one of the ones they recommend to plant as replacements for camphor laurel.”
I said “do you mean that species list in the camphor laurel control kit?
He said “yes”
I said “Well, I wrote that. There’s actually several species of Cryptocarya, and that is the smallest of them. The only similarity it has is that it produces fruit for birds.” I showed him a nearby tuckeroo (planted prior to my purchase of the property), and said “this is a Tuckeroo, see the difference? There’s actually two Tuckeroos here, I’ll take both of them out, as well as all those two (pointing to Alectryon coriaceus) they’re all coastal species, I wouldn’t have planted them here.” He asked what species a few of the others were, and I agreed that only one (Livistonia australis – cabbage tree palm, offset from the lines by 2m) might have the potential to get that big. I then said, “but even if that were to happen George, we won’t have to worry about it cause it will take about 50 years, it’s the slowest growing one of the lot. I actually planted that one, not just because it’s a local fruiting species for the birds and the flying foxes, but because the drunks had ripped out some by the roots a few times & I thought if they wanted to rip that one out in the dark, it’ will fight back. Just a way of protecting them from vandals.”

I then explained to him that contractors from Asplundh (a vegetation management company contracted by Country Energy) were here only 2 weeks ago, and we inspected the plantings together, and I asked their opinion. They made it quite clear that they didn’t think they were a problem, and even added comments along the lines of “we’re not worried about those, and even if they’re going to be a problem, they’ve got a long way to go yet and they’re pretty slow growing. We’ll be coming around each year anyway. Country Energy has contract with us to maintain the lines.” I then said, “it doesn’t even sound like its Council’s problem to me. Country Energy pays these people to do it, and as far as they’re concerned it’s not a problem. They even delivered all that woodchip mulch for free [about 1 tonne] a couple of days after their inspection!”

Despite that, Mr Nowak then said, “Well I wouldn’t like you to come home and find all your trees gone.”
I replied “That should never happen George.  I doubt they’ll ever be a problem, but anyway, if it keeps you happy, just like the drains, I undertake to maintain all of these trees while ever I own this place to make sure they don’t foul the lines.”

After further brief conversation I added “I know trees. I chose them because they’re local species & because of their characteristics. They’re not a problem.” I then asked him “what about the Koelreuteria over there? The golden rain trees that Council planted, they’re one of the weediest species around and have been on the national weed Red Alert list for at least 15 years. When are you going to take them out? I get hundreds come up in my yard each year, and so does everybody else around here. It’s about time you removed them isn’t it?”  
He replied “we’ve got other weed priorities.”

Mr Nowak then said, “And what about the parking? You’ve lost a parking space.”
I said “well, that’s my problem, I’m not worried about it, there’s still plenty of parking around here – enough for 4-5 cars and that is only one parking space. Like I said, there were already plenty of trees here when I bought the place. No-one’s parked there for 10 years.”

Mr Nowak then said, “And then there’s the issue of pedestrian safety.”  (!!!!!)
I said “Interesting that you should mention that George, because one of the reasons I planted these two here & that Lomandra is because a friend who came around to visit me nearly broke his leg when he stepped off the side into that drain just on dark one time. It’s a two foot drop! I thought if I planted these things here, that would never happen again, so don’t talk to me about pedestrian safety when there’s no footpath, and no street lights on this side of the street. That’s ridiculous!”
He said “no, safety for people walking past.”
I said “what do you mean?”
He said, “Assaults. We had an incident in a South Grafton street recently where someone was hiding in the bushes and ambushed a pedestrian.”
I replied, “Well, streetlights would fix that.”
He said, “No it happened in broad daylight. Someone could hide in there.”
I said, “If someone wanted to do that, there’s plenty of other places they can hide around here. I think you’re clutching at straws.”

After further brief discussion I promised to “thin them out, and take all the coastal stuff.”  Within thirty minutes of Mr Novak’s departure, I had removed 5 trees (3 tuckeroos & 2 beach birds eyes), as well as pruned the Lomandra back to ground level. I never heard from Mr Novak again, and naturally assumed he had been satisfied with the work I completed, as we agreed.

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