Dude Where’s My Tree: A Canberra story of discovery out of tragedy

By Lucy Dingwall

On the 6th of May 2022, Sita and I were shocked to discover that our favourite tree in Canberra had suddenly disappeared. We immediately took to social media to express our shock and horror. There, we were met with an outpouring of support. We were encouraged to uncover what really happened to the tree in front of the High Court of Australia, uncovering the stories behind some of Canberra's most iconic trees along the way.

Queen Elizabeth II tree at the High Court
This was was the tree that went missing one fateful night in May. It was an (admittingly dying) eucalypt planted by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on the 9th of May 1988 out the front of the High Court as part of her visit for the opening of Parliament House. As dedicated Canberra guides, we, of course, investigated and found the tree had much history. It had been stolen the night of its planting (possibly by an anti-monarchist protestor) and a new tree planted in its place by the caretaker!

Queen Elizabeth II tree at the High Court, 2021
Almost 34 years to the day, the tree went missing. After an unsuccessful investigation (there is a reason we're tour guides and not private investigators), we turned to the pros at Riot Act to find out what really happened. It turns out the National Capital Authority removed the tree because it "was dead and had to be replaced for safety reasons". You can read the rest of their investigation findings here.

This got me thinking – maybe I should expand my scope of Canberra tree knowledge? Fill the open wound in my heart with a new fave? As it turns out Canberra is full of trees with deep roots in history (probably to the surprise of no one, so Canberra) and whilst my heart is fulfilled – now there’s too many to choose from!

Queen Elizabeth II tree no more, 2022
Scarred trees
There are many ‘scarred’ trees across Canberra, the locations known to the Ngunnawal and Ngambri peoples. Scarring is a traditional Aboriginal custom of carving into the bark of a native tree to create a cultural item for ceremony, leaving behind a design on the tree. In 2022, the National Gallery of Australia commissioned Dr Matilda House and Paul Girrawah House of the Ngambri-Ngunnawal people to carry out a tree scarring ceremony. The aim was for these scarred trees to become part of their Sculpture Gardens collection. This is an accessible and tangible example of this custom and acknowledges the Ngunnawal and Ngambri peoples maintained a connection to the land, as they have for thousands of years. You can read more here.

Sculpture Gardens, National Gallery of Australia, 2022
The spirit of our Ancestors and old people is in the trees. Trees help anchor our identity and belonging to Country – they hold knowledge, nurture and maintain the wellbeing of our people, plants and animals. Trees help maintain lore and custom. The old growth trees in the Parliamentary Triangle help keep the peace. They are our physical and spiritual guardians. They tell us how to be on Country. It’s a story that is part of truth-telling. (…) The contemporary marking of trees on Country and in the Parliamentary Triangle, which includes the National Gallery Sculpture Garden, is about many things, including the ‘right of might’ approach – a right for our Ancestors and families to be acknowledged, respected and honoured.
Paul House
National Arboretum – the must-do for the who’s who
The National Arboretum (Australia’s tree museum) is home to over 50 trees planted by Heads of State, Heads of Government, Governors-General and Royalty, current and former Australian Prime Ministers and Australian Governor-Generals. They can be found by walking along the Central Valley Spine. Is this our Hollywood Walk of Fame?

The first one planted was a Prunus x yedoensis, Yoshino cherry, by His Excellency Mr Takaaki Kojima, the Ambassador of Japan, on the 27th of July 2007. This collection of trees will continue to grow into a beautiful shady walk representing not only a diversity of trees but a diversity of people from all around the world.
There is also a space for trees to be dedicated to ‘Australian Heroes’; some existing examples include a Brachychiton acerifolius, Flame Tree, planted for musician Jimmy Barnes and a Araucaria cunninghamii, Hoop Pine, for basketballer Lauren Jackson. This is my new life goal – except I’ll need a new career that has a suitable tree specie pun.
See the full map here.

National Arboretum, Molonglo Valley, 2022
Out in the parks
You may have even walked past a ‘famous’ tree a hundred times without realising it!

‘The Duke’ as it is lovingly referred to is a large Quercus robur, English Oak, at York Park on the corner of Capital Circle and King’s Avenue, planted by the Duke of York in 1927 to mark the opening of Old Parliament House. The Duchess, at the same time, planted a Salix alba caerulea, Cricket Bat Willow, where Forest Primary School is now.

Nara Peace Park in Yarralumla has a second-generation A-Bombed Gingko tree, a descendant of one of the six Gingko trees to have survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan in 1945. This was gifted to the Australian National University by Green Legacy Hiroschima to mark the park’s 75th Anniversary. Read more here.

As for the oldest trees it is thought that the Eucalyptus melliodora, Yellow Box, on Tuggeranong Hill Nature Reserve are over 500 years old.
If this has inspired you, you can register a tree on the ACT Tree Register, or see what has made the list near you here.

Have fun tree searching, and let us know what else you find!

The Duke, York Park, 2022