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Victory for the Blue Gum High Forest

Play  The Blue Gum Forest battle has been won!
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Nancy Pallin celebrates the final resolution of a very long campaign to save the Blue Gum High Forest at St Ives in Sydney’s north and outlines the reasons that community action was ultimately successful.

The Blue Gum High Forest takes its name from the very tall blue gums, (30 metres high) but the forest also contains other trees such as blackbutt and grey ironbark. It has an open canopy, allowing sunlight to reach ground level where it supports a variety of ferns, creepers, shrubs and she-oaks. Part of the forest was bought by the state government in the 1920s but when the Forestry Commission decided that it was too expensive and not quite what they wanted, some of that purchase was revoked. This in turn led to a community campaign that resulted in the (then Killara) Council agreeing to purchase the land known as Brown’s Forest in 1934.
Left: Ferns abound in this tranquil setting, where bird chatter and song are the only sounds to be heard even though the busy six lane Mona Vale Road runs along one of the forest perimetres. All photos are from the St Ives Blue Gum High Forest and provided by Nancy Pallin.


However one significant hectare remained in private hands and the owners refused to sell. Although they had intended selling the timber, fortunately the trees were never felled.  Things stayed that way for a very long time. By the 1980s, after the owners had died and the land had been onsold, developers saw the potential for subdivision and building dwellings.  However the development applications remained unsuccessful right up to the year 2000 with considerable interest and activity from community groups and from the council.
Right: The St Ives Blue Gum High Forest is the best remaining remnant of this great forest that once covered all the ridges in the northern part of Sydney, marching down the hillsides to Middle Cove. 
The y did not last long following settlement. Their mightly trunks became pylons for piers and structural supports in city buildings.

By this time, there were new owners who again decided to apply for development approval and the whole saga was resurrected.  The main stumbling block to saving the land by bringing it into public ownership was its very high cost. No level of government was willing to pay the asking price of over $2 million in order to preserve the land permanently. In 2003 the NSW Department of Planning said that the land did not have any particular ecological value and later that same year Ku-ring-ai Council almost agreed to a development application.

Not for the first time it was local community members who stepped in and formed a coalition from 12 community groups, ultimately becoming known as the Blue Gum High Forest Group. In an important step, they began researching the forest, uncovering its historical significance and making submissions to the commonwealth government to have the forest listed nationally. The group was supported by $10,000 given to them by Ku-ring-ai Council who also wanted a resolution.

The research led to information campaigns, forest excursions and a letter writing campaign in order to increase the community’s level of understanding. In 2007 an application was made to the Natural Reserve System, a federally funded body designed to help in the purchase of land for conservation. The application was successful with $150,000 being approved, this amount later being raised to $350,000. This sparked some serious community fundraising which raised $72,000.
A 2004 application to have the Blue Gum High Forest listed as critically endangered under the Commonwealth Conservation Act was also successful. All of these factors combined were enough to convince council to put in the rest of the money, reaching the asking price of about $1.1 million on the remaining land.

The St Ives Blue Gum High Forest, the best example of this kind of forest in the world, is now secure.     
Information signs have already been placed by National Parks and Wildlife staff and children from local schools are being taken on guided walks through the forest. The campaign serves as a model of community action. The success is a tribute not only to the dedicated and hard working community groups or to the generous donors but equally to the continued support the campaign received from the Kuring-gai Council over so many years.

Other sites where Blue Gum High Forest ecological community occurs are: Chatswood High School, Sheldon Forest in Turramurra, Maddison and Blackbutt Reserve in Pymble, Turiban Reserve, Clive Evatt Reserve and Wahroonga 'Bush' School in Wahroonga, various small parks in Hornsby Local Government area and part of the Cumberland Forest at Pennant Hills.

Text V.B.  April 2008

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