It was a day of high emotion as work on removing the iconic ‘‘bum tree’’ on Gerroa Road finally began on Thursday.
There were protests, tears, anger, chanting and cheers of support for the protesters and loud honking of horns from passing motorists, as well as words of admonishment at demonstrators and anger directed at contractors undertaking the work.
Between 30 and 40 protesters lined the edge of Gerroa Road, while others surrounded the base of the bum tree to try to stop its impending removal.
Two teenagers, Meg O’Connor from Shoalhaven Heads and Tarni Cunningham of Gerroa, arrived at the site about 6am and tied themselves to the base of the tree with rope.
They were later joined by Alison Darling, Jenny Rich, Linda Tiltsen and Jann Walsh.
Contract crews from local firm A and D Tree Services arrived along with a giant crane which was placed in the northbound lane to help with the removal of the large upper branches of the bum tree and the large blackbutt alongside it.
The two 18-year-olds were untied from their position and removed in tears by police, while their older counterparts remained at the base of the tree.
A stand-off ensued, contractors waiting to start work as police negotiated with the quartet, amid calls of shame from fellow protesters.
In the end three of the protesters agreed to leave the site, albeit under duress, while Ms Darling stood her ground, eventually being escorted away by police to a waiting paddy wagon amid cheers and jeers.
Although not officially arrested she was told she was “removed for her own safety” and if she returned to the bum tree she would be arrested.
Work started with the contractors using a cherry picker to reach the upper branches of the large tree with the crane enlisted to lower the cut limbs to the ground.
To howls of protest including the chant of “Shame, Shoalhaven City Council, Shame”, “Shame, Joanna Gash, Shame”, and another colourful but telling ditty directed at the Mayor and Gilmore MP Ann Sudmalis, the work continued, with the removed limbs shredded through a chipper.
Wildlife Rescue South Coast members checked a number of branches for any possible animals.
The protesters’ worst fears were realised when a large hollow limb had a red bag placed over its end before being removed; an animal was clearly seen to jump from the log into the bag.
The limb was quickly lowered to the ground and the animal removed, while another in the hollow was also eventually removed from its hiding place.
The animals, which Wildlife Rescue South Coast members said were endangered greater gliders, a mother and a juvenile, were removed to a nearby location for care.
It is planned to relocate them back into the Seven Mile Beach National Park, in the hollow log from which they were removed, which will also be placed back into a tree in the park.
Work was delayed for over an hour but restarted and again two more animals were located in another hollow branch, this time believed to be sugar gliders.
Gerroa Environment Protection Society (GEPS) president Warren Holder, who has headed up the protest, likened watching its lopping to witnessing the harpooning of a majestic whale.
“It is such a large, significant creature,” he said.
“Here today, gone tomorrow. It is just so sad.”
Councillor wants council sacked
Shoalhaven City Councillor Jim McCrudden has called on the Local Government Minister to sack Shoalhaven City Council over the bum tree issue.
Mr McCrudden believes an administrator should be appointed.
“I believe council should be sacked over this, the handling of the whole process.
“The actual removal of the bum tree is only one part of it.
“I was actually focused on the loss of canopy in the area but when the matter came up at council all we had was the tender to approve.
“I questioned about the lack of community consultation and moved a motion to try to get some but it was defeated and just swept away.
“The federal black spot funding calls for widespread consultation – it hasn’t happened.
“We never received an environmental report into the matter.’’
Shoalhaven Mayor Joanna Gash said Cr McCrudden could take whatever action he decided.
“Mr McCrudden has made a number of accusations. He tried to stop this work with the threat of a legal injunction but wasn’t able to do that,’’ she said.
“I think he should do what he feels he has to.”