Pesky mall gum trees cause one final misadventure for Wollongong council

Going down with a fight: Ripping out the roots of Crown Street Mall's gum trees caused havoc on Thursday, as council crews burst a water pipe. Picture: Robert Peet.
Going down with a fight: Ripping out the roots of Crown Street Mall's gum trees caused havoc on Thursday, as council crews burst a water pipe. Picture: Robert Peet.

The last of Crown Street Mall’s troublesome gum trees will soon be gone, ripped out and replaced after nearly five years of mishaps.

But it seems the pesky blighters, which were planted in 2013 and finally deemed a policy failure by council bureaucrats earlier this year, were not letting go without one final calamity.

On Thursday morning, as crews worked to remove gums positioned next to the council’s new public art/rock playground, a pipe burst and caused water to gush through the mall and run down Kembla Street.

A council spokeswoman said the pipe had been “unfortunately ruptured as a gum trees’ root structure was extracted from the ground”.

By 1.30pm, she said “the water has been turned off, repairs are underway to fix the pipe, and council’s crews are cleaning the area around the site”.

“It’s anticipated the repairs will be completed shortly,” she said.

The council is replacing the trees with deciduous Japanese elms and native Weeping Lilli Pilli trees.

In February, the council released the results of a lengthy review into why the trees had failed to thrive and kept blowing down in strong winds.

The review panel, made up of council staff and outside experts, found  the “strong summer reflective heat” of the mall saw them grow at 2.5 times the rate they would in their normal habitat. 

Additionally, the watering system installed during the mall construction “meant the roots didn’t need to spread out to reach a water supply”. 

Also, the tree grates on the ground restricted air flow to the soil and roots and the soil used to plant them was not dense enough to provide a solid foundation for the roots.