Two trees which have held generations of Wollongong children in their branches were hacked at by vandals overnight on Wednesday night and are unlikely to be able saved.
Wollongong City Council said the gnarled native tea trees, which have grown for decades behind the children's playground at Belmore Basin, had their branches sawn off with only their trunks remaining.
The council and police are reviewing CCTV of the area to try to catch the vandals, who may also be liable for breaching the NSW Heritage Act as the trees are regarded as "highly significant" and within a state heritage precinct.
Kids love nothing more than to climb the twisted trunks and the bark has been smoothed by many feet and shoes over the years.
The council said foreshore crews were confronted by the "significant damage" early on Thursday, with the vandalism so extensive that council arborists did not believe they could be saved.
Wollongong Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery labelled the vandalism "distressing".
"These were beautiful trees that had been climbed upon by many, many children and had provided shade and amenity to this much-loved area," he said.
"I can assure the community the council is working closely with NSW Police to investigate this illegal action thoroughly.''
The community has also reacted with outrage, with hundreds of people commiserating over an "irreplaceable part of history gone".
Many parents have shared memories about the much-loved natural landmarks, remembering "the patina on the trunks of the trees from generations of kids playing on them".
"I have such happy memories of my (now grown) kids playing in those trees," Emma Gee wrote on Facebook.
Another mother called the vandalism "devastating", saying "my son is a tree climber but much of a park goer, unlike his sister, so we often come here so they can both enjoy their favourite things. Hope you can find the culprits and save the beautiful trees".
"These tea trees are iconic to the area, a favourite for children to clamber about and for shelter,' Tess Kanschat wrote. "What a horrible and selfish act to damage them like this, I hope the people that did this are found, fined and have their names and faces shown to the public."
The trees are within the Wollongong Harbour State Heritage Precinct and were retained during the redevelopment of the Brighton Lawn precinct in 2008 as they were recognised as highly significant native trees.
"Anyone familiar with these trees will know how they just draw children to their branches," Cr Bradbery said.
"Kids love nothing more than to climb the twisted trunks and the bark has been smoothed by many feet and shoes over the years."
In addition to providing information to NSW Police on the vandalism, the council has also reported it to Heritage NSW, as it is believed the vandalism will constitute a breach of the NSW Heritage Act 1977.
"Tree vandalism is, and continues to be a problem across this city,'' Cr Bradbery.
"If anyone has any information about this incident - or in fact any others - I ask them to contact the council or NSW Police and share what they know.
"It is not right that one individual or individuals can ruin the beauty of an area that's loved by so many, so please if you know something tell us or the NSW Police."
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