Artist Mike Hewson is hopeful his controversial 'palm up the pole' installation will be nursed back to life after it almost went up in flames on New Years Day.
The New Zealand artist worked tirelessly for months to design, fabricate and install the $430,000 public art piece in the Crown Street Mall in March 2018.
Mr Hewson said he hopes the advanced automatic irrigation system installed on top of the cabbage tree palm will save the city's most talked about tree.
"Part of the design was to make it look lazy and simple, but there's an incredible amount of infrastructure and design that had to go into making the trees function," Mr Hewson, who is also a civil engineer, explained.
"All the trees used were rescue trees meaning they were saved ahead of a scheduled logging operation.
"The youngest of the trees in the mall would be 70 years old and the one up the pole was around 100 years so they are very special.
"When creating artwork in public settings we try to design things that are robust and resilient and the installation had worn well so far as it was still looking fresh.
"It's pretty disappointing and I really hope there's an opportunity for the tree to be nursed back to health."
Police said an unknown male was seen setting off fireworks at the base of the installation, while Crown Street Mall security staff reported a man threw a firecracker at the tree.
The blaze was quickly extinguished after the first call was made to Fire and Rescue NSW about 12.15am on January 1, with just one truck attending.
Most of the Cabbage Tree palm appeared unscathed, although the base holding its roots was damaged; however, the extent of the damage to the tree is unknown and arborists will now inspect its health.
"I've had a lot of people contact me since the fire showing lots of support and sympathy," Mr Hewson said.
"Of course a lot of people have had other ideas and things to say but that's all part of being an artist.
"I didn't take the attack personally as its not my thing anymore - it's Wollongong's.
Wollongong Council have barricaded the area around the base of the pole and police are investigating the incident.
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