ACT News

Westbourne Woods trees celebrate 100 years

The Flanagan family never intended to acquire a living piece of Canberra history when they bought their Yarralumla home seven years ago.

It was only after he called in an arborist to discuss removing one of four Italian stone pines to make space for his camper trailer that Paul Flanagan began to suspect the well-established trees may be part of the original Westbourne Woods plantings masterminded by Thomas Weston a century before.

Paul Flanagan grew up within 200 metres of Westbourne Woods.
Paul Flanagan grew up within 200 metres of Westbourne Woods.  Photo: Graham Tidy.

The 54-year-old former Treasury and overseas aid program worker, who left the public service this year, wanted to get his camper off the street.

"When the man came to look at the tree, his body language was interesting," Mr Flanagan said.

Paul Flanagan hosted a gathering of local residents and walking groups at his home,
under the shade of stone pines.
Paul Flanagan hosted a gathering of local residents and walking groups at his home, under the shade of stone pines.  Photo: Graham Tidy

"He spoke of his battle to save stone pines at Braidwood and elsewhere and, as a result, we decided to think again."

Mr Flanagan – unlike the Italian stone pine, a Canberra native – had grown up within 200 metres of Westbourne Woods and was well aware of the Weston story.


It didn't take long for him to put two and two together and realise his trees were part of a ring of pines that had been planted during the spring of 1914.

About 100 years ago, Shale Hill, as the area around the Canberra brickworks was known, echoed to the sound of blasting as Weston and his apostles used gelignite to break up the stony ground to allow the roots of the 12,400 trees planted over three weeks to penetrate.

In addition to the stone pines (Pinus pinea), Pinus radiata, Pinus halipensis and Pinus nigra were planted. More than 1600 wattles and eucalypts were planted the following year.

Weston, the superintendent of the NSW State Nursery in Campbelltown in 1913, was made officer in charge of Canberra's afforestation that year.

Working under Walter Burley Griffin, with who he occasionally sharply disagreed, he oversaw the planting of millions of trees in the ACT over the next 13 years.

Of these, almost 15,000 were planted at Westbourne Woods and and a staggering 1.2 million on Mount Stromlo between 1921 and 1924.

Mr Flanagan said it appeared blocks one, two and three of the original 1914 Weston plantings (one of Pinus radiata and two of stone pines) had been excised from the wood to make way for private development.

This may have happened in the 1970s or early 1980s.

Tony Rout and Ken Eldridge, in their 1980 book Westbourne Woods, note the trees planted in 1914 occupy part of the grounds of the CSIRO's department of forest research and the Royal Canberra Golf Club.

Mr Flanagan, who with a neighbour held an open house to mark the 100th anniversary of the woods plantings on Sunday, told Fairfax that over much of his career he had been required to "think globally".

"Now, I have got the time to `act locally'," he said.

Part of this involves a commitment to let others know of the significance of the grove and to ensure the trees see out their natural span, which could be as long as 300 years.

The pines, most commonly associated with Italy despite originating in Northern Africa, are also known as umbrella and parasol pines. Their nuts are edible. As a result, they were among the first plants known to be used and cultivated by man.

Roman soldiers included the nuts in their rations 2000 years ago.

The stone pine can grow to up to 25 metres in height.