It was a very 1950s decision - to blithely carve an eight-lane expressway through the heart of Australia's oldest garden.
''One of our loveliest and shadiest bits of roadway landscape is doomed,'' the Herald's ''Waratah'' column lamented in February 1959. ''Just think, you who have a pride in your city, how Melbourne would have reacted to a proposed slashing of its botanic gardens.''
Now, a bold plan to ''bury'' part of the Cahill Expressway is being investigated by Sydney's top cultural institutions as part of a wider scheme to revitalise the 1816 Royal Botanic Gardens and the Domain.
''They cut down the great avenue of fig trees and they cut a swathe through the cultural heart of Sydney,'' said the director of the gardens, David Mabberley. ''We have had 50 years of desecration of this place, and I think we need to look very hard at restoring it.''
This part of the Cahill Expressway runs between Macquarie Street and Woollomoloo, dividing 30 hectares of gardens from 28 hectares of the Domain. To make way, Fig Tree Avenue, a narrow, leafy roadway that was built in 1847 to connect the central business district to the Art
Gallery of NSW, went. It also ''maroons'' the grand north entrance of the Mitchell Library on the edge of the expressway.
''And the statue of Shakespeare sits alone in the middle of a traffic island,'' said the chief executive of the State Library, Alex Byrne.
Led by Professor Mabberley, discussions about burying the road took place last year between senior executives at the gardens and domain trust, the library, the Art Gallery of NSW, the Conservatorium of Music, the Opera House and the Historic Houses Trust.
The group has engaged engineering specialists at the University of Sydney's Warren Centre to help develop a plan for tunneling a new expressway underneath the existing road, in a cutting up to 10 metres deep.
The old road would then be roofed to make a continuous green space between the gardens and the domain, and give largely uninterrupted parkland between the Australian Museum and the Opera House.
The then-roofed existing roadway space could be refurbished for storage, possibly for some of the gardens' seed banks, or the library's large collection of books and manuscripts.
The senior executives readily agree the plan would take years of persuasion to put into effect - not least because, as yet, no money is available.
''I think this is a long-term vision,'' Professor Mabberley said. ''The CEOs of all these entities have got together to explore reconnecting the gardens to the Domain, and we are expecting it to be a long process.''
The proposal is one facet of a master plan being developed for the Royal Botanic Gardens in time for its bicentenary in 2016. A shortlist of local and international consultants has been drawn up to formalise the plan, with a decision due in the next few months.
Other changes include a redevelopment of the tropical plant garden as a major tourist destination, with a development application to be lodged within weeks, and closer links between the Farm Cove gardens, Mount Annan near Campbelltown and Mount Tomah in the Blue Mountains.
''The fact is this site is coming up to nearly 200 years old and has never had a master plan,'' Professor Mabberley said. ''People have had bright ideas and things have been built without having an overall picture … so we intend to create that.''