Saturday, December 31, 2016

How old is a scar tree?

Aboriginal Scar trees are a diminishing archaeological resource. Those still in existence are generally more than 150 years old in Victoria. Continuing Aboriginal traditions of course, mean that culturally scarred or carved trees may still be created in traditional ways, but the record of the past, the trees that existed prior to the impact or invaders on the indigenous population, is rapidly being lost.  There are a few mechanism's for this - both natural and human-induced. Land clearing, timber cutting,  and increased burning were all brought about by the invaders, and probably accounts for the vast majority of scarred trees being removed. These impacts are continuing, either because of lack of knowledge about where the trees are or why they are worth keeping, or intentional damage by vandalism, illicit clearing, or racism-inspired acts.

But there are also natural forces at work reducing the stock of surviving scarred trees. Scars are lost both because trees die, or because the continue to live. Despite some Eucalypts being very long lived,  many are senescent in a couple of hundred years. In 400-500 years, it might be assumed that natures elements - of disease, decay, storm damage, natural fire, insect and animal damage, and just old age, will result in trees dying. Even dead a scar tree can stay in the landscape for another hundred years of more, but it will not last forever. Even the cases where tree surgery and preservation techniques are used to extend its life, the scar will still be lost. The stump in the Fitzroy Gardens is a case in point - gradually looking height and volume and sinking into the ground, despite various treatments.

In instances where the tree continues to live and is healthy, in most cases, the bark around the scar will continue to grow, gradually thickening and growing out and into the void where the earlier bark had been removed. Eventually, the two sides of the overgrowth bark will meet together and combine, leaving only a faint vertical line and some additional creasing in the bark around it to signify where the scar had been.

Here is a scar tree supposedly saved when it was relocated from Stanwell to Rockhampton Cultural Centre in Queensland.

How long does this process take? Probably not that long. A good measure is the scar tree cut on 17 November 1824, not by an aborigine, but by William Hovell, now 192 years old. In that time the scar has almost entirely sealed over, and the heartwood of the tree in which the inscription was cut, has rotted away completely. Another few decades and if the tree stays healthy, there will be only the faintest trace of where the scar once was.
So why does this matter? In another 100 years it is likely that the only scar trees left will be those in museum's or heavily restored and conserved. Natural forces will ultimately take all the rest. It is therefore imperative that some consideration is given to what is done in the mean time. Yesterday's The Age article  shows an example of well preserved scar trees at Boort, that the local Aboriginal community consider a major part of their culture and heritage. They are, however, preserved in their present dead state,because the lake was artificially flooded as part of an irrigation scheme, which killed the trees and prevented further overgrowth of bark. As they were also in a protected piece of public land, and there was no demand for their timber until, sitting as it is in permanent water, it became commercially valueless, they did not get cut down or burnt.

At least a program to identify and record them, and monitor their condition (not just the Boort trees, but all the surviving scar trees in the country) would at least let us know what we are going to lose.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Pythagoras theorem of road naming

Heritage and archaeology consultants often see the process of change in the landscape when development occurs. We occasionally can be party to the detailed internal workings and decision making processes. For example, naming streets is often a critical element of marketing a new estate. Names that entice new residents meet complex council and Geographic Place Names Register requirements, and help give the neighbourhood a sense of place are very important. Some connection to the existing and past history of the area is sometimes also sought, including Aboriginal place names, in order to respect the local history. Or else the names of the developers' children are used. However, often unrelated or just weird names get through the system, such as Kilkenny Road in the Southpark industrial estate. (this was intentional)

One oddity is Pythagoras St in Epping. During the design stage, a new road was proposed running off Harvest Home Road at an angle. This would form the third side of a triangle. The road engineer referred to it as the hypotenuse road, and this became the working name for the street. Somewhere along the way Hypotenuse Street morphed into Pythagoras Street. In the mean time, the original section of Harvest Home Road that formed the first side of the triangle was removed and open space created in its place, making the initial concept redundant. Pythagoras Street might at least still acknowledge the many Greek Island immigrants who made the Epping area their home in the 1950s. (Pythagoras was born on Samos)

Friday, December 16, 2016

Richmond Malting silos

With continuing controversy over the Richmond Malting Site - which seems to hover around replacing the 1950s/60s concrete silos and what to do with the Nylex clock on top, I am still unconvinced of the significance of the silos, and think their importance should be re-examined.
Bulk grain storage was well underway by the 1920s, and the norm by the second World War. Innovative construction methods were tried and proven by Monash/Monier, Stone and Siddeley, and others early in the 20th century and also standardised by the war. Grains other than wheat were regularly stored in the same silos and there is no particular distinction between a barley silo or one intended for other gains, apart from their history of use. obviously barley silos tend to be associated with maltings. The first concrete silos were built in about 1907 when John Monash was commissioned to erect silos at Rupunyip flour mill. This was prior to bulk transport, so the purpose was to stockpile summer harvest grain at mills for use over the year, with shipment of whet to the mill and flour away from it, still manhandled in bags. Numerous flour mill associated silos were then built across Australia. The destruction of massive stacks of bagged wheat by mice plagues gave encouragement of silos for other stages in the handling processes, particularly at ports, and for wheat-board controlled stockpiles.
Stone and Siddeley's patent for prefabrication of panels which formed the silos, was put into effect in 1910 at the Albury Flour Mills (recently demolished), while Monash again used a panel system at Minnifies mill in about 1914. The use of slip form cast reinforced concrete became fairly standard by the 1920s, and progressed to larger installations.
There has been no detailed history or comparative analysis of bulk grain handling or concrete silos in Victoria (apart from Alan Holgate's and Geoff Taplin's work specifically on Monier silos), although some work has been done in NSW. The railfans have done some work on categorising, along with railway modellers who as always have a great understanding of the intrinsic values of railway places.
The statement of significance for the place focusses on the actual malting works. The silos are considered as 'supplementary to the "...1939-40 building for storing barley..." and "...represent an early surviving example of this form of barley storage system on a sale maltster site in Victoria", for its "landmark status", its "distinctive industrial aesthetic", and "... a significant cultural iconic feature..."
However, there are more economically important, older, taller, larger capacity and equally prominent grain silos around Melbourne, while the social significance, based on a pop song and a shared folk memory of being stuck in a traffic jam on a monotonous commute and recalling the time (too early in the morning or running late to get home) and temperature (freezing winter mornings or scorching summer afternoons), has never been tested or substantiated. Equally, engineer Bruce Day's Punt Road overpass and elevated freeway could qualify as the source of motorist frustration and creator of the South-Eastern Carpark.
There are now examples of silos converted to other uses around the world, including Melbourne. Some pretty wild results have come from the understanding that one large concrete structure can provide the basis for a range of new uses. In South Africa for example a combination of converted silos and stacks of shipping containers on top has helped deal with an accommodation shortage for students.
While another set is earmarked for conversion.

Further afield even in Ecuador they are doing it.
In Holland, squatters took over a set of silos before a conversions created one of Amsterdam's most expensive sets of housing blocks -

And closer to home a recent conversion in Bunbury WA sees a very Post Modern - looking hotel -
In Ballarat -
and Hobart -
Even the very large sets, with difficult to use internal drums are finding new life such as these at Akron University.
and the Silo Student Dorms, Norway -
And as for the clock; there was another one that was demolished with little fanfare in Mentone.

Gibbons & Masters Patent Brick