Albury City's Birthday Tree Saved

The Argus, Melbourne

17 November 1953

Amazing operation saved city's birthday tree. One hundred and twenty-nine years ago today William Hovell carved his name and the date on a red gum at a spot which is now on the outskirts of the city of Albury.

With a party led by young Hamilton Hume and himself, the explorer had the evening before, November 16, 1824, discovered the Murray River, on their first overland journey to Port Phillip.

The famous Hovell Tree would also long since have passed into history but for a remarkable life-saving feat of tree surgery.

About 35 years ago great anxiety was felt for the tree. It was feared that it would die off and rot away. A former curator of Albury Parks and Gardens, the late Mr. J. E. R. Fellowes, discovered that the tree was in a very bad state of health.

It was badly infected with two types of parasite - Loranthus or Australian mistletoe, and one of a stoloniferous growth. Mr. Fellowes cut the tree back severely and cleaned off the parasite.

Finding the large branches hollow, he dressed the cuts with coal tar to preserve the wood, and covered the ends with galvanised iron to keep the weather out.

Removal of another section revealed that the centre of the tree was decayed and infested with white ants. The decay was scraped out, and the hole filled with about two tons of cement.

While the tree was being cleaned, portion of Hovell's original marks were found. They were too faint to be preserved. Since then the tree has grown over the concrete. The old tree grew so strongly after its "operation" that a band of iron, holding a tablet with a facsimile of Hovell's mark on it, snapped.

During the summer the tree is given between 200 and 400 gallons of water. General opinion is that it will live for many more years. For many years a stone kerb and an iron kerb fence have protected the historic tree.

Now Albury Council plans to beautify the area surrounding the tree. Around it will be placed a beautiful reserve of Australian trees and shrubs.

As far as possible, the trees and shrubs will be the same varieties as those mentioned by Hume and Hovell during their visit.

Today many of the trees and plants mentioned by the famous explorers have either died out or been displaced by weeds.

Rare seeds from the Hovell tree were collected in 1937 and planted in the Albury Botanic Gardens to perpetuate the memory of the two great explorers by two additional trees. Other seedlings were distributed to several districts between Sydney and Melbourne.