Old Survey Trees

A study of old survey heritage trees bearing the marks of past surveyors  has attracted a lot of interest and responses from the community.

surveytree_pSpooner60Since the call went out to landholders and the community in the Greater Hume, Lockhart and Corowa shires for assistance in finding these trees, the researchers have located 67 trees throughout the region.

“We’ve had a lot of community interest in the project, which has resulted in the discovery of many trees of historic importance,” said Dr Peter Spooner, who leads the project Survey heritage trees: an assessment of their abundance, condition and history, (2013-2014).

“Although not every landholder was successful, it was clear that many were out there looking for old survey trees on their properties.  So I thank those farmers who spent some time searching for these trees. Due to the ravages of time, unfortunately, many of the markings on the trees have either decayed or grown over, so no wonder it was quite difficult for many farmers to locate them.”

The first part of the project [funded by Slopes To Summit and the NSW Environmental Trust] was to locate the old survey trees, many of which have heritage values, has been completed.

Dr Peter Spooner with a Heritage survey tree

Dr Peter Spooner with a Heritage survey tree

“We’ve now moved into the next phase of the project, to investigate the history of these trees,” said Dr Spooner. CSU Honours student Jake Shoard is assisting Dr Spooner in describing the biophysical aspects of each tree i.e. what condition the tree is in, where it is, what patterns have been discovered, and using historic records and maps, ascertain its history.

“Where possible we want to develop a narrative or story to each tree,” said Dr Spooner. “Land and Property Information (LPI) [a division of the NSW Office of Finance and Services] have provided a huge amount of in-kind assistance in helping us identify why the trees were marked and also with some aspects of their histories.”

To do this the department has provided the researchers with the original land portion plans, some of which date back to the 1870s. “By accessing these plans, we have been able to verify the markings on each tree, when they were marked, and why,” said Dr Spooner.

Dr Spooner  is also grateful for the assistance provided by many interested current and retired surveyors working in various government departments and elsewhere in NSW. “These folks played an important role in the development of the country, and many have great stories to tell, which they are keen to share,” said Dr Spooner.

The researchers have identified different groups of trees, some of which they anticipated, and some of which they didn’t. “The main group identified are corner reference trees or permanent markers, which were normally blazed  at each corner of a paddock,” said Dr Spooner.

“We have found quite a few of these, but unfortunately, many have succumbed to the ravages of time, with markings very hard to decipher. With eucalypts in particular, the blaze and markings have grown over or deteriorated to such an extent that you just can’t read them anymore.
However on other species such as murray pines, some of the markings have preserved surprisingly well.”

Where the researchers have been able to read the markings on the tree, they have been able to accurately date when the survey took place.

“Another group of trees possessing the markings ‘BM’, which stands for benchmark, and other numbers inscribed, initially caused puzzlement for the research team,” said Dr Spooner. “The reason was the numbering did not align to any known plans or maps.  However landholders had reported many of these trees occurring along roadsides in the Corowa-Savernake-Berrigan area.

“With assistance from staff from NSW State Water, we’ve now identified that a number of these trees date back to 1932 when surveys were conducted to develop irrigation in this area.

“These ‘BM’ trees are common in the area because the surveyors had to accurately survey the lie and fall of the land to plot the path of proposed channels, as well as plan for expected flooding. As a result, a grid work of these ‘BM’ marked trees were marked almost every mile or so in the irrigation districts. From the evidence we have obtained from this project, it would appear that many of these trees still survive in varying conditions.”

A third group of trees has been loosely grouped as “trees for very specific purposes.”

“These are survey trees that have been marked for purposes such as trig stations, or boundaries of other specific land-uses such as roads or cemeteries,” said Dr Spooner.
“We’ve also located some unusual markings on trees along in Travelling Stock routes, and along the Murray River, which are still under investigation, but potentially link back to early surveys in the 1860-70s.”

The researchers are still documenting the trees’ histories. Once this phase is completed Dr Spooner intends to get back to the landholders who participated in the project and share with them the stories of the trees on their properties.

“These trees are living heritage,” said Dr Spooner.  “In rural areas, old survey trees serve as one of the few remaining physical legacies of its land settlement history.  It is vital that we record the location and characteristics of old survey trees before they, and the stories they tell, are lost forever. This information may be used to assist in the development of cultural heritage or eco tours of particular council areas, to share the stories and history of land settlement in NSW.”

About ilwscsu
The Institute for Land, Water and Society is one of four Centres of Research Excellence within Charles Sturt University, Australia. Its principal focus is on integrated research which contributes to improved social and environmental sustainability in rural and regional areas.

5 Responses to Old Survey Trees

  1. I live at Limbri n.s.w.. This morning I found an old surveyors mark cut into an old iron bark tree. The marks are clearly legible a kings head arrow at the tod then lower the letter F then lower again the numerals 150. Limbri is located 30 ks north of Tamworth at the junction of the Woolbrook and Weeabonga Rds Please assist me in keeping this heritage mark. The tree is well hidden Thankyou Richard Burford.

  2. Ian Andrews says:

    An old Burke and Wills tree has been found in western NSW that was placed in 1860. Regards , Ian PS Email me if you are interested

    • slg180 says:

      Hi Ian, I have been told whilst the survey marker dated 1807 have gone, & possibility burnt, there are at least 2 more in Appin dated 1812, a aboriginal elder knows where they are, but very protective, of there whereabouts, however if the Developers, wins the way, this whole area of Appin will be bulldozed. I am still in contact with him, so once I find out more information I will let you know. Kind regards Sue

  3. ilwscsu says:

    In regards to your concerns about survey trees

    These trees sounds old – if you can still read the markings that would make them clearly significant.
    IN terms of your question, the first stop is the council, to discuss with them the issue. As part of a development consent, items which are significant in terms of culturally heritage (which these are) or other issues of environment impact should be addressed and suitably protected.

    I suggest you seek an urgent meeting with the council to hold development until these items are assessed (the developer will need to do this) Otherwise, depending where you are and what land it is (crown or private), another option is to chat to NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service – local office. They could steer you towards the local heritage conservation officers.

    Best wishes, Peter Spooner

    PS Can you send me photos?

  4. Sue Gay says:

    Hi This may seems very strange request, i I live in Appin NSW, a tree such as above photo,was destroyed by a developer, it was dated 1807, it had the longitude and latitude inscribed on it. I have been told that there are still quite a few still in the area, 2 in particular are dated 1811. If I am able to locate these historical pieces, what can I do to protect them from developers. Look forward to your reply. Kind regards Sue

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