'UNFAIR': Castle Drive homeowners Chris and Robin Lowry copped abuse from protesters over the lobbing of a giant fig tree damaging their house but were more concerned by what was said to council staff: 'Whether you agree or not, they're just carrying out their job'.
'UNFAIR': Castle Drive homeowners Chris and Robin Lowry copped abuse from protesters over the lobbing of a giant fig tree damaging their house but were more concerned by what was said to council staff: 'Whether you agree or not, they're just carrying out their job'. Marc Stapelberg

'Rot in hell': When fig tree protest went too far

IN THE fight to save a tree, it was a step too far.

Personal details relating to the families of council staff were made public in a heated debate over the removal of a centuries-old Lennox Head fig tree.

The last of the Castle Drive tree, believed to be up to 200 years old, was cut down at the weekend.

Ballina Shire Council deputy mayor Keith Williams said at least one protester posted private information about family of a worker involved in the tree's removal on social media.

While this didn't include an overt threat, Cr Williams said the post had gone "way too far".

And it occurred against a backdrop of alleged death threats toward those who cut down the tree.

"They weren't meaning to threaten, but by disclosing details of people's families ... you've just gone a step too far," he said.

He said most people protesting were "very peaceful" and while he didn't hear any verbal threats, he was concerned with claims some protesters made death threats against staff.

"That would be something that concerns me greatly," he said.

Mayor David Wright said he was not aware of threats being made, but he said there were support services in place to assist any staff who had been affected by the ordeal.

"I will back our staff up 100 per cent," he said.

"The staff carry out instructions from either a council resolution or their manager and that's it.

"I know that they've been abused. I don't know how bad that abuse was."

Sherrie Yeomans, who runs the Facebook group Castle Drive Fig Protectors, temporarily closed down the page when things became too heated.

She said she wasn't aware of threats made to council staff.

"The CDFP page has and continues to come from a place of love and truth," she said.

Ms Yeomans said they'd like to see the fig's timber put to good use.

"We want the queen's trunk to be kept, or part of her large limbs craved into something as magnificent as she was," she said.

Chris and Robin Lowry live in one of the two homes damaged by the tree's roots.

They have not copped abuse since last week, but have condemned alleged threats against council staff and contractors.

"I feel sorry for the council workers," Mr Lowry said.

"Whether you agree or not, they're just carrying out their job.

"To abuse them is wrong. It's unfair."

Some protesters told Mr Lowry to "f***ing go and rot in hell", while another said they "wouldn't be welcome in the village".

Mr Lowry said this was "ridiculous" and hurtful.

He stressed they had loved the huge fig outside their home, and had hoped there was an alternative to its removal.

But as council staff ruled out root barriers, relocating the tree, monitoring its roots and purchasing the adjoining properties, the Lowrys accepted it would be removed.

"If we didn't own this house, there'd be someone else here with exactly the same problem," he said.

While the council allowed subdivisions too close to the tree three decades ago, he commended the present-day council for the larger exclusion zones in place at new Lennox estate Epiq.

Robin Lowry empathised with the protesters, but said they had to take an evidence-based approach.

"There's emotion, which I understand," she said.

"We're upset about it being cut down but we know it's realistically the only thing that could happen because of the evidence of damage, and continued damage.

"The roots were going to keep growing.

"The emotion is that everybody loves the tree.

"I'm sorry for everybody that's upset about the tree coming down because I am one of them.

"I'm also persuaded by the evidence."

A council spokeswoman said staff would plant a "mature native species without an invasive root system structure" on the site.

"The particular species has not been determined yet," she said.

She said the original subdivision, approved in 1980, "did not provide a suitable buffer between the fig tree (on council land) and the newly-created private lots".

"Since that time, changes have been made to planning controls and the way council assesses proposals that involve mature trees," she said.