Meet: David Lawry, director, Avenues of Honour
Photo - Glenn Williams
David Lawry has a simple, grand idea – that the life of every Australian killed in combat is commemorated in a living tree. Robin Powell spoke with him about bringing the vision to life.
Tell us about the Avenue of Honour project.
In 2004 we set out with a vision of honouring all of those who have died through conflicts through the planting of a tree, in an avenue of trees. We are starting off by identifying existing avenues – we have discovered 700 so far and expect to find more - assessing their condition, and working up rescue plans where necessary, rather than rushing to plant new ones.
What inspired you to do this?
I was born on Anzac Day, in 1948. So I have always had a strong interest in commemoration. My only uncle, my mother’s only brother, died in the WWI, right at the end. Anzac Day was mixed emotions for my mother– I was born, but she lost her brother. I’m also a nurseryman, with a great respect for trees, and that comes into it too.
Mont Park, Macleod, Victoria. Photo - Glenn Williams
Why avenues of trees?
The losses of World War I were so immense. Many country towns were grieving for decades. The major commemorative efforts were in stone – arches and buildings
and obelisks, but the most financially accessible form of commemoration for many places was an avenue of trees. People could mark the loss of life
through the living presence of trees.
What’s happening with the project at the moment?
The emphasis coming up to the centenary is on the 60,000 killed in WWI. The focus tends to be on Gallipoli and the 8000 who died there, and I’d like to shift that a bit to what happened on the Western Front, and the 50,000 Australians who died there. Our plan is for an avenue in France, with 500 trees – one tree representing 100 men. It would be six kilometres of Australian trees, making a clear mark on the French landscape. The vision is big, but the community response is very strong.
Wallace St, Beeac, Victoria. Photo - Glenn Williams
One of the fundraising activities for the avenues project is the Gallipoli Rosemary. Tell us a bit about that.
Back in the ‘80s I was working, ripping out gardens in the Repatriation Hospital in Adelaide. The gardener there pointed out the rosemary. I may have been a native nurseryman, but I recognised rosemary! Anyway he told me the story. The rosemary had been brought back to the Keswick barracks by a soldier who had served at Gallipoli and who had plucked it from the hillside. It grew into a hedge and sprigs were used for commemoration. When the new repat hospital was built in the ‘50s, cuttings were used to make a new hedge, and that was what I was ripping out.
So I took the plants back to my nursery – and much to my colleagues’ consternation - started propagating something that wasn’t a native. We have now handed the plants over to APG, which is growing and marketing them so you can buy them in nurseries and garden centres all over the country. For every Gallipoli Rosemary sold, Avenues of Honour receives fifty cents. So I urge you to go and plant a Gallipoli rosemary hedge!
Ellerslie, Victoria. Photo - Glenn Williams
You can find out more about Avenues of Honour at www.avenuesofhonour.org