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Centenary Of Arbor Day

This is the text of Gough Whitlam’s speech at Toongabbie Public School on the Centenary of Arbor Day.

The first Toongabbie School was opened in April 1888, the second, in brick, in August 1890.

The first Arbor Day in New South Wales was held in 1890 at this school.

In 1891 the Education Department proclaimed 21 August as the official Arbor Day for all schools

I was surprised and pleased to be asked to the centenary celebration.

From 1955 to 1969 I represented the Toongabbie district in the House of Representatives.

As the school was a polling booth I visited it on seven polling days in my 14 years as candidate and member.

None of the present teachers and few of the present parents would remember me as the local member.

I know I have been asked because Doris Sargeant’s book “The Toongabbie Story” has a photograph of my wife and me at the celebration of Arbor Day at the school in 1960.

This is a clear illustration of the influence of books.

The book is concerned with the whole history of the district.

The Vinegar Hill battle was bigger than the battle at the Eureka stockade.

Arbor Day was an idea planted by a politician, Sterling Morton, who successfully agitated for it to be observed in Nebraska in April 1872.

More than one million trees were planted at that first Arbor Day.

He became Secretary of Agriculture in President Cleveland’s second administration (1893-97).

The boxbrush in the grounds of Toongabbie School seems to be the oldest surviving Arbor Day tree in Australia.

Alice Watkins, who planted it, flew from Jersey for Arbor Day in 1960.

We are all depending more and more on books to find out about the first Arbor Day in northern America and the first in Australia.

The trouble is that books consume trees.

Every second the area of the world covered by natural forest is reduced by the size of a football field.

Some trees, such as some of those listed in Australia’s World Heritage sites, should never be cut down because the ferns, birds, insects, animals and reptiles which flourish under the cover of the forests would be dispersed forever.

Everywhere, however, we must ensure that we plant more trees than we cut down.

A year ago Bob Hawke made a statement on the environment which included proposals for Greening Australia Limited to plant one billion trees by the year 2000, the New South Wales quota being 216 million. Greening Australia expects that its target of 35 million trees by the end of 1990 will be exceeded.

The first year has been an excellent season for the development of new trees and seasonal conditions have been most favourable for natural regeneration and early direct seeding trials.

In the first few years there has to be relatively more effort put into planning, developing community enthusiasm and gaining participation and support, further developing and refining the all important methods of natural regeneration and direct seeding. Thereafter the tree planting and establishment aspects will become paramount and will run on the impetus developed in the first years.

Ros Kelly has stressed the need for land care initiatives in urban areas and the important role which school children can play in making the national tree program a success.

As with so many things the best place to learn about trees is at school.

Two more trees are being planted at Toongabbie School today. In 100 years our successors will remember them as we remember Alice Watkins who planted the first tree 100 years ago.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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