THEY are often the first welcome weary travellers have as they approach small towns across rural and regional Australia – lines of mighty trees standing silently and proudly along the side of the main road into town.
Avenues of honour are a peculiarly Australian phenomenon. Most countries honour their war dead, but an avenue of elms, cypress, pines or other trees, has its roots in regional Australia, according to the president of Ballarat’s Arch of Victory and Avenue of Honour committee, Bruce Price.
Click the image above to see all of Ballarat's avenues of honour
“There were three or four avenues of honour planted after the Boer War, which ended in 1902, so it started before World War I,” Mr Price said.
“The earliest one in Victoria in World War I was in Eurack in 1916. We believe it was associated with a school.
“The motivation for the plantings could have come from the so-called Victorian Recruitment Committee. Australia had two referenda on conscription and both narrowly failed, so all who served in World War I were volunteers. With the large losses in early years of the war, the government wanted to promote recruitment, so they set up these state recruitment committees. We believe the Victorian one sent out letters to all municipalities advising recruits their service would be honoured with avenues of honour.
“Each tree was planted for each soldier who enlisted. They were egalitarian, with one per soldier, irrespective of rank. Each plaque had the soldier’s name and unit or ship. They included about 80 women who were nurses on the front.
“There are very few in Britain. It certainly appears to be an Australian phenomenon.”
Whatever the origin of the avenues of honour, the idea took hold in Australia, and Victoria in particular.
In the area surrounding Ballarat there are more than a dozen, including six within the city boundaries, in addition to the main Ballarat avenue along the Western Highway heading out of town towards Beaufort.
“There are very few in Britain. It certainly appears to be an Australian phenomenon.”Bruce Price
The Ballarat Avenue of Honour is well administered by the committee, which has representatives from the Ballarat City Council, RSL, National Trust, Rotary Club, Lucas Past Employees Association, the Civil Contractors Federation, arborists and others.
However, not all avenues have been so meticulously cared for and quite a few have been forgotten by the community at large.
They would include several in Ballarat that few people would even recognise now as avenues of honour, such as those along Lydiard, Macarthur and Hill streets.
Others, like Sebastopol, Buninyong, Learmonth and Kingston, continue to receive due reverence.
“It comes down to small communities. One or two people want to ensure what’s there remains there,” Mr Price said.
“Trees have a finite life of course. With ours, when we had a study done in 1995 and experts checked every tree – of the 3801 trees, 400 were missing and 50 per cent of the balance would be gone by 2030. If young generations do nothing about them they will become an eyesore and lose their significance in representing those who served their community.
“Avenues are a monument within the communities they represent, but they can also be a monument for peace for the future.
“They illustrate the waste and pointlessness of war. That is why we maintain them.”
The Ballarat Avenue of Honour is arguably Victoria’s greatest, with 3801 trees along a 22km stretch from Ballarat to 5km beyond Burrumbeet towards Learmonth, Mr Price said.
They were planted by the Lucas Girls, employees of the clothing manufacturing firm E. Lucas and Co, who conducted eight plantings between 1917 and 1919, with 23 different species planted. The most successful trees along the avenue were the elms and poplars, which gradually replaced other species that did not thrive.
“In Ballarat the Lucas factory accepted the challenge with 400 girls employed there. That was the section of the population most affected by the war. It is estimated that between 50-60 per cent of eligible males in Ballarat went to war. So it was a big gap for the female population.”
Some of those servicemen and women recognised along smaller avenues in Ballarat are also honoured on the main Ballarat Avenue of Honour.
Arch of Victory
The Arch of Victory was built in 1920 to be a gateway to the 22km avenue. It was built by master bricklayer George Brookes.
A one-eighth scale plan was produced by three University of Melbourne architecture graduates, which was then used by Mr Brookes as the model for the arch.
The Prince of Wales was due to arrive in June 1920, so there was some urgency to complete the project before then. Work started in February, with General William Birdwood laying the foundation stone. It was completed in three and half months by about 16 workers.
The prince, who later became King Edward VIII, cut the ribbon and was presented with silk pyjamas made by the Lucas Girls.
• Sebastopol, Birdwood Avenue, 279 trees planted in 1918
• Ballarat East, Hill Street, 14 trees
• Ballarat North, Beaufort Crescent, originally 200 trees
• Monash, Macarthur Street, originally 50 trees
• Soldiers Hill, corner Lydiard and Howitt streets, 50 trees
• Arthur Kenny Avenue of Honour (Ballarat Orphanage), Mount Xavier, off Fussell Street, 103 trees
• Buninyong, Midland Highway, 500 trees
• Bacchus Marsh, Bacchus Marsh Road, 295 Dutch and Huntington elms planted in 1918
• Cambrian Hill, School Lane, 40 trees
• Corindhap, Corindhap-Colac Road, Monterey Pines
• Learmonth, Midland Highway, 220 trees
• Daylesford, Raglan Street, 80 sycamore trees originally planted in 1918
• Tourello, Tourello Road, 36 walnut trees
• Skipton, Glenelg Highway, 169 Scottish elm and English elm
• Kingston, Central Street, 285 Dutch elms