Tree warrior

A ONE man sit-down protest has stopped the felling of a 30-year-old tree in Inglewood – for now.

The “Council of Owners” at John Place units wanted the grevillea robusta removed because it was termite-ridden, situated on unsuitable land and might grow to double its size.

They said they consulted five arborists and the consensus was that the tree needed to come out.

But residents June Winsome-Smith and James Kozak disagreed–“This tree is a poster child for untenable destruction.”

On Friday October 4, tree surgeons arrived, dismantling a clothesline and setting up witches hats.

But Mr Kozak sat under the tree and refused to move, even as a worker clambered up the trunk above him and started trimming the first few branches.

Mr Kozak had called in the police and four officers watched over the standoff. Eventually the tree company packed up their gear, replaced the clothesline, and left.

The day before Ms Winsome-Smith and Mr Kozak had filed an emergency application with the State Administrative Tribunal to save the tree.

“We have laid the foundation for some resolute, peaceful opposition to this tree cutting,” Mr Kozak said that afternoon, “But we certainly expect it to get ugly and wanted the police to know in advance.”

After the incident the Council of Owners wrote to occupants stating they’re now “seeking legal advice on the tree’s removal” and advice on recovering costs from Ms Winsome-Smith.

The CoO letter says the tree removal is a “routine maintenance issue” (and so doesn’t need a vote from all owners).

Mr Kozak says, “The fundamental destruction of a large part of the common property landscaping hardly constitutes ‘maintenance’.” He believes that trimming the tree would be appropriate, but that the outright destruction is unwarranted. The CoO says that it would be easier to allow the tree to stand because of the costs of removing it, but “unfortunately, we have to go with an expert rather than with what feels good.”

Originally from Canada, Mr Kozak has “from a very young age had a strong sense of social justice and legal justice,” and believes that there is an “ingrained culture of this place that if no one protests, we can get away with it.”

The SAT will now settle the dispute, and Mr Kozak and Ms Winsome-Smith are also petitioning the court to remove the council of owners for “breaching” the strata act.

It’s not their first stoush in front of the SAT: earlier this year they had a legal tangle over Ms Winsome-Smith’s verge-planting efforts.

She’d done some gardening which the CoO objected to, so they brought in a contractor to remove the offending plants.

Ms Winsome-Smith and Mr Kozak made their first SAT stand to stop those works, but the CoO says they’ve now got written permission from the council to remove them.

by MIREILLE CHRISTIE

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