9 August 2022

Yass community roots for Eileen, the town's down but not yet out gum tree

| Sally Hopman
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Tree in river

The leaning tree of Yass, Eileen, photographed in her prime in 2019. Locals hope she can hang on. Photo: Norma Templeman.

Come on Eileen … the Yass Valley community is rooting for your survival – literally.

Eileen is a white gum tree (Eucalyptus Viminalis), estimated to have lived in the Yass River for around 40 years.

For as long as anyone’s noticed her, she’s been on a lean – a position that has become known, and loved, by all who jog, walk, or just wander past her along the Yass River bank.

But with the Big Wet of last week, Eileen’s now leant right over, with fears, locally, that she’s no longer for this world. Yass social media platforms have been following her condition, with debate raging over whether she will or won’t make it.

Eileen the tree

Yass locals haven’t given up hope that Eileen can survive the flood. An arborist has been brought in to see if she can be saved. Photo: Scott Yates Facebook.

She has leant over to a point where it’s more about lying down, but she seems still attached to her root ball which gives hope that she’ll survive the ordeal.

Barry O’Mara, who has lived in Yass for more than 60 years – and who, with his grandchildren, can claim bragging rights for coming up with the name Eileen (I lean, get it?) – has been posting on social media about her condition daily since the river reached near record high levels last week.

For Barry, and thousands of others engaging online, Eileen is more than a tree. She represents a town, its people and their struggles against the elements.

“There’s just something about her,” Barry said, “that’s captured the heart of this community.

READ ALSO Deluge breaks rainfall records as clean up begins

“She’s become more than a tree to people here. She’s become a symbol of survival.”

Barry said expert arborist Billy Beck checked Eileen out yesterday, estimating her age and her chance of survival.

“We’ll need to check with council first,” Barry said ,”but Billy reckons if we can trim away parts of her that she no longer needs, that might help give her the strength to grow back. We’d save anything that was still vertical.”

Although Eileen’s been growing on the river for about 40 years, Barry believes the community’s notice of her and subsequent interest flourished during the height of COVID.

It was a time, he said, when the community was locked down, when schools and businesses were closed and when one of the few things people could do was wander by the riverbank.

 Building in flood

Cobblestone Cottage, just below the bridge in the main street of Yass, was one of the worst hit buildings in last week’s flood. It was the town’s original post office. Photo: Barry O’Mara.

“During the last big flood, in 2020, she got a bit of a stumble and started leaning some more, so people were keen to see how she was going. People used the river as their ‘out’ during COVID back then and I guess that’s when everyone started noticing her.

“That’s why I think from then she became more than a tree. She became something that represented the strength this community has.

“You have to look at the Yass Community Facebook page to see all the comments about her. She’s really struck a chord in this community so we all hope she can survive this. But whatever happens, even if she doesn’t survive, we’d like her to be left where she is and to become a marine habitat where she may be able to save other lives just by being there.”

The Mayor of Yass, Allan McGrath, said it was clear Eileen was loved and admired by the community and, in many ways, her strength and resilience showed what the Yass Valley was all about.

READ ALSO Wet weather and floods land pumpkin grower in the soup

“She’s a good example of community spirit,” he said. “We’re keeping our fingers crossed that she’ll be OK. She’s already demonstrated her tenacity by staying around this long – she survived the last big flood. So that says something about how well she can hang on,” he said.

“Even if she doesn’t make it, she’d have my support to stay where she is.”

You know something is important to the Yass community when its singer-songwriter Daniel Kelly writes a song about it – and Eileen’s no exception. You can listen to it on YouTube

Building flooded

Back in 1959, one of the worst floods to hit Yass, historic Cobblestone Cottage went under.

But one of the worst flood-hit buildings in Yass last week was historic Cobblestone Cottage, located under the bridge in the main street. Sand-bags were piled up over the weekend but, at one point, floodwater surrounded the building. In the last big flood through Yass in 1959, water reached the roofline of the 1836 cottage, the town’s original post office and general store.

In a statement yesterday, a Yass Valley Council spokesperson said staff had spent the weekend inspecting flood-affected areas across the region. Major damage was reported on the Murrumbateman Road, Neville Dowling Bridge, Black Range Road and all low-level crossings, with many expected to stay closed for at least a few days. Flood damage to recreational areas were described as “significant”.

Anyone in need of flood damage help should email [email protected] or lodge their request on the council website.

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Daniel Kelly8:04 am 10 Aug 22

Thanks for including my song in the story, hopefully the tree will live on in some form.

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