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Thursday, 14 March 2013
Page: 2227

Mr MARLES (CorioParliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs and Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs) (09:46): Go the Cats. In the winter of 1918, three months before the armistice, a group of Lara residents gathered to plant trees at the local recreation reserve in honour of those still fighting in the Great War. The sugar gums and pine trees were not intended as memorials but rather as beacons of hope and welcome for those yet to come home. A newspaper report from the time said the original plan was for local ladies to plant a tree in honour of their soldier friends at the front. But heavy rain that Saturday kept the ladies at home and the tree planting task was finished by the men. It is believed 150 sugar gums encircled the northern edge of the recreation reserve and 30 to 40 pines were planted within the reserve.

Today, just a handful of the trees remain. They are the earliest known trees planted in the Geelong region to honour soldiers from the First World War. A decade later memorial gates were built at the reserve as one of the first acts by the recently formed Lara RSL Sub-Branch. Further pines were planted to honour soldiers who fell during World War Two.

The City of Greater Geelong recently carried out a study of the trees and the gates to determine the extent of heritage protection they require. The council's report will be released shortly for public consultation. It would be wonderful to see heritage protection for these trees and gates so that they remain a permanent reminder of what the community endured and families sacrificed. I know the RSL would love to see memorial plaques installed on or near the sugar gums to help people understand their historical significance. A total of 101 servicemen and two women left the Lara district to join the war effort between 1914 and 1918. Of the men, 23 never came home. From a small farming district, taking in Lara, Little River, Anakie, Staughton Vale and Avalon, that is a heartbreakingly high number. One family, the Lodge family, lost three sons in all. The Connop and Collins families lost two sons each. One can only imagine the private grief endured by these families and the collective community grieving that lingered for decades.

Next year our nation marks the ANZAC centenary—a four-year commemoration of the sacrifice of those 60,000 Australians who lost their lives in the First World War. It is a war that shaped us and changed us, a war that made Australia what it is today.

As a community we in Geelong are being asked how we would like to mark the ANZAC centenary. The story of the Lara sugar gums reminds us that it is not just medals and memorabilia that should be cherished. Stories of sacrifice and honour exist all around us. We just need to go looking for them.