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Thursday, 19 October 2006
Page: 111

Ms LIVERMORE (9:36 AM) —I am here today to lament the death today of one of Australia’s great icons. The Tree of Knowledge in Barcaldine in Queensland is a symbol of the strength of Australian workers and a clear reminder of the importance of collectivism. The tree was estimated to be somewhere between 150 and 200 years old and was included on the National Heritage List late last year in recognition of its outstanding heritage value.

Sadly, the Tree of Knowledge was poisoned in May of this year and was officially declared dead a couple of weeks ago. It is estimated that, in a callous and cowardly act of vandalism, up to 40 litres of poison was poured around the base of the tree.

The Tree of Knowledge played a crucial role in the formation of the Australian Labor Party. In 1891, shearers used the tree as a meeting place during their strike activity. On 1 May that year, the strikers marched through the streets of Barcaldine. This act began a linking of May Day with Labor Day in Queensland. After the strike was broken on 6 May by the Queensland and New South Wales governments, the strike leaders were found guilty of conspiracy and sentenced to three years hard labour. As a result of this, unions formed what is today called the Australian Labor Party and in 1892 TJ Ryan became the first Labor representative in the world to be elected to parliament.

The Tree of Knowledge embodies this era of Australia’s history and serves as a reminder to all Australians of the value of a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay. Why anyone would wilfully destroy a piece of Australia’s history is beyond me and I sympathise with the people of Barcaldine who have had this act perpetrated against them. I know that it was a very sad day for the people of Barcaldine when the tree was officially declared dead, but I know that Barcaldine will fight on and continue to be a very special place.

Members of all parties have joined in condemning this act, and the ALP have put forward a reward for information of $10,000 to help police catch the individual or individuals responsible for this pathetic act of cowardice.

Mr Pat Ogden, a dear friend of mine, staunch Labor man and unofficial caretaker of the Tree of Knowledge, has been closely following the fate of the tree since the poisoning was first discovered. Pat placed the value of the Tree of Knowledge equal to that of another great Australian icon when he said in last week’s Courier-Mail:

It’s not only Barcaldine, it’s Australia’s history ... It’s just like Sydney losing the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

To the individual or individuals responsible, I say that it will take a lot more than 40 litres of Roundup to destroy the memory and ongoing legacy of the Tree of Knowledge. The memory of the tree and the spirit of the shearers who gathered beneath its branches to demand justice will live on. It will live on in the Labor movement’s present fight for fairness and decency—a fight that we will win.