Protestor Josh Kelly at the Fig Tree on Castle Drive in Lennox Head.
Protestor Josh Kelly at the Fig Tree on Castle Drive in Lennox Head. Marc Stapelberg

Heritage expert to assess fig tree's cultural status

THE NSW Office of Environment and Heritage will send an expert to Lennox Head to help investigate heritage claims surrounding a contentious fig tree.

Ballina Shire Council has delayed cutting down the Castle Drive tree, pending enquiries into the tree's potential cultural status.

Councillors last year voted to remove the tree, which has been attributed to damage to neighbouring homes.

But the process has been delayed several times, most recently when claims the tree has significance to the Aboriginal community arose at the weekend.

The fig's planned removal has been welcomed by neighbouring residents, but others have protested to explore other options to protect the tree and the houses.

Some chained themselves to the tree in the past week, but put their protest on hold amid the cultural claims.

An OEH spokesman said the department was looking into the claims.

"OEH is looking into recent enquiries regarding possible Aboriginal cultural heritage values that may be associated with a fig tree at Lennox Head that is causing some concern for local property owners,” the spokesman said.

"OEH will work with the Ballina Shire Council and the local Aboriginal community to determine the most appropriate steps from here.”

He said the department planned to send an expert to the site this week to gain further information.

It's expected the council will take no action on the tree unless it is cleared of any cultural significance and the spokesman warned against damaging items that hold such a heritage status.

"A corporation can be fined for harming Aboriginal objects without the necessary approvals or defences in place,” he said.

"Fines of this magnitude are usually for serious offences involving blatant disregard of the laws around the protection of Aboriginal cultural heritage.”