People are outraged after a fig tree was cut down at a prominent Sydney landmark -- but here's why it had to happen

Office of the Official Secretary to the Governor-GeneralThe Moreton Bay fig doing the damage to the 1850s Marine Barracks below

A mature fig tree unexpectedly cut down at the Governor-General’s Sydney residence, Admiralty House, yesterday has upset many who admired it as they passed the Kirribilli residence on ferries, but it had to go because it was destroying a priceless piece of the city’s history.

The Moreton bay fig, believed to be more than a century old, was easily viewed from the Sydney Opera House, sitting behind the 1850s sandstone barracks down by the harbour.

But the tree self-seeded in the steep bank behind the Marine Barracks — gardeners didn’t plant it — and now its weight was pushing against the rear wall of the historic building having damaged the retaining wall, while the roots had already begun to tear infiltrate sections of the structure and were gradually crushing it.

Office of the Official Secretary to the Governor-GeneralThe retaining wall cracked by the fig tree

Engineers had inspected the site and the retaining wall could fail at any time, potentially severely damaging, if not destroying the barracks the Office of the Official Secretary to the Governor-General said.

The Kirribilli Point Battery is one of only two remaining 1850’s fortifications on Sydney Harbour.

And while Sydney residents are already sensitive to the loss of mature figs after the NSW government cut down dozens along Anzac Parade to make way for the light rail, Sir Peter Cosgrove’s staff were faced with the loss of the fig or the barracks.

The GG’s office sough expert heritage and engineering advice and consulted with relevant authorities they said, about removing the fig.

Office of the Official Secretary to the Governor-GeneralFig roots have forced their way into the magazine room at the barracks

A mature Norfolk Pine, approximately six metres tall, will be planted at the top of the bank, where a similar tree once stood, as its replacement.

The removal of the existing tree is expected to take about a fortnight.

“These works will protect the Marine Barracks, ensuring an important part of Sydney and Australia’s history remains intact, and will preserve the heritage value of the Kirribilli Point Battery precinct,” a spokesperson for the Governor-General said.

Admiralty House on Kirribilli Point was built in 1843 as a private residence for the colonial politician and customs collector John Gibbes. Its name comes from its use as the residence for the Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Navy’s Australia Squadron up until the start of WWI.

The property was placed on the Commonwealth Heritage List in 2004 and most recently was where the Duke and Duchess of Sussex stayed during the Invictus Games.

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