Many of us would have memories of tree plantings and gardening at school each Arbour Day. This tradition is being continued to this day with National Schools Tree Day being held on the last Friday of July for schools. Arbour Day itself has a long history. England, France and the United States all have strong traditions in this area and this practice of tree-planing ceremonies at schools became popular in the Australian colonies in the late 1800’s.
As it is National Tree Day (schools) and National Tree Day on Sunday , now is a good time to look at the history of the day and the way it has developed.
The first colony to officially proclaim Arbour Day was South Australia on 20 June, 1889. The very precise, regimental details of the way Arbour Day was to be run is detailed in the South Australian Register of 20 June, 1889.
The Adelaide children start with a great flourish of trumpets from Victoria Square. Each school will be preceded by its band. The singers go before, the planters— who are to be decorated with rosettes— follow after. When the procession arrives on the ground the elect children, who are to plant trees, will be separated from their less favoured brethren. The schools’ will be divided into ‘squads’ —the planting squad and the non-planting squad. The planting squad is to be arranged with dae care — one child to each hole. It may be hoped that a certain amount of fitness will be observed, and that every square hole will a command the attendance of a square child. When the word is given, the trees will be planted, a great celebration will be over, and the children of the schools will have received a lesson on the value of arboriculture.
I am not sure what the parents of the children in the non-planting squads thought!
In New South Wales, the first official Arbour Day was inaugurated for the school children by Lord Carrington (the Governor of the colony) at Ryde School on 16 July, 1890. Lord Carrington was accompanied by Lady Carrington. A full record of this occasion is in the The Maitland Mercury & Hunter River Advertiser 19 July, 1890
The oldest known surviving tree from that first 1890 Arbour Day planting is a brush box gum at Toongabbie Public School. This tree is still thriving and is huge.
While not all schools took part in the initial 1890 Arbour Day, by 1891 the Education Department of NSW proclaimed 21 August as the official Arbour Day for all schools. In those colonial times each colony embraced the idea of Arbour Day, and it was held on different dates – depending upon season and climate.
In the Brisbane Courier of 6 June,1890 in a weekly summary of the news – Summary For Europe, the lead, lengthy article was on the need for ‘forest conservacy’.
It is high time that this colony took some further steps, not only in the direction of conserving the natural forests of the country, but also in replenishing the half-exhausted timber districts with new trees.
Hon. C Powers
The article then states the important role that Arbour Day has in beautifying the colony.
In the Brisbane Courier of 14 December,1891 an early article sets out the ways, particularly in rural schools, that Botany was being effectively taught through initiatives such as Arbour Day. One person was pleased the the children of the public schools were reciving education in Botany but he questioned whether they would stand up to an exam on it!
The article goes on to mention that some suburban schools even had ‘kitchen gardens’ with people coming into the schools to teach the children how to grow, prepare and cook the produce. A colonial Stephanie Alexander perhaps?
There is little really new in education after all! And some attitudes and values towards public education haven’t changed.
A poem led an article on Arbour Day in The West Australian of 19 May, 1906
“Plant trees, for he who plants a tree
Plants rest and love;
For earth shall aid him in his work,
And heaven above.
His labour its own reward shall be,
For those who eat its fruit, or rest
beneath its cooling shade,
Shall bless the hand that planted there
-Florence A Hayes.
In the The West Australian of Friday 27 July 1906 it is reported that lollies were given out to the school children of Perth.
However, an article in The Sydney Morning Herald of 5 January 1914 states that Arbour Day wasn’t being celebrated in New South Wales with as much enthusiasm as the other parts of the world:
Arbour Day is not celebrated in this State with the same enthusiasm as in other parts of the world where the movement has been accorded general recognition.Teachers have occasionally interested their scholars in tree plantlng, but the material results have been small. It is possible that great advantage might accrue if an appreciation and under- standing of the value of ornamental tree planting were inculcated in young minds. For of ornamental trees we have much to learn, as anybody may see by noticing how we leave bare and ugly streets and roads which, might be avenued in greenery, and how even some of our reserves in the suburbs aud country towns are too often gaunt and grim when they might be made beautiful by the addition of trees.
the article is also quite critical of some suburbs and country towns because of the lack of trees:
The ugliness of most country towns is a familiar complaint of travellers. The spirit of civic pride is at work in some of them, Albury and Bathurst being notable examples of those that have gone in for beautifying enterprises, and found them to bo a remunerative investment of energy. There is no reason why the average country town should be destitute of beauty, why It should bo barren of colour and charm, why its atmosphere should bo so dreary and depressing.The transformation that can be effected by the planting of trees alone is marvellous. There are several townships that have of late years been brightened and beautified in this way, but there are not nearly enough of them.
National Schools Tree Day is now held on the last Friday of July for schools and National Tree Day the last Sunday in July throughout Australia.