History in fig tree roots

Written by Kerrie Alexander

AS the saying goes, from little things big things grow and that is certainly the case for the man who raised some of Hervey Bay’s most enchanting fig trees.

Hervey Bay’s Geoff Cornwell and his wife Bev, a passionate local historian, have lived in the region since 1954 and have played a big part in creating some of its most amazing history.

Amongst a host of other ventures, Bev was named Citizen of the Year for her iconic annual Golden Original get togethers at the RSL and Geoff has made a significant contribution to the region while working for over 25 years on the then Hervey Bay Shire Council parks and gardens team.

He was also named MS Carer of the Year in 2013, after looking after Bev since her diagnosis in 2007.

The incredibly beautiful weeping fig trees that line the Esplanade in front of the All Abilities playground, planted in the 90s, and in Apex Park, planted in the 80s, are amongst some of Geoff’s proudest work.

Little did he know that they would one day become some of most iconic trees in the region.
Geoff and parks curator Glen Kruger hand-picked the figs for the area as they were native evergreens, wouldn’t grow too tall but would still give plenty of shade cover.

“We grew them from tip cuttings, not seedlings, grown from cuttings taken from the branches of adult trees and then struck in our fledgling nursery in the Botanic Gardens at Urangan,” Geoff said.

“We followed the theme of fig trees already established from Beach Road through to the Pialba Caravan Park by a pioneering councillor early last century to provide shade for holidaying families.

“A backhoe was used to dig the holes, which were back filled with good soil before a Bay Service Club, under the supervision of Glen, planted the metrehigh plants one Saturday morning just on 30 years ago.

“They were then watered weekly from a water truck.”

As an avid gardener from a young age, Geoff said his heart is full each time he drives past and sees the fig trees thriving.

“I have always had an interest in gardening from my 20s when I was first married.

“I love the miracle of seeing what develops from the tiniest of seeds to trees, flowers, fruit and vegetables.

“I get a great feeling of satisfaction and pride remembering that I participated in this project all those years ago.”

Geoff said seeing children and families making the most of many of the other parks and gardens he and Glen created makes him feel as though his dedication to beautifying the region was priceless.

As long-time residents, both Bev and Geoff agree that there’s no place quite like the Fraser Coast.
“Glen and I established countless parks and planted numerous trees from Point Vernon to Urangan during my 25 years with the councils Parks and Gardens section.

“I love Hervey Bay for its beauty and uniqueness due largely to the protection of Fraser Island.

“Enjoy Hervey Bay, enjoy Australia, we are just so lucky to live here.”


TO tell the full story of the fig trees, we need to go back to the 1970s when Hervey Bay’s population was just over 5,000 and all rubbish was taken to Eli Creek where it was buried.

As the population grew, a new dump site for household rubbish in an area between the Scarness end of Seafront Oval and Stephenson Street was proposed and decided on.

The household rubbish was dumped and buried, what could be burnt was burnt causing smoke and an unpleasant odor, which meant that the dump did not last long and was moved back to Eli Creek to an improved larger area.

The then Hervey Bay Shire Council’s small parks crew were set the task to improve and beautify the dump site, which was no small task.

Filling in and levelling the ground was their first proprietary, and then planting suitable trees to compliment the area.

In November 1983, the Hervey Bay Town Council first floated the idea of redirecting the Esplanade from Point Vernon and replacing the missing link with a direct road through to Stephenson Street, Scarness.

Up until then the Esplanade from Point Vernon traversed through the Pialba Caravan Park to Main Street and continued up the hill, turned left into Hillyard Street and linked up with Torquay Road.

After much debate, the decision was made by council to go ahead with their original plan and the Esplanade we all know today eventuated.

The beautification of the area under the leadership of Parks and Gardens Curator Glen Kruger and foreman Geoff Cornwell commenced with the planting of appropriate trees, cottonwoods, poincianas and tulipwoods.

The weeping fig planted by Geoff at Apex Park is now enjoyed by groups, families, and children daily.

The grove of weeping fig tip cuttings planted by the Parks and Gardens crew in the late 90s were all grown in the Elizabeth Street council nursery.

The fourth one from the far end of the Esplanade was taken out by a car, and with no more tip cuttings a seedling had to be used to replace it, thus the different formation of the tree.

This area is now extremely popular with its all abilities playground and skate park … a far cry from the dump days of the late 70s.

Bev Cornwell, Hervey Bay Historian