Honouring our living Gallipoli link

LONG after the last First World War Diggers passed away the Lone Pine in Warrnambool’s Botanic Gardens lives on as a survivor of the deadly conflict.

Yesterday the old,  weathered tree was the focus of a low-key commemorative ceremony marking 80 years since it was officially dedicated by the local community, but it will soon be thrust into the national spotlight.

Surrounded by the same galvanised steel fence installed in January 1934, it has the distinction of being the healthiest of three surviving trees grown from seeds in a pine cone brought back from the Lone Pine battlefield to Australia by Private Keith McDowell.

His grandson Lindsay McDowell was among the guests who sat where a large audience gathered eight decades ago to celebrate the planting.

Mr McDowell, a retired Brisbane doctor and former lieutenant colonel in East Timor, said the Lone Pine battle was under-recognised in Australian military history.

“Emphasis is on the Anzac landing, but the fight at Lone Pine is in my opinion just as significant,” he said. 

“There were an extraordinary number of casualties.

“Of the 1060 men from the 23rd Batallion who arrived at Gallipoli and the 240 reinforcements only 540 original members were left — a staggering loss.

“As we approach the 1915 Anzac centenary the significance of this pine will gather momentum.”

Local federal MP Dan Tehan said he would mention the Warrnambool pine during an address to parliament next month.

“It has to be put into Hansard because it is so significant nationally,” he said. “It has national significance and importance for the centenary celebrations.”

He chairs a panel which will soon consider an application  for a Centenary of Anzac Day grant for new signage around the Warrnambool tree, an interpretation board and a propogation project to grow more seedlings.

Among the guests yesterday was Jean Giblett of Timboon, the granddaughter of Emma Gray who grew seedlings 85 years ago from the McDowell cone.

Emma was the aunt of Keith McDowell’s wife and operated the Grassmere general store with her husband Robert.

Other surviving trees from the original propogation are at The Sisters and Wattle Park. Another at Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance died several years ago from disease.

Lindsay McDowell said it was now up to a new generations of Australians for look after the pines and preserve the link to a war which cost so many lives across Australia.

Warrnambool RSL historian David McGinness said Keith McDowell’s decision to souvenir a cone from the shattered solitary pine on the Turkish battlefield meant we still had a living link with the Gallipoli campaign.

“This tree is a reminder of our nation’s first major military battle in the Great War,” he said.

pcollins@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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