Peppercorn preservation panic

Beautiful: The Peppercorn tree showers it's surrounds with shade.

Alyssa Fritzlaff

LATROBE Valley locals are fighting to preserve Traralgon Railway Station’s majestic peppercorn tree.

The large tree has long been admired by members of the community and used as an escape from the elements on hot summer’s days.

However, it could be torn down to make room for station upgrades.

The work at Traralgon Station is part of the Gippsland Line Upgrade, which the Department of Transport report will wrap up in late 2022.

The Traralgon upgrade will include a second platform, a new accessible pedestrian overpass and improved amenities. Local bar and café The 3844, which is situated near the train station, has been outspoken about the issue.

The business took to social media last week to voice their concerns and garner public support.

“Whilst we’re really excited for this change (the upgrade) we’ve also been informed that our beloved Peppercorn tree, which sits just behind our building, is likely to be chopped down,” they said in a Facebook post.

“It would be such a shame to see this beautiful and old tree sacrificed unnecessarily, especially if it’s to make way for metal and concrete.

“This tree provides important shade to you at the bar and adds soul to our outdoor area. It also provides shade and comfort to locals, TAFE students on break, people waiting for the train, and station staff. Most of us would choose to stand under a tree over a concrete box.”

The 3844 owner Rishi Venkatachalam said that he hopes the tree will not be removed unless absolutely necessary.

“We want to know why it’s getting pulled down,” he told The Express.

“What’s the reason? Obviously if it needs to be pulled down for genuine reasons – if it’s justifiable – then fair enough, we understand.”

Mr Venkatachalam said he wished there was more open communication from government entities in regards to the construction plans.

Community members took over the comment section of The 3844’s original post, voicing their own concerns about the tree’s fate.

“I have admired this tree so many times, I cannot believe they are considering removing it,” one person wrote.

“Definitely need to fight to keep this old tree and integrate it into any new design proposed,” another commenter chimed in.

On the morning of Tuesday, January 18, Latrobe City Major Kellie O’Callaghan made a social media post in response to those who had contacted the council in protest.

In her post, she thanked the community for making contact with council about their concerns. Ms O’Callaghan explained that the council is not managing the project.

“Council have previously provided information to the Regional Rail Revival, Upgrading the Gippsland Line team regarding the importance of the tree to the local community,” she said in her post.

“Our team have made contact with the project team overnight & we will provide further updates as they become available.”

Additionally, Latrobe City Council has clarified that the tree is situated on VicTrack land – not council land – and have stated that the tree is non-native, and therefore no planning permit from council is required for its removal.

“Council understands the community’s concerns regarding the proposed removal of the Peppercorn Tree located at the Traralgon Railway Station and has shared these views with VicConnect, who are undertaking the project on behalf of Rail Projects Victoria,” a council spokesperson said.

“We are continuing to liaise with the owners of The 3844 and VicConnect about the options available. The Minister for Planning is the responsible authority for the project.”

The peppercorn tree is in close proximity to a planned electrical room and a bike storage structure.

“We’re upgrading Traralgon Station to deliver more frequent and reliable train services for the community, as well as station improvements – including a second platform, new accessible pedestrian overpass, and an architecturally designed forecourt area equipped with seating and new vegetation,” Regional Rail Revival director Mark Havryluk said.

“Significant work has gone into minimising the impacts to vegetation within the station precinct during the planning and design of the project.

“We recognise the community is concerned about the future of the peppercorn tree located behind The 3844 bar/cafe, and we’re continuing to explore if there are any alternative locations for key infrastructure as part of these important upgrades to Traralgon Station.”