IT was a day of high emotion as work on removing the iconic Bum Tree on Gerroa Road finally got under way on Thursday.
There were protests, tears, anger, chanting and cheers of support for the protesters and loud honking of horns from passing motorists, as well as words of admonishment at demonstrators and anger directed at contractors undertaking the work.
At its height, between 30 and 40 protestors lined the edge of Gerroa Road, while others took to the base of the Bum Tree to try to stop its impending removal.
Teenagers Meg O’Connor from Shoalhaven Heads and Tarni Cunningham of Gerroa arrived at the location around 6am and tied themselves to the base of the tree with rope.
They were later joined by Alison Darling, Jenny Rich, Linda Tiltsen and Jann Walsh.
Contract crews from local firm A and D Tree Services arrived at the location along with a giant crane which was placed in the northbound lane to help with the removal of the large upper branches of the Bum Tree and the large blackbutt alongside it.
The two 18-year-olds were untied from their position and removed in tears by police, while their older counterparts remained at the base of the Bum Tree.
A stand-off ensued, contractors waiting to start work as police negotiated with the quartet, amid calls of shame from follow protesters.
In the end three of the protesters agreed to leave the site, albeit under duress, while Ms Darling stood her ground, eventually being escorted away by police to a waiting paddy wagon to cheers and jeers from the assembled group of protestors.
Although not officially arrested she was told she was “removed for her own safety” and if she returned to the Bum Tree she would be arrested.
Work started with the contractors using a cherry picker to reach the upper branches of the large tree with the crane enlisted to lower the cut limbs to the ground.
To howls of protest including the chant of “Shame, Shoalhaven City Council, shame”, “Shame, Joanna, Gash shame”, and another colourful but telling ditty directed at the mayor and Gilmore MP Ann Sudmalis, the work continued, with the removed limbs shredded through a chipper.
Wildlife Rescue South Coast members checked a number of branches removed for any possible animals.
The protesters’ worst fears were realised when a large hollow limb had a red bag placed over its end before being removed; an animal was clearly seen to jump from the log into the bag.
The limb was quickly lowered to the ground and what was confirmed to be a possum removed, while another possum in the hollow proved a little tougher for the rescuers but it too was also eventually removed from its hiding place.
The possums, which Wildlife Rescue South Coast members said were endangered greater gliders, a mother and a juvenile, were removed to a nearby location for care.
It is planned to relocate them back into the Seven Mile Beach National Park, in the hollow log from which they were removed, which will also be placed back into a tree in the park.
The contractors took an extended lunch break, with the protesters told it was to seek clarification about the discovery of the possums in the Bum Tree.
Work was delayed for over an hour but restarted and again two more possums were located in another hollow branch, this time believed to be sugar gliders.
Gerroa Environment Protection Society (GEPS) president Warren Holder, who has headed up the protest, likened watching its lopping to witnessing the harpooning of a majestic whale.
“It is such a large, significant creature,” he said.
“Here today, gone tomorrow. It is just so sad.”