A story in the Bulletin from 30 years ago (Bulletin 3 of 1987) concerns a case of five missing Washingtonia palms, which apparently went missing from the corner of Wigram Rd and Glebe Point Rd, the site of the former Children’s Hospital.

Where are these trees today – sunning themselves on a tropical Queensland beach? In fact, are they even still alive?? (What’s the usual lifespan of a Washingtonia palm?).

Marianne von Knobelsdorff responded to our request for information:

I remember well how shocked we were, when suddenly some of the large palms in the grounds of Benledi at the corner of Wigram Rd and Glebe Point Rd went missing in 1987. This was long time before the new building of the Glebe Library was built on the empty grounds. The rumour went around that they had been spotted shortly afterwards at the newly built Darling Harbour complex. I think at that stage, there had been a large fence erected around the property, as some youths had thrown stones at passing cars. I hope I could contribute to solve this little mystery of life – a sad one.

Neil Macindoe also responded:

The Washingtonia palms were removed from what was then a vacant block belonging to Sydney Homoeopathic Hospital on the corner of Wigram and Glebe Pt Rds, and reappeared some time later among a grove of palms under the expressways that cross Darling Harbour. One can only assume the then Board of the Hospital gave or sold the palms to the Darling Harbour Authority, then busy constructing and landscaping that area. When I last saw them they were in good condition. A lot of other fully grown palms were removed from other parts of Sydney and relocated at Darling Harbour at the same time. Not long after, the Hospital was closed, and after a lot of community discussion about its fate, finally reincarnated, with a single storey extension, as Glebe Library, previously located in a less accessible site on Bridge Road.

Washingtonia palms at Darling Harbour – likely to have been transplanted from Glebe in 1987 (Source: City of Sydney)

The palms, now firmly established in their new home in Darling Harbour, are included in the City of Sydney’s schedule of significant trees (http://trees.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/location/darling-harbour/). The schedule says that:

The large number of mature palms and the mature Fig brought to the site created an ‘instant landscape’, creating a new sense of place and aesthetic character. The eclectic range of exotic and native palms were clustered in various locations adjacent to the fly-over expressways above the park in order to modify the scale and negative impact of this development. They were also planted as accent plants in front of the Convention Centre and Harbourside retail area … The translocated mature population of exotic palms (ie. Washington Palms, American Cotton Palms and Canary Island Date Palms) were sourced from nurseries and transplanters from places which may have had their own particular cultural, social, aesthetic and historic significance. … The Washingtonia Palms are all associated with the freeway overpass with 10 and 7 large specimens. …The character and landscape of Darling Harbour is defined by these examples of translocated palms and the mature Fig. They were selected to reflect the late 19th century styles of other major Sydney parks. It is a significant example of the ‘instant landscape’ and landscape design and transplanting methods employed in the later part of the twentieth century. It is representative of the common civic landscapes of Sydney in the 1980’s and 90’s. As specimens they are significant in terms of their social, educational, commemorative and aesthetic values.

So there you have it!