How the ‘world’s most pathetic Christmas tree’ sparked an iconic annual tradition in Lismore
After international scorn was heaped on its Christmas tree, Lismore City Council successfully turned a joke into an iconic symbol of the town’s Christmas spirit.
And for the first time, the northern New South Wales council has given the ABC access to watch the making of this year’s recycled Christmas tree.
It is usually top secret until the tree goes up in Lismore’s CBD, an annual tradition that began after their tree was publicly scorned.
In 2014, photos of their ‘leaning’ Christmas tree went viral, gaining global notoriety, with international headlines like ‘Is this the world’s most pathetic Christmas tree?’
The leaning tree now features a two-metre tall, custom-made Santa to ‘hold it up’. (Supplied: Lismore City Council)
Tina Irish remembers it being the catalyst for the council to splurge on new decorations and straighten out the tree’s sliding reputation.
“I was one of the people who got behind the scenes and helped with purchasing new lights and new decorations,” she said.
“I’ve kind of been on the Christmas scene ever since.”
Seed for recycled Christmas tree grows
With the Christmas tree ‘seed’ planted, in 2015 it popped up in a new form, taking on the sustainable and recyclable ethos of the Lismore City Council.
Lismore City Council’s inaugural recycled Christmas tree was a colourful collection of upcycled bicycles. (Contributed: Lisa Gough)
Council’s commercial services business manager Kevin Trustum said the community had long been asking the council to be a model of sustainability.
“We’ve done lots of innovative projects with recycling and waste water and solar electricity,” he said.
“Staff wanted to look at what they could do to give back to the community at the same time, so the recycled Christmas tree was born.”
The inaugural tree was a colourful collection of recycled bicycles and from there, the recycled Christmas tree quickly became an annual tradition.
“There’s always that fear that there will be criticism or congratulations, and there’s usually a mix of both,” Mr Trustum said.
In 2016, Lismore’s recycled Christmas Tree made from old tyres and hub caps. (Contributed: Lismore City Council)
Thrills and spills of this year’s tree
Unlike the skilled crews putting up the tree in previous years, the 2018 volunteers from the finance and tourism departments are a bit out of their comfort zone.
For Ms Irish, it means putting aside her world of budgets and high heels for the land of hard hats and high viz.
“It’s really busy for the teams at the moment this year, so that’s why our volunteer levels are low, but we do have a lot of moral support,” she said.
“The previous ones had a really big plan, and they knew what was happening at each stage.
“[We have] a little mud map that we drew as a concept and it’s probably not going to look anything like that, an I think we’re all okay with that.”
In 2017, the council’s roads and bridges crew built a 7.3 metre tree made from discarded road signs. (Contributed: Lismore City Council)
The items at the heart of this year’s sustainable Christmas tree are umbrellas with Ms Irish saying the waste facility team had been collecting them for almost a year.
She said the colourful umbrellas would be illuminated by fairy lights.
“I think there is a community expectation that we will deliver something that shows the sustainability and Lismore’s culture for recyclability,” Ms Irish said.
“It’s a chance for us to be really creative and outside the box and we get people from all over council bringing in suggestions about what we can do.
“I think it really is something that’s unique to Lismore and I think it speaks to our community.”
In 2016, the intersection of Magellan and Keen Street played host to a recycled Christmas tree made of old tyres.
The 5.5-metre structure featured 150 car tyres, 100 hub caps, 80 litres on donated paint and almost half a tonne of steel.
The council’s then-general manager, Gary Murphy, said the tree represented everything Lismore is about.
“They are sustainable, resourceful, colourful and quirky,” he said.
“We think it suits the personality of our city and our region, and judging from last year’s positive reaction, the community agrees.”
Lots of colour for the team behind this year’s recycled Christmas Tree. (ABC North Coast: Catherine Marciniak)
In 2017, the council’s roads and bridges crew took over planning and construction from the waste facility team.
Their efforts resulted in a 7.3-metre centrepiece, made from more than 200 discarded road signs.
The metal masterpiece was adorned with more than 140 metres on lights and 100 decorations made form corflute, painted by staff and their family.
Even neighbouring councils chipped in, donating extra road signs to make the project possible.
Christmas tree surprise under wraps
Like any good Christmas present, it’s vital the contents are kept under wraps.
Recipe: Lismore’s 2018 tree
- 1 upcycled 7.3 metre high tree base
- 49 discarded umbrellas
- 18 metres of recycled tinsel
- 2540 donated fairy lights
- 778 salvaged screws
- 860 cable ties (bought)
- 5 metres of wire (bought and begged)
- 1 litre of left-over paint
“It’s all secret. Everybody who comes into the Santa Cove is sworn to silence,” Ms Irish said.
“Us little elves are not allowed to tell anyone else.
“Nobody knows about what’s going to happen and what’s going to pop up on that day.”
Thankfully, when crunch time came on Friday morning and the Christmas tree went up, all was merry.
“It looks great. The lights are all working, nothing fell off,” Ms Irish said.
“I don’t think we could have asked for a better morning.
“I just saw someone who drove around the roundabout with a big giant smile on their face, and that’s all that matters.”