Remembrance Day: Wycheproof Avenue of Honour rediscovered after 90 years in the wild
The long-lost Avenue of Honour is situated a kilometre from the town of Wycheproof. (Supplied: Alex Morrison )
Long after the end of World War I, an Avenue of Honour in north-west Victoria was overrun by bushland, leaving historians to debate its location — and even its existence — for decades.
The Wycheproof memorial was built seven months before the end of war to commemorate the 24 soldiers from the town who were killed.
In May this year, local historian Allan Milburn was spraying cacti in scrub about a kilometre from the town when he discovered an unusual formation of Kurrajong trees.
“I was curious as to why they were there, they’re planted in rows and I couldn’t find out why,” Mr Milburn said.
He was sure he had found the forgotten avenue, but others were not convinced.
Mr Milburn went through old newspapers from the time to see if his hunch checked out.
“We argued whether or not it was there,” he said.
“Then I look in the paper, and there [the trees] are.”
The forest for the trees
The Avenue of Honour was planted in April 1918 on Crown Land east of the township, near a road at the base of Mt Wycheproof.
Private Thomas Charles Townrow was killed in action at Polygon Wood in Belgium, in September of 1917. He had a tree planted in his memory on the original Avenue of Honour. (Supplied: Ken Townrow)
But in the 1930s a new memorial stone was put in the centre of town resulting in fewer people going to the mountain, leaving the avenue abandoned.
Over time the 24 Kurrajongs — 15 or which are still standing — were obscured by gum trees on one side and the mountain on the other.
“Over the years the story has been lost,” Mr Milburn said.
Australian trees for Australian soldiers
The avenue bucked the trend of the time to commemorate soldiers with European trees, like oaks and poplars.
Lions Club Leader Alex Morrison led the construction of a new Boulevard of Honour, which was opened on Anzac Day in 2015.
Like the original, the new memorial commemorates the soldiers with native trees — in this case, wattle and yellow box gums.
“The nursery said, ‘you don’t plant English trees for Australian soldiers,'” Mr Morrison said.
Lost private remembered
Private Thomas Charles Townrow was killed in action at Polygon Wood in September, 1917, at the age of 31.
His remains were never found and he has no known grave — but he is one of the 24 soldiers for whom Wycheproof’s avenue was planted.
Ken Townrow is the great-nephew of Private Thomas Charles Townrow, who was killed in action in September 1917. Thomas is remembered by one of the trees in the original Avenue of Honour. (Supplied: Ken Townrow)
His great nephew Ken Townrow said his family was grateful to Mr Milburn for uncovering the old memorial.
“I thought it was great because there was no grave in Australia for him,” he said.
“I just think that it shows people back in 1918 were thoughtful to plant these trees and appreciate the lives that were lost.”
Mr Milburn plans to replace the nine trees that had died since the avenue was planted a century ago.
He also hoped to put markers with the names of the 24 men who lost their lives.
“When you know who they are, it brings it home a little bit more to you.”