Sahar Adatia and Jimmy Singh.
In April 2021, it was reported that thieves had been pillaging plants from several public spaces around Wollongong, getting off scot-free in spite of the enduring efforts of landscapers and horticulturalists who had spent so much time sprucing up the public gardens for citizens to enjoy.
In fact, not only were they stealing plants, they had also engaged in many forms of plant vandalism- from poisoning, pruning, ringbarking, burning, removing and even destroying plants.
As part of the local Council’s Urban Greening Strategy, Wollongong City Council had recently added more plants and trees across the city, whilst caring for the one’s already growing.
“As our city grows, we want to make sure plants and all the benefits they bring aren’t left behind, so we’re planting street trees in suburbs that need them most,” the strategy advised.
“Plants and trees cool our towns and cities, reduce pollution and attract investment. They also make us healthier, happier and more productive.”
Nevertheless, people have continued to do wrong thing, stealing and damaging plants from public places for the benefit of their own gardens, and thus detracting from the sense of community.
Speaking of the social issue, Wollongong City Council Lord Mayor Councillor Gordon Bradbery AM said while he was proud of the hard work crews were carrying out each day to make Wollongong a vibrant and green place to live, unfortunately, “some people have been doing the wrong thing by stealing and damaging plants”.
“Public spaces are for everyone and plant theft wastes money, takes additional time to fix and ruins the beauty of our city,” Lord Mayor Councillor Bradbery AM said.
“Any act of vandalism, from breaking or removing trees to pulling the plants out of the ground to die, is not on.
“The wanton destruction of plants, trees or any public property is a pathetic act that detracts from our sense of community and is an unnecessary waste of resources.”
In NSW, plant theft and tree vandalism on public land is a serious criminal offence and people caught in the act can receive a fine starting from hundreds of dollars, depending on severity of the offending.
Specifically, the offence is outlined in section 521 of the Crimes Act 1900.
This offence carries up to a fine of $220 for stealing, destroying or damaging with intent to steal, any cultivated root, or plant, used for the food of man or beast, or for medicine, or for distilling, or dyeing, or for any manufacture, and growing in any enclosed land, not being a garden, orchard, pleasure-ground, or nursery-ground.
On the other hand, the offence under section 520 carries up to 6-months imprisonment or $550 fine, or both for stealing, destroying, or damaging with intent to steal any plant, root, fruit, or vegetable produce, growing in any garden, orchard, pleasure-ground, nursery, hothouse, greenhouse, or conservatory.
“Leave Public Places Intact and Undamaged for the Next Person”: Wollongong City Council Now Urging Citizens to Respect Gardens Rather than Souveniring Plants for Their Own Gardens
Against the increasing cases of plant theft, Wollongong City Council has since urged members of the community to work together to stop the thieves from “souveniring the plants for another garden”.
“It’s a shame to have to talk about the behaviour of just a few community members who are destroying and stealing plants from public land,” Lord Mayor Councillor Bradbery AM said.
“We’re asking everyone to enjoy our local playgrounds, parklands, verges and beaches without souveniring the plants for another garden.
“Please leave our public spaces intact and undamaged for the next person.
“We need everyone’s help to stop plant theft in our community. If you do have information about a plant theft or act of tree vandalism, report it to Council or the Police.”
Indeed, over the last year, as part of the Urban Greening Strategy, the Council has undergone efforts with the help of landscapers and horticulturalists to green public land in order to provide a safer and cooler feel amongst open spaces.
The idea was to preserve the gardens, playgrounds, beaches and other public areas for both the present generation and those of the future.
In line with this, Lord Mayor Councillor Bradbery AM has also cautioned opportunistic gardeners and people looking to re-sell Council plants at markets.
“If you do see a plant you love, don’t steal it,” he pressed.
“The Wollongong Botanic Garden holds regular subsidised plant sales for residents wanting to add colour to their garden with a range of native plants.
“So, there’s no excuse to steal plants from public land.”