Calder Woodburn Memorial Avenue, Arcadia

Reflection

The Calder Woodburn Memorial Avenue is the longest memorial planting in Victoria undertaken by a single person. It is a poignant symbol of how grief can manifest within a community to ensure that those who lost their lives in the line of service are remembered.

Just like other war memorials that are present across the Australian landscape, Avenues of Honour were first planted to commemorate the sacrifice and service made by local service people during World War I, a practice that continued after World War II. The planting of these memorial trees was intensely personal, and for many towns across Australia they acted as a focus of remembrance for a community in mourning. In Victoria alone, there are more than 300 Avenues of Honour and memorial plantings.

The Calder Woodburn Memorial Avenue, on the Goulburn Valley Highway south of Shepparton, differs from many other memorial plantings as it was the response of a single person—grieving father, James Louis Fenton (Fen) Woodburn—who lost his son Calder, who was serving abroad with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) in World War II.

Sergeant Calder Fenton Woodburn, a local farmer and graduate of Dookie Agricultural College, enlisted in the RAAF in 1940. In April 1942, his all Australian Hampden bomber aircraft and crew were lost when returning from a mine-laying mission along the coast of France.

A black and white photograph of a large group of men in military uniform posing in rows in front of a fighter plane. Number 1 Advanced Navigation School (1ANS), Manitoba, Canada, including Sergeant Calder Woodburn (middle row, 4th from left), 1941. Source: Australian War Memorial.

In 1943 Fen Woodburn offered to plant a double avenue of trees for 9.5km along the Goulburn Valley Highway as a living memorial to his son and all local servicemen who served during World War II. Woodburn began planting in 1945 and by August 1947 had planted 1,406 trees to complete his original vision. From 1946 to 1949, Woodburn continued to make further plantings, and once complete, the avenue included a total of 2,457 trees stretching 20km from Seven Creeks to the Murchison-Violet Town Road. In consultation with the families of the deceased servicemen and the Shepparton RSL, memorial name plates were fixed to 110 trees in the avenue for those servicemen who did not return.

The Calder Woodburn Memorial Avenue is one of the longest Avenues of Honour in Victoria, and the only planting to be completed by one person. It is also significant for its use of native eucalypts. In contrast, most World War I memorial plantings used exotic species.

Fen Woodburn was an advocate for the recognition of the Australian eucalypt as a valuable tree species, and not just a piece of “scrub” to be cleared for wood or to make way for agriculture. His wife, M. Kathleen Woodburn, was an author who contributed environmental and anthropology pieces for Walkabout: Australia’s Geographical Magazine, a popular publication which helped to document Australia’s environmental and cultural heritage from 1934–1974. Prior to the memorial planting, this stretch of road and the surrounding area had been heavily cleared to become a flat and treeless landscape. Therefore, the eucalypt was likely a deliberate choice as a tribute to the Woodburns' son.

A colour photograph of an engraved black marble memorial. The memorial includes the depiction of a tree and a list of names. The top of the memorial says Calder Woodburn Memorial Avenue.

In May 1995, on the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe, the Calder Woodburn Memorial Rest Area and RSL Monument was unveiled. By this time, some of the original name plates had become damaged or gone missing, so it was decided that some form of renewal was needed. The RSL and other supporters undertook significant research to list the names of all local service personnel on the new monument. Their names are listed under the branch of the forces in which they served.

The ambitious planting project undertaken by Woodburn is a tangible representation of an individual’s outpouring of grief. It is a poignant reminder of the devastating impact of war on families and our communities.

Located on the lands of the Yorta Yorta people.