The practise of planting trees as a dedication to individual service personnel who gave their lives while serving their countries in time of war is thought to have originated in 1917 in Ballarat, Victoria. Mrs Tilly Thompson, a supervisor at E. Lucas & Company, proposed to raise funds to plant an 'avenue of trees' to honour the local men who had been killed in World War One. By 1919, almost 4,000 trees were planted along 22 kms of the Western Highway on a voluntary basis. At least 128 avenues were planted in Victoria between 1917 and 1921 - virtually every one a community effort.
The idea was taken up in Kings Park, Western Australia by Mr Arthur Lovekin, an original member of the Kings Park Board. The first Honour Avenue was dedicated to 404 fallen soldiers in August 1919 on the fifth anniversary of the outbreak of World War One and regular services have continued since. Due to the need to regularly replace trees and relocate plaques over the years, the dedication procedure now clarifies that the plaque is the memorial rather than the tree.
Kings Park now has three tree-lined avenues set aside to honour service personnel who died in the two World Wars and other engagements: May Drive, Lovekin Drive and Marri Walk. Details of each plaque are provided in the Honour Avenues Plaque database.
The plaques are honoured each Anzac Day in a tradition that began in 1984. Students from Carine Senior High School place a flower and a small Australian flag on all the plaques of the Honour Avenue trees in Kings Park. The students raise funds during the school year by having a 'Mufti Day' when students can choose not to wear school uniform and give ‘a dollar for a Digger’ for the privilege. The flags are provided by the Honour Avenues Group and the money raised by the school pays for the flowers. In recent years, volunteers from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have also attended prior to the school students arrival to help carefully clean each post and plaque. After Anzac Day, the spent flowers and flags are retrieved.
On the eve of Remembrance Day, 11 November each year, the Australian flags are also placed on every plaque along the Honour Avenues by the Honour Avenues Group and later recovered.
Requests for new plaques continue to be made by family and friends for lost loved ones and dedication services take place regularly throughout the year in a traditional manner.
May Drive was opened on 23 July 1901 by Princess May, Duchess of Cornwall and York, later Queen Mary. May Drive became the first Honour Avenue in Kings Park in a ceremony which took place on 3 August 1919 at May Circle, the highest point in Kings Park. Relatives and friends of men and women who died during World War One (1914-1918) travelled from all over the State and despite wet and windy weather, around 2,000 people attended the ceremony.
More than 400 oak trees (Quercus robur) were reportedly planted in unison at the sound of a gunshot. Each tree had a plaque recording the name of the deceased, age, rank, unit, date, manner of death and who planted it. The oak trees were raised from acorns sent by Her Majesty from the Great Park at Windsor Castle. There was a choir from Thomas Street School and the Salvation Army band played. After the planting ceremony, the honour avenue was officially opened by the Governor Sir William Ellison McCartney.
A message from Queen Mary was read to those assembled at the dedication:
'May these oak trees grow and flourish for many years, and stand as a reminder to generations to come of the devotion and loyalty of those brave sons of the Empire who gave their lives in the cause of justice, freedom, and right' (Queen Mary, 1919).
Unfortunately, most of the oak saplings didn't survive planting so replacement acorns were obtained from a 60-year-old oak tree in Bishop Hale's garden in Perth. As the original ceremony was oversubscribed, the second part of the 'Avenue of Honour' was dedicated on Armistice Day, 11 November 1920. The section of May Drive from Saw Avenue towards Crawley was planted with oriental plane trees (Platanus orientalis) but by 1922 a large number of the plane trees were dead and the oaks were suffering from white ant damage. They were replanted with Bangalay (Eucalyptus botryoides) in the mid-1940s, which were raised in the Kings Park nursery from the seeds of a large tree growing in May Circle near the original dedication site.
Today, there is one oak standing - at the corner of May and Lovekin Drives, adjacent to the Forrest statue. Replacement trees along the avenues since the 1970s have been either marri (Corymbia calophylla) or pink-flowering marri (Corymbia calophylla var. rosea).
In 1920, sugar gums (Eucalyptus cladocalyx) were planted along a new road which became the second Honour Avenue in Kings Park with a further 100 plaques dedicated in the 1930s. It was formally named Lovekin Drive in December 1931 to commemorate Arthur Lovekin, second President of the Kings Park Board and the man responsible for the initiation of the Honour Avenues.
After World War Two (1939-1945), many requests for trees were received for dedication to servicemen who died in that war and the Kings Park Board asked the Returned and Services League to assist with arrangements for dedicating the remaining 300 sugar gums in Lovekin Avenue. The Honour Avenue Committee formed from the RSL's Public Service Branch as a result with Mr Lionel Parks as chairperson and representation from the Board by Superintendent Mr John Watson. Lovekin Drive was dedicated as an avenue to World War Two on 5 December 1948 with smaller functions held in 1950 and 1952 to complete the project.
Marri Walk was dedicated on 18 April 1999 due to the recognised need to provide for more plaque locations and honours the fallen of World War One, World War Two and other engagements. Marri Walk lies adjacent to the western boundary of Rio Tinto Naturescape Kings Park on May Drive, that leads to the Royal Kings Park Tennis Club. As the name suggests, all of the trees planted along Marri walk are marri (Corymbia calophylla) except for one majestic old tuart which stands out from the rest.
May Circle is the site of the initial dedication ceremony of the Honour Avenues in Kings Park in 1919. A significant refurbishment occurred 100 years after the first ceremony and an event commemorating the anniversary took place on 3 August 2019, officiated by the Honourable Kim Beazley AC, Governor of Western Australia.. The May Circle centenary project involved the planting of several new trees, a new red bitumen road to make the area stand out from its surroundings, a spacious paved area and pedestrian paths, sitting walls, power and a drinking fountain. An abstract steel artwork was also installed to serve as a lectern for future plaque dedication services. It continues to be the primary site for future dedication services, weather permitting.
Kattidj Close is not a recognised Honour Avenue in Kings Park but marks the entry to the Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority administration and Kings Park Education. It was named Kattidj Close in August 2014, using the Nyoongar word 'Kattidj' which means 'to know or understand'. Two unique Honour Avenue plaques are located on Kattidj Close. The two Lieutenants honoured were placed here due to the proximity of the 10th Light Horse memorial. They were both mounted troops and the recipients of Victoria Cross decorations, the highest and most prestigious award of the British honours system.
Inaugural Kings Park Dawn Service
The annual dawn service at Kings Park has become an important tradition of remembrance for the people of Western Australia. The link between the State War Memorial and Honour Avenues is well acknowledged in a moving news item in the Western Mail edition of Thursday 30 April 1931:
"Silently, and unhurried, the thousands who came to pay their mute tributes to the men who died on the first Anzac dawn, and to those who fell in the conflict of the three and a half succeeding years, filed to the State War Memorial through the mists draping the avenues of King's Park in the darkness of Saturday morning. For nearly an hour the rain soaked paths gave back the sound of tramping feet, as men, women and children, dim outlines in the blackness, came in pilgrimage to the shrine of the State's dead. By 6 a.m. about 8,000 people had gathered around the base of the memorial - a silent, reverent host, came to that natural cathedral to commune with the dead at the days most impressive hour.
Dawn came stealthily, almost unheralded by colour glories in the sky. Before the sun was visible, dim light began creeping over the leaden-grey surface of the river below Mount Eliza, showing forth the shadowy outlines of the mist-wrapped city, and filtering through the trees covering the slopes of the mount. Rain clouds hid the distant hills. To many gathered there it recalled in several aspects the sixteen-years-past dawn of the Landing, when the day of their testing broke in just such a wintry fashion, with rain-clouds lowering over the sea behind, and grey light steeping the dark, cliff faces before them...
Muffled drums commenced to roll as the clouds above the river caught the first glint of the morning sun. Led by his Excellency the Governor (Sir William Campion). the State president of the Returned Soldiers' League (Colonel H. B. Collett) and the Minister for Railways (Mr. J. Scaddan), who represented the State Government, and other official wreath-bearers, ex-service men, marching in column, advanced slowly through the crowd to the base of the memorial. The parade halted without a command being uttered. Colonel Collett laid the first wreath, in memory of Fallen Australian, British and Dominion comrades at the foot of the memorial, the Governor followed with a wreath on behalf of Toc H., and Mr. Scaddan laid down the State Government's tribute. Wreath after wreath was then reverently brought forward and laid in place, until the whole base of the memorial was flower-covered.
The drums, which had been silent during the placing of the floral tributes, recommenced rolling, and clear on the cold air "The Last Post" rang out. Few there were in the great crowd who did not feel a catch at the throat as its message of farewell went out, addressed to each of that gallant band whose name is engraved on the memorial tablets in the crypt beneath the obelisk. As the last sobbing notes died away a single artillery salute was fired. A deep silence once more, and then the joyous notes of "The Reveille." From somewhere across the river came back an answering call. Was it that voices of unseen warriors had replied, "We have heard?" The dawn breeze took up the answer, setting the petals of the Flanders' poppies and the flowers of Australian gardens, strewn at the memorial's base, fluttering slightly. Across the drive the breeze passed, and as the throng, having paid its heartfelt tribute, dispersed, it seemed, in fancy, that the trees of the Honour Avenue, speaking for the dead whose names they commemorate, repeated, "We have heard!"