“There’s a great wonderment in growing a tree. From a seed you can hardly see and the first steps you take to sowing it in the soil. Then this sprout comes out and you know that it’s going to be a tree. It’s amazing that 3-4 months later the sprout has sprung into a young tree 30-40 centimetres tall. Then 30 years on, it has flourished into a majestic Red Gum tree in your backyard growing with you as part of your home.”
On family holidays in the colourfully enchanting waterside city of Copenhagen, little did a Melbourne girl named Sue know how chance would play such an enormous role in her life. Chance would have it that the day after celebrating her 14th birthday she would meet a romantic Danish boy named Asger. A year later, chance would lead to Sue’s family moving to Copenhagen for her father’s work. Chance would also see to it that Sue and Asger’s lives would intertwine from a teenage romance into a wedding in 1964. As newlyweds, they moved to the countryside and sometimes worked in the same hospital with Sue as a nurse and Asger as a doctor, and in the flourishing green countryside, they would have three children born in Denmark.
Longing to be closer to her family, Sue and Asger Sturup moved their young family to Australia in 1973. Setting up their new home in Ballarat, Sue raised their children and Asger worked as a doctor at the hospital. Later by chance, Asger worked with a colleague named Bill McLeod and Sue would go on to befriend Bill’s wife Maggie. As Sue was re-adjusting to being back in Australia and living in the countryside, she couldn’t help but feel there was a missing sense of vibrancy in the Australian bush. It was through her friendship with Maggie that she learnt to look past the dull grey forest and see the beauty of the sprawling ranges of gum trees and native Australian flora.
It was on a chance filled day nearly two decades later, that Sue would be able to return the favour to Maggie and light her spark. During a seminar that Sue was leading for Landmark Education, Maggie explained that she was extremely upset with the degrading state of Australian forests and how the Earth was being cared for. Honest as always in their friendship, Sue held Maggie to account and asked what she was going to do about it, and what action would she take? In that instant, a spark was created, and Maggie knew what she would do, she made a promise to plant a million trees. It was from that spark that flared in Maggie McLeod that she, along with Belinda Gross and others, co-founded TreeProject.
In 1990, Sue and Asger bought a new house back in Melbourne and were able to join the TreeProject volunteer community. Driving along the Chandler today, seeing the magnificent gum trees rise so naturally from the cliffs of the Yarra Bend Park, it’s hard to imagine that those trees were planted by the first TreeProject volunteers which Asger was part of. Since that day, Asger has continued his unswaying commitment to TreeProject as a volunteer grower, each year nurturing 700 seedlings to life for the planting and restoration of our landscapes. Asger’s tremendous kindness and experience saw him take on the role of Grower Coordinator supporting new and fellow growers through their journey for many years.
Along the way, Asger and Sue have seen TreeProject expand and change – be it the volunteer community, the operations of TreeProject and even the leadership team. In 2019, when Asger attended the TreeProject AGM he noticed how lean the attendance was. The heart and ethos of TreeProject is engaging like-minded people to collaborate in the reforestation of the planet. And it struck him – without enough of the right people – what would this mean for the past, the present and the future of TreeProject. So, when the call came seeking nominations for TreeProject Council Members, even though Asger thought he was too old, he decided to act doing whatever he could to keep the legacy of his long-time friend Maggie McCleod alive and he became a Council Member. The value that Asger brings to the council today extends beyond his knowledge and experience as a grower, it is his role as an honoured guardian that is of the greatest value in keeping what we do true to TreeProject’s ethos.
While Sue and Asger are great believers in chance, they also know that it’s how they acted on the chances given to them that has brought them the joy and moments of their lives. The same can be said of TreeProject, for Sue she wants to see all the trees we have planted mature into majestic flora that truly make a difference to the planet. Asger would like to see with our modern ways how we could upscale our cottage industries to be able to plant one million trees per year in the next 5-10 years. Always keeping true to the ethos of engaging like-minded people from all walks of life to collaborate in the reforestation of the planet and fostering the connection between the city and the country.
Article by Fran Ng