The Foetus Tree

The abandoned deep freeze – a harbinger of worse to come

It was the abandoned deep freeze that first alerted us to the potential scale of problems at our rental house across the road when we arrived back from Melbourne. Why, we wondered, was it left there?

The tenant, gone AWOL overseas, had sent a friend (now a former friend for reasons that will become very clear) to move her mountain of belongings. The friend had done a sterling job getting out a fair amount – nowhere near all of it, but a surprisingly large amount. It appears that it may have been the deep freeze that tipped her over the edge. She had looked inside.

The power had been disconnected a few weeks earlier and warm, late summer temperatures had also contributed to the truly, mind-blowingly foul stench once the lid was lifted. But there was worse to come.

The deep freeze contained a dead dog. Now I hasten to add that the dog was small, had been euthanized humanely by the vet and placed in a cardboard box with a plastic flower on top. But it wasn’t in good shape. It fell to poor Mark to deal with the contents which contained not only the dead dog, but also decomposing pork trotters (even more bizarre when you know that the tenant had allegedly converted to Islam and is currently domiciled far, far away with her Islamic husband whom she appears to have met over the internet), fish bait and various other unmentionables. All had to be removed from their plastic wrappings and buried. Mark carried out this task without complaint while Lloyd and I exited the property on account of the all-pervasive stench.

The foetus tree

But a further problem awaited us. Not as gross. More grotesque. The foetus tree. I had emailed photographs to the tenant of the bewildering chaos of her remaining belongings and she replied: “I did not see the tree in any of the pics either that is in the black tub , this was planted by my mother when I was seven and it has my own babies I lost buried in it.” Unfortunately, the tree was still on the property.

What on earth is one meant to do with a tree which contains the decomposed foetuses from well over a decade ago?

The tree we identified as Cedrus deodara, maybe aurea.  We used to grow a few of these commercially and I am sure that the specimen before my eyes is not the 45 years of age the tenant claimed (planted when she was just seven). Given it has had a hard life and been kept in a comparatively small pot, I would guess about 20 years. But apparently containing foetus remains. What sort of a person carts around foetuses? It is not as though she had no live births. There appear to be seven extant offspring.

We didn’t want the responsibility of this tree. Neither, apparently, did the adult children living not that far away. But knowing that it contained human remains, meant not treating it with the contempt we hold for all the other remaining detritus left for us to deal with. I consulted my locked social media account. There was unanimous agreement that we needed to recognise the tapu* nature of the tree. One friend came up with what I thought was a brilliant solution. Relocate it, she suggested, to an unmonitored burial site or cemetery and advise the tenant where it is so that she can arrange its collection. We have such a site just down the road and it is unlikely that anybody will notice the arrival of the foetus tree in its pot, for a while at least.

Removing the foetus tree from the property

As Lloyd and Mark loaded the heavy tree into the back of Lloyd’s ute, my heart lightened. It was a genuine relief to see it disappearing down the driveway. I went down to the cemetery later with my camera, in order to send photographs of its new location to the erstwhile tenant, that she may make arrangements for its collection.

Was she grateful? No. Of course not. She ignored my email but I heard from a third party that she was deeply offended, enraged even. I have no idea what she expected us to do with the tree. I thought we had found an elegant solution. But then the decision to cart the remains of one’s miscarried foetuses around long after their demise is also a huge mystery to us.

Just inside the cemetery gate, for easy collection


*tapu – sacred in Maori. Or, to be more precise: “an ancient Māori spiritual and social code that was central to traditional society, is about sanctity and respect for people, natural resources and the environment.” It is only when I am writing for overseas readers that I realise how much we have now incorporated concepts and language from NZ’s indigenous people into common parlance, with a reasonable expectation that other New Zealanders will understand.

Postscript: As Lloyd quipped that he was worried about being caught on CCTV (which is only funny if you understand the nature of very small, rural cemeteries that date back to the nineteenth century and have remained very small to this day), the irony of the sign beside the current resting place of the foetus tree brought a wry smile from Mark.


15 thoughts on “The Foetus Tree

  1. bittster

    Well that was unexpected.
    I wish the newlywed well, but honestly don’t think you could have made up a more bizarre story. Hopefully your next tenants will raise the bar back to normal! Good luck

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      That was the heavily edited version, stripped of extraneous detail. It was somewhat more bizarre in its full, detailed glory. You are kinder than we are, wishing the newlyweds well and yes, we will be a great deal more circumspect when it comes to choosing a new tenant.

  2. Paul Cleary

    Hi Abby,
    that was very Gothic and somehow very NZ. May I recopy your tale to my two NZ friends in Australia?

  3. André Johnke

    What a creepy story! It must have been the true horror for you. This was getting worse with every new sentence. But, shame on me, I couldn`t stop laughing. This was one of your best, getting close to “A rental car in Italy”. ( I feel so bad)

  4. Lynne

    The whole story, from the mess they left behind, to the freezer with rotting meat and a dog (including her being Muslim and having pigs trotters and the met-him-online-and-went-overseas-to-get-married), to the fetus tree …. I’m torn between utterly horrified at your ordeal and (probably inappropriately) thoroughly entertained by your recounting of it.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      That pretty much sums up where we aare at with this situation, Lynne. Though there is also a layer of pathos and tragedy to unravelling the detritus of somebody’s life in order to separate the rubbish from the recycling and the op shop material. A couple of stiff gins in the evening can help with seeing the funny side.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Having spent the better part of Easter cleaning up after this woman, I can now report that the dog and the tree appear to have been the most *difficult* discoveries. The rest is just daunting on account of the sheer volume of rubbish and detritus of a discarded and chaotic life.

      1. Abbie Jury Post author

        We have rented out that house for 21 years now and had our fair share of ups and downs but we have NEVER struck anything like this before. My only consolation is the discovery that yes, we made a mistake and we were duped, but so were at least six landlords before us where there have been major occupancy and exit issues!

      2. tonytomeo

        When I lived in town, I never had anything more than minor problems, but neighbors had major problems. The building next door had a property management firm that profited from bad tenants. they got a commission for renting each apartment out. They got a commission for evicting bad tenants. They got a commission for arranging for repairs caused by the bad tenants. Meanwhile, the good tenants moved out because of all the dysfunction associated with the bad tenants. There have been some real horror stories with rentals here, including a new home that needed to be demolished after tenants converted it into a marijuana grow room, complete with automated irrigation (that was installed by ‘marijuana enthusiasts’). The home was so rotted and infested with black mold that it was condemned and demolished. Those who grow marijuana brag about how much many they make, but always seem to get evicted because they can not afford rent.

      3. Abbie Jury Post author

        It is not marijuana grow labs that are the big issue here (unless they bypass the house metre board to tap directly into the electrical power to save on power charges and monitoring) so much as methamphetamine labs which can render a house uninhabitable and also cause house fires. I would never be a landlord by choice. We just happen to have a spare house because we purchased the neighbouring block of land to use. And in the hope that one of our children may choose to return home to live one day in which case we have a spare home for them!

      4. tonytomeo

        It is sad to think that your society has some of the same problems as ours. I suppose most societies do.
        There is a vacant home on my Pa’s farm that I would love to live in, except that it is more than a thousand miles from where I want to be. It is vacant because he had so many problems with tenants, including the last who brought several cars there, parted them out, and then left the carcasses. In Washington, the cars can not be removed until cleared with the previous owners. Finding them took quite a while. Disposing of the cars cost more than what the tenant payed (and didn’t pay) during the months that he was there. By the time the house was repaired and habitable, my Pa had decided to just leave it vacant. My #4 sister may want to live there someday. She and her husband would take good care of it.

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