Two ghost gum trees made famous by the work of Australian Aboriginal artist Albert Namatjira have been found burnt.
Officials in the town of Alice Springs in the Northern Territory say they believe the fire was started deliberately.
The trees had been due to be added to a national heritage register.
Indigenous leaders say that the burning of the trees is a desecration - they are regarded as living spirits in indigenous culture.
Tribal elder Baydon Williams said the loss of such a revered site was "heartbreaking".
"Those two trees symbolised a lot of sacred areas and songlines and marking of boundaries of different skin groups and different clans," Mr Williams said.
Songlines are pathways that cross Australia's interior recording details of the landscape and stories told by indigenous people about creation.
"To see the trees and the way it was burned, I could feel the land, the soil around it, the area is angry and it is sad," Mr Williams added.
Officials say that work had recently been carried out to protect the trees from fire and to allow moisture to get to their roots.
The Northern Territory's Minister for Indigenous Advancement Alison Anderson called the discovery "really, really sad".
"It's the two trees that brought this man to prominence and brought the Northern Territory and Central Australia to prominence and put us on the world map," Ms Anderson said.
The trees feature in many of Namatjira's paintings, such as Twin Ghosts.
Art writer Susan McCulloch told the Sydney Morning Herald that the destruction of the trees was "appalling and a tragic act of cultural vandalism".