“HEAR YE HEAR YE” AUSTRALIA’S OLDEST PUBLIC SQUARE UNDER THREAT

Thompson Square, in historic Windsor, north west of Sydney, is under direct threat by a proposal to upgrade the adjoining road and Hawkesbury River crossing. Councillors voted 9-3 in an April 2012 meeting to replace the current bridge (the oldest structure crossing the river) with a wider modern bridge incorporating an approach through Thompson Square, praising the virtues of such a misguided idea – “Thompson Square will be enhanced by filling in the existing roadway and the new bridge alignment will follow Bridge Street which has always been there and has always led down to the river,” Cr Bassett said. In actual fact it would alter the face of the square forever, drowning out the peaceful heritage ambience with a concrete expressway-like road coughing up fumes and noise of thundering B-doubles all over the picturesque town and square.

The Doctor’s House (c1830) view of Thompson Square and river
Image VIBE property.

The Georgian era square, which has its origins in 1795, is widely considered the oldest civic square in the country. Another, in the Rocks, has been filled and built over as was argued by Hawkesbury historian Jan Barkley-Jack at the council meeting against obviously ill-informed councillors, members of which still deny that this is in fact the oldest public square. The square has been labelled the best preserved vestige of the Governor Macquarie’s grand era of civic planning. Surrounded by restored period buildings, including the graceful Macquarie Arms Hotel, Australia’s oldest pub, this is no doubt a very significant link to Australia’s early settlement days when the west was opened up along the mighty river.

It would be completely defaced by the ludicrous proposed ‘Option 1’, which dictates the installation of a $31 million, two-lane, modern high-level bridge across the Hawkesbury. It is the preferred option for the short-sighted council as well as the State Government, offering “best value for money”, but there were actually nine options put forward by the RMS (the revamped Road and Maritime Services department under the O’Farrell government), alongside an option preferred by community groups to create a bypass, which would have a far less negative impact on the town and square. The existing Windsor bridge, opened in 1874, is also under direct threat of removal by option 1.

Option 1 and Stage 2 development RTA

Looking over the NSW Govt Road projects website, there is more than a hint of irony between what they say and what they propose to do. These are direct quotes:
“While Windsor needs to modernise its infrastructure this must be done with sensitivity to its history, heritage and cultural values.This is especially true of Thompson Square”. (…sensitivity? Framing the square with a concrete expressway?)
“RMS is committed to creating a replacement bridge that will not just support but enhance the living history of Windsor.” (… by support and enhance the living history they mean demolish and remodel the living history)
“The new bridge will have a visual and physical impact on Thompson Square. But in backfilling the existing road cutting and realigning it along one side of the Square, the new bridge presents an opportunity to integrate the precinct into a unified green space:

  • Three roads reduced  to two.
  • Usable area increased by more than 500m sq.
  • Enhanced picnic areas near the town centre and closer to the river, away from traffic.”
    (…so they are going to improve Australia’s oldest civic square by backfilling and alteration, sorry, not on this site, that won’t do)

There is even a pretty diagram that shows the evolution of Thompson Square, trying to show all of us that this is just the next step to happiness ever after. Click the image below.

Isn’t government propaganda pretty in 2012?

In reality, Windsor Bridge would be replaced with an uninspiring concrete incrementally launched bridge such as one at Corowa (pictured below), looking like any other new bridge or overpass in the state really. And as shown by the RMS 3D modelling, the view and noise of the roadway would be quite obtrusive looking out from the square, being raised as it is and so close and wide. Even the gentle age old slope down towards the river would be lost… one would have to look hard to even see the river from there. Is all this appropriate for what is essentially one of our most important and in tact historical sights in the country? We don’t think so.

Bridge at Corowa, the type preferred by RMS for Windsor Bridge replacement.
Yes it is boringly ugly. Image RMS website

Where’s the river? You’d have to bend your neck to see it.
3D Modelling still, RMS website

Like any ridiculous idea, the project does have its multitude of opponents, in the form of local residents, action groups and noted historians. One such group is the CAWB (Community Action for Windsor Bridge) with a marvelous website link here. http://cawb.weebly.com/

There was a community rally held on site 3 June that attracted a vast crowd and has yielded petitions numbering supporters in the thousands. Sydney’s prominent heritage architect, Clive Lucas, has thrown his support behind the cause. ”There’d be very little written about colonial architecture in Sydney that wouldn’t include the buildings in Thompson Square. They’ve put Thompson Square back in such good order,” he said. ”Balconies that were boxed in with asbestos or removed altogether have been restored. To spend all this money fixing the buildings, then destroy the square is extraordinary.”

Graham Edds, a heritage architect and member of the local action group, commented to the SMH ”Australia needs to realise Thompson Square isn’t just the green bit in the middle. It is the only remaining civic square in Australia from the 18th century. It goes back to 1795. Historically it was the meeting place of all the early [Hawkesbury] settlers when it was the food bowl of the fledgling colony. They brought their produce here and picked up their own supplies. It was a civic square 15 years before Governor Macquarie formalised it in 1810 … and now we are putting a four-lane highway through it.”

And against all this public scrutiny, the council has reverted to some underhanded tactics. Building owners around the square, who have been posting CAWB (Community Action for Windsor Bridge) banners, have been ordered to remove them under the pretense that they constitute “advertisements”. And in another turn of events, a petition by the same group has gone missing mysteriously from its storage place in the Vault.

Strange happenings indeed in Old Windsor…

Thompson Square 1870’s
Hawkesbury City Council Library

Check the following related government project links:

State Significant lnfrastructure Application https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=https%3A%2F%2Fmajorprojects.affinitylive.com%2Fpublic%2F23782bc940181fdee2f535ae32ab2c95%2FWindsor%2520Bridge%2520Replacement_%2520Application%2520Form.pdf

Application Report https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=https%3A%2F%2Fmajorprojects.affinitylive.com%2Fpublic%2F1c6a789759de0e54007c76b5b82bec95%2FWindsor%2520Bridge%2520Replacement_%2520Application%2520Report-1.pdf

Presentation NSW Govt  https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.rta.nsw.gov.au%2Froadprojects%2Fprojects%2Fsydney_region%2Fwestern_sydney%2Fwindsor_bridge%2Fdocuments%2Fwindsor_bridge_presentation_urban_design_and_heritage.pdf

Options Report https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.rta.nsw.gov.au%2Froadprojects%2Fprojects%2Fsydney_region%2Fwestern_sydney%2Fwindsor_bridge%2Fdocuments%2Fwindsor_bridge_options_report_aug2011.pdf

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3 responses to ““HEAR YE HEAR YE” AUSTRALIA’S OLDEST PUBLIC SQUARE UNDER THREAT”

  1. June M Bullivant OAM says :

    Barry the Basher will go down in history as the Putin of Australia, he is responsible for presiding over the most historic demolition in NSW, how much is he getting from the big end of town?

  2. inheritanceorg says :

    There is a public rally at Thompson Square, Sunday 21 July. We need everybody to show your support and turn up on the day.

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