GRIFFITH HOUSE LOST ON LIES

Campaigners for the retention of Griffith House, a late 19th Century Victorian Italianate villa on the grounds of St George Hospital, the very institution that the house’s original owner helped to set up, met on the lawns of the villa on Sunday 24th February dressed in black, as a sign of mourning the death of a significant piece of local heritage, and the loss of balance in heritage values when it comes to new public land development in NSW.

What appears to have crushed the collective spirit of supporters of the house, and there are many, is the fact that NSW Health voted to demolish Griffith House to make way for an internal access road in favour of retaining an ugly, demountable building known as Animal House Research Centre, which, we were adamantly told by the CEO Terry Clout could not be moved under any circumstances. That spin now has been revealed to be nothing but bureaucratic departmental lies, with the release of the St George Hospital master plan, clearly indicating that the eyesore Research Centre will indeed be removed at Stage 4.

The whole premise of the Health Department’s argument for the necessary removal of Griffith House has now been proved to be a figment of their own imagination. So why are we still losing the irreplaceable house of Peter Herrmann, one of Kogarah council, fire and hospital’s founding fathers for the sake of an internal access road? That question, unfortunately, may never be answered. Even more confusing is a diagrammatic image of the master plan, stages 6+7, that shows trees and a garden where the proposed access road should be. If the road was so important than why would a full sized tree be growing in the middle of it? Again, should we even ask?

Whatever the logic, the loss of Griffith House is a tragic blow to the history of the hospital and the area of Kogarah in general. A rare example of architecture around these parts, and such a graceful villa in its own right, the adaptive re-use of it was never considered by NSW Health in any capacity, either as offices, research facilities, or a campus cafe/courtyard restaurant and possible hospital museum upstairs, which, nestled between Peter Herrmann’s fire house on one side, and the shining new wing of the emergency department on the other, could only be praised by resident groups and heritage activists like myself, rather than as it is, roundly deplored.

I personally would love to see the villa renamed Peter Herrmann House in its last days, as a gesture of goodwill by the Health Department, to at least leave some small point of reference to the enduring work of founding father Peter Herrmann and his civic testamony that remains. At the very least I would like to see a statue of his bust on the grounds of the hospital, or perhaps in the Kogarah library forecourt, as a replacement to that ridiculous Bruce Lee statue that really represents nothing of Kogarah. Peter Hermann represents everything.

Thank you to Kogarah Councillors Mclean and Landsbury, who bucked the trend of the Liberal dominated council, to show their support for local heritage by attending the Griffith House wake. Thanks too to Leesha Payor who put in a lot of effort along with members of local heritage groups and of course Anne Field who led the campaign and organised the wake on Sunday. Eternal shame goes to Terry Clout, head spin doctor of South Eastern Sydney Health, Cath Whitehouse, GM spinner SE Sydney Health, MP Cherie Burton, MP Mark Coure, Mayor Nick Varvaris, and Brad Hazzard, planning buffoon, for disgracefully signing the death knell our critically important heritage, with a pen inked with little more than public lies.

Order of Service, Sun 24th Feb, Wake for Griffith House.
Anne Field documented the campaign to save the building, heritage architect Stephen Green discussed the rarity of the architecture, Rockdale Cr. Liz Barlow read a poem by June Bullivant OAM ‘The Question or the Answer‘, Councillors Landsberry and McLean read a history of Peter Herrmann, and finally, I read an ode I was asked to contribute to the memory of Griffith House, and our great loss of heritage, entitled ‘Bricks and Mortar‘, reproduced below.

DSC03170

“BRICKS AND MORTAR”

These bricks and mortar have stood so many years,
They’ve watched over hardships and conquests and fears.

And a world that has changed is reflected in its walls,
Where our history is told and never can fall.

Generations have come and passed into dust,
They’ve seen what we see, a building so proud, a fate so unjust.

Some of us gather out here in its wake,
As memories now are all we can take…

All images by Inheritance.

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