The senseless demolition of Griffith House hit a last minute snag last week as workers arrived on Wednesday morning to the confronting site of protest slogans all over the white ‘shroud’ that had been set up to cover the crimes of their work.
A large banner was seen hanging from the very top of the structure with one word painted across it in blood red colour – “SICKNESS.” This is quite an apt statement to describe the state of affairs pertaining to the loss of such an important heritage asset on the grounds of St George hospital, the house of Peter Herrmann, a founding father who actually helped to set up the hospital. Perhaps the protestors were alluding to the current state of planning in NSW under the O’Farrell/Hazzard government, and the lack of sympathy given to protection of our heritage architecture. Or perhaps it refers to the state of mind the South Eastern Sydney Health Board were in when they controversially decided that it was more important to retain a rather sick looking Animal Testing Research centre on nearby Kensington St than to protect priceless heritage for the people of the Southern suburbs of Sydney, a decision that has since been revealed to be a lie, as neither building seems to be part of the final fabric of the redeveloped hospital.
“SHAME” was also blazoned across the sheeting, a word that perhaps could sum up what SES Health CEO Terry Clout may be feeling as he ponders his part in the decision making process, a process that left the site of St George Hospital stripped of its most important historic building, replacing it with a mundane looking Bunnings Warehouse-style Emergency Department, and left public interest strangely on the sidelines throughout the whole ordeal. It may sum up the silence of Morris Iemma, Chair of SES Health, who decided not to get involved amidst a row of communal disapproval, not bothering to respond to concerns that I myself made in communication to his office. Or it may or may not be part of Oatley MP Mark Coure’s vocabulary, a local politician who just doesn’t seem to get the heritage business at all. Or Cath Whitehurst, St George Hospital’s Director of Operations, who initially denied the house was heritage listed, when in fact it always was. And the final shame, of course, goes to NSW Planning Minister Brad Hazzard, who rubber-stamped the wanton destruction of this locally significant historical landmark for the sake of an access road and a few parking spaces.
Above, a morning to remember: A series of photographs were sent to me and The Leader newspaper, taken by passers-by on the morning of Wednesday 17th April. Site managers and workmen were seen scrambling to clean off the protester’s words, wholly aware of the negative publicity this project has fought hard to avoid the whole way along. Perhaps too late for this building, but the message was clear enough.
The fact is there was an alternative here, a simple one that would have produced a favourable outcome for the hospital, for the users of the hospital, and for the residents of Kogarah moreover. The result it was not explored has left us with just two words, ‘sickness’ and ‘shame’, sickness being the cause, and shame the result. Hospitals are normally in the business of healing sickness, not causing it, but not in this case. Will we learn from this tragedy? If we don’t then the future of heritage retention in NSW is sealed.
Below, a last look at Griffith House. Perhaps it should have been renamed Peter Herrmann House in honour of its builder and resident, one of Kogarah Council, Fire and Hospital’s founding fathers. His legacy has now been all but erased by this senseless act of heritage vandalism, in the name of cheap cost cutting and short sighted politicism. I took a walk around just before the secret shroud went up and tried to remember what never should have been taken from us.
A final note
Here is an image of nearby Hurstville Private Hospital, 37 Gloucester Rd. Hurstville. Despite it’s extensive renovations and expansion, they have managed to keep their own heritage building as a centrepiece, on a real estate plot that is obviously much smaller than St George Public, and with resources far smaller. The question now becomes, how can the private system balance heritage values with first class hospital delivery, and the public system fail so badly?
Title image: Jane Dyson, The Leader
Something is happening in the Sutherland Shire, something big, and getting bigger, something that will change the lifestyle of residents forever…
The new Liberal dominated council hasn’t been long in unleashing its plans for a bigger shire, one that perpetuates a lot more high-rise, a lot more units, a lot more subdivision of residential lots, loss of green space, and scant regard for heritage values…
In their first few months already they have released a draft LEP that proposes to change the required zoning of suburban blocks to allow many more duplexes to be built. Already they’ve handed over two large swathes of the shire at Sutherland-Loftus and Caringbah-Miranda to the state government’s urban activation program somehow forgetting to consult with their ratepayers in the process. Already they’ve announced a further 5,500 additional high rise dwellings. Already they’ve up’d the zoning of Cronulla mall to allow six storeys of development in what is essentially currently a one and two storey heritage precinct. Aleady they’ve set new townhouse height limits up to three stories. Already they’ve allowed single residential lots to be individually redeveloped as units, increased building heights and floor space ratios for units and set 4 stories as minimum, 8 stories preferred. Already they’ve lowered the minimum green space requirement on lots from 40-50% to 25-30%. Already they’ve increased floor space ratios in low density areas to accommodate much larger houses with no backyards. And recently, they’ve announced that they will demolish rather than restore a historic house of the Thomas Holt estate (one of the shire’s first settlements) that previous councils had allowed for and actually purchased in years gone past with the aim of restoration (more on this story soon… yes Mayor Kent Johns, just for you). And already a Save our Shire resident group has been formed in response to what they rightfully see as an attack on their treasured lifestyle, a beachside lifestyle that is known to be relaxed and easy going. And if you live in the fabled shire, you should react too, because I take it on good information that within a few years the shire may not look anything like it currently does, and that should cause concern, if not panic, for those of you who want to retain your lifestyle as it is. This is so clearly a developer friendly council and combined with Brad Hazzard’s developer friendly planning reforms we are in real trouble as a community if we stand by and watch idly. You have only until 1st May to respond, so get busy!
This one makes me laugh… On Geralle Street, between South Cronulla beach and the mall, is a building site for the proposed Breeze development, pictured above. This two story small block is being bulldozed to make way for an over-sized nine storey block of units … What’s comical is the digital images on the safety fence curtains, and on the website, showing iconic images of the shire as it was in days gone by and indeed as it still is to some extent. Blonde haired surfers hanging out at the wall with longboards, wood panelled cars parked outside red brick buildings, you know…the very images of Cronulla that this kind of development is doing its best to quickly crush! So they are advertising the very things that they are bringing to ruin! Now that would be extremely funny, if it wasn’t so serious…
The recent redevelopment of the old library and church on Surf Road was a wake up call… I’m not a ‘shirey’ but I wrote letters to the council fearing the worst. The vintage wood interiors were lost but luckily at least the structure of the twin roofed building was maintained and adapted for use as a trendy restaurant, rather than being bulldozed to rubble.
And that’s all we ask of planners, to adapt and re-use existing heritage buildings rather than smash to pieces, thereby retaining a heritage ‘look’ and communal value, while also keeping our suburbs to what I term ‘human scale’, and a measure of respect to the way these places were designed to look by our forefathers, before developer greed swept in like a tidal wave. Without this thought it won’t take long for Cronulla to look like the Gold Coast, or much worse, and is that what the residents really want? Not the ones I talk to.
Click Save Our Shire webpage here.