‘SICKNESS’ AND ‘SHAME’ – THE FINAL WORDS ON GRIFFITH HOUSE

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

Hurstville Private Hospital

Hurstville Private Hospital
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12 responses to “‘SICKNESS’ AND ‘SHAME’ – THE FINAL WORDS ON GRIFFITH HOUSE”

  1. Dorothy Warwick says :

    Well said! And a very pertinent question at the end that could be asked of many Sydney heritage sites.

  2. June M Bullivant OAM says :

    Shame and sickness is correct, in fact the community should be so mad, not only for the destruction that the NSW Health has afforded this lovely building, it was knocked down to build 8 car spaces, there was another awful building that supposed to be temporary, but it was kept. But the one to watch is the NSW White paper, you all need to be aware that you will have no say in what is built next door to you with the proposed laws. No say at all.

  3. Jimi k says :

    i went past Griffith House today, and sadly, about 80% of it is gone. I agree with these protesters. It is of sickness and a shame that it is gone. I was sad to see most of it gone.

    • inheritanceorg says :

      People will try and find the positives to come out of this. Sadly, there are none in this case. It has exposed a state government malicious in their contempt of local heritage, a ‘sick’ system within the establishment of NSW Health that is meant to be in the business of curing sickness. We have all lost here.

  4. inheritanceorg says :

    roger varley says : June 28, 2013 at 12:12 am Edit

    My name is Roger Varley and Peter Herrmann was my great grandfather. The house in the picture is where I spent the first 7 or 8 years of my life. I believe Mr. Herrmann made quite a considerable amount of money in the goldfields at Hill End and came back to Sydney, bought land and built the house which was named Weeroona. I have no idea how it came to be called Griffith House. The address used to be 30 gray st.I believe that he became Lord Mayor of Kogarah and that he donated land on which the hospital was first built. You can imagine my shock when I drove my truck into Gray st a few weeks ago and saw my old house three parts destroyed and a digger knocking down the remaining walls…I somehow thought that house would be there forever…

    • inheritanceorg says :

      Thanks for your comments Roger. What a beautiful house to have spent your childhood in. You are quite right in saying it should have been there forever.
      I have heard it referred to in records as Werroona, with a double r, as in Peter Herrmann. It was renamed by the Hospital Board around 1960 in honour of Tom Griffith, a health board official. In the final days before demolition I tossed up the idea with local councillors to officially rename it either Peter Herrmann House as a fitting tribute to the founding father, or Peter Herrmann’s Werroona. I thought this may resonate with those who sought its demise. But to no avail.
      I also believe there should be a bust of Peter Herrmann somewhere on the grounds of St George Hospital or in a public space nearby in memory.
      Being his great grandson you may be interested in this snippet from an online newspaper of his son’s marriage (perhaps your grandfather?), http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/14350967

      HERRMANN—ALSTON.—November 28, at St. Pauls
      Church, Kogarah, by the Rev. A. C. Corlette, Harry
      Peter, only son of Peter Herrmann, Werroona, Kogarah,
      to Leonora Beatrice Alston, only daughter of the late
      Dr. John Wilson Alston, of Sydney, and of Helsington,
      Sandringham, and granddaughter of the late Thomas
      M’Culloch, The Pines, Newtown.
      Dr. John Wilson Alston, of Sydney, and of Helsington,
      Sandringham, and granddaughter of the late
      Thomas M’Culloch, The Pines, Newtown.

  5. inheritanceorg says :

    NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge’s questions to parliament, responses:

    4470—HEALTH, MEDICAL RESEARCH—GRIFFITH HOUSE REDEVELOPMENT
    Mr Shoebridge to the Minister for Police and Emergency Services, Minister for the Hunter, and Vice-President of the Executive Council representing the Minister for Health, and Minister for Medical Research—
    1. Why was Griffith House not listed on the Heritage and Conservation register by the Department of Health?
    2.
    1. Was a comparative analysis undertaken to establish the rarity of Griffith House in the local area during the preparation of the Heritage Impact Statement?
    2. If not, why not?
    3. What plans were made by the Department of Health to provide alternative means of access that did not require the demolition of Griffith House?

    Answer—
    As part of the NSW Government planning approval process, a heritage consultant was appointed to undertake a heritage impact assessment. The assessment concluded that Griffith House is listed as an item of ‘regional significance’ in Schedule 3 of the Kogarah LEP 1998. It is not on the State or National Heritage list. It was determined that the building should be recorded and the contribution of Griffith House to the local history of Kogarah acknowledged on the site. These arrangements are currently underway.
    A number of alternative site layouts were prepared during the briefing and design stage. Plans that did not include demolition of Griffith House failed to accommodate the Emergency Department requirements.

    • June M Bullivant OAM says :

      Of course the building had to go, the modern day designers do not have the expertise to design such a building as Griffith House was, if you are not as good, destroy the evidence.

      • inheritanceorg says :

        Perhaps it is that the modern designers aren’t allowed to use their skills in design to full potential. It seems to be all concerned with money now… The site here was a perfect blank canvas to integrate a modern new quality facility with the beauty and heritage of Griffith House, in essence, the best of both worlds. Unfortunately the Health Department only looked at the bottom line and nothing more, and we are being lumbered with a Bunnings Warehouse trying to be passed off as an Emergency Department, and at the same time we have lost the region’s most important building and a beautiful one at that.
        Imagine, had they put just a little more effort into the design of it… visitors coming out of a state of the art new ED building, and stepping from a glass exit into a leafy courtyard where coffee is being served from Griffith House, showcasing the best of the old and new within a few short steps, and at the same time reflecting well over 100 years of history of continuous service as a hospital and just how far we have come as a society. To me that is what heritage is all about… Instead, they bulldozed the evidence because it was cheaper that way.

      • June M Bullivant OAM says :

        That is a little much to hope for, like your pipe dreams, but NSW will not have to worry about Tourists, there will be nothing left to see. The NSW Government is good at spin, not much good at anything else, it reminds me of the boats coming from Indonesia, or is it a train wreck.

  6. Ian Falconer says :

    Ian Falconer

    I was born in St George hospital in 73 and spent from then to around 85 in Griffith house my father was the superintendent at the hospital there. I know I have a vested interest here but this is a traversty that this historic building be demoed for better egress and car spaces. I cant now show my kids the beautiful house of my youth where I have had so many good memories.

    • inheritanceorg says :

      It must be very disappointing for you especially Ian…
      Many people in the St George area are now seeing their ancestral homes demolished. When this occurs it makes a clean break between a people and ‘their place’… It changes the whole dynamic of how we interact with not only our area but other people around. This is incredibly important and underestimated in our society. After years of observing our local areas being broken apart piece by piece I am only starting to understand just how important the whole process is to maintaining healthy and happy communities. What we are getting now is not healthy and happy communities. It is a complete sell-out.
      Griffith House should never have been sold out for a few carspaces.

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