‘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