FOREST ROAD, HURSTVILLE – A MOMENT IN TIME
The suburb of Hurstville in southern Sydney has long been a place of change. From transport hub to shopping megalopolis to high rise residential, the city hasn’t been spared the throng of development engulfing many centres around metropolitan Sydney. But Forest Road, the busy main thoroughfare lined with Asian eateries and grocery markets, still retains glimpses of architectural charm.
I enjoy a stroll along the bustling strip, now clearly influenced by a generation of Chinese migrants. Here you will stumble across butchers selling budget chops, rock star Vietnamese bakeries peddling pork rolls to the masses, Bok choy and Choy sum falling out of little boxes outside grocery stores, golden roast duck hanging gloriously from shopfront windows, noodle and dumpling bars exuding sweet aromas. And as its backdrop, a charming mixmatch of Victorian and Federation style shopfronts and art deco facades, even an early underground shopping arcade linking Forest Road to nearby Westfields, rumoured to be the first outside the Sydney CBD.
The place is a hive of activity, a successful working class migrant story, and it oozes an air of Oriental resourcefulness and prosperity. It’s good to see the Chinese community interact on Forest Road, the way they meet, the way they banter and communicate with one another. Elders are respected and their company is relished. You see it anywhere people of Asian backgrounds congregate. I believe westerners can learn from this sense of social connectivity on show.
But drastic change is once again in the air. A backflipping council, who previously claimed they would keep the CBD residential-free, now has big publicized development plans on the agenda. This is already taking shape along the northern stretch of Forest Road, just along from that massive former Amcor factory development, at 127-141 Forest Road, where a gaping hole has recently appeared and swallowed up a row of little shops and restaurants.
One of these shops was the Chinese grocer occupying Advance House, formerly known as Swans Hardware, a distinctive Art Deco warehouse that has been on the redevelopment radar for some time. There was a legal stoush between architect-developer Nick Katris (who also happens to be a Kogarah councillor) and Hurstville Council, which ended up in the Land and Environment Court. Katris and Associates lodged the original DA with no intention of keeping Advance House in any shape or form, but met an obstacle when Hurstville council’s heritage advisor, Graham Brooks, nominated retention of the Art Deco facade, being a listed item under Hurstville’s LEP. According to the court judgment, ‘Mr Brooks considered that there was an inherent conflict between the heritage listing in LEP 1994 and the site specific controls in the DCP, which permit large scale redevelopment that may overwhelm the retained element.’
At least they have left the façade for posterity, although far from acceptable, it’s better than nothing. It is only a wall after all, is that any substitute for a true heritage building?
Further along, opposite the railway entrance sits the Stokland (former Fosseys) building, a landmark example of an early department store, and quite an elegant example of its type. This council-owned building is now for sale, under a profit taking scheme to bulldoze and replace it with a small park standing over several new levels of underground shopping (that must be a first for modern-day planners; you can have a park, but it needs to make money, there needs to be a shopping centre beneath it!). The existing historic arcade is also at risk.
Hurstville Council, under pressure from the NSW planning department, now appears intent on bulldozing much more of Hurstville’s historic main street. Now it’s been revealed that village centres Riverwood, Peakhurst, and Penshurst won’t be spared either under new zonings set by Minister Hazzard, despite Hurstville Council trying to ‘funnel’ high rise into the CBD. How much will survive now that high rise development will be allowed to encroach into Forest Road and other centres. Many of these buildings are over 100 years old, in essence, an ‘old town’ streetscape that should be retained and protected rather than turned into glass and concrete high-rise.
There is nothing more soulless than new glass shopfronts supporting multi-storey units. Many of us prefer the rambling, human scaled, colourful, sometimes crumbling shopfronts of a Hong Kong style market, where street life abounds and takes on a meaning of its own. This won’t be the case with new mega-development from architect firms such as Katris and Associates, swallowing up any heritage, any vibrant colour that now exists on the Forest Road strip; heritage that has evolved over time to take on new generations, and suit their needs, and provide all that is required for a healthy shopping precinct to exist into the future.