On a golden Autumn afternoon in Sydney I decided to take a stroll around the Botanic Gardens with my little daughter in tow. To one side, the idyllic aspect that every tourist knows, a postcard scene – the Sydney Opera House with its gleaming sails of iridescent white, and the iron-clad Harbour Bridge, hanging over a dreamy jade body of water, ferries plying the glistening waves en route to Woolwich or Manly or somewhere similarly exotic. To the other side, a slightly less celebrated but no less beautiful vista of harbourfront workings – Garden Island with its sleepy naval fleet, grimy Woolloomoolloo with its workers’ pubs, pie carts and Finger Wharves jutting out from crowded streets, and standing above it all bathed in afternoon sunshine, the genuine industrial grandeur of the Hammerhead Crane that marks the spot so well and has been a permanent fixture on the Sydney horizon for more than fifty years…
Of course I knew all that was about to change. Mounted high on top of the Hammerhead Crane there are smaller demolition cranes already working away picking apart and lowering pieces of the giant icon one girder at a time. Like soldier ants crawling over a stricken carcass they rummage through at a steady pace and soon enough the entire structure will be nothing more than an unidentifiable decomposing pile of scrap.
It didn’t have to be like this…
Department of Defence bureaucrats set the wheels in motion some time ago, and the matter was put to bed by a former Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities Tony Burke who is now nursing his cushy job as The Manager of Opposition Business in the House, while another pack of equally inadequate politicians take hold of the reigns of power.
When the sad news broke, I tried to garner support for the retention of the crane. I wrote the successive Ministers, without response. I wrote the proprietors of similar cranes in Scotland who have turned their investments into feasible tourist attractions. I wrote the nearby Art Gallery of NSW for support from an arts perspective, the State Library of NSW, Sydney writer’s groups, all without success. I even tried UNESCO as the removal of the Crane poses a clear contravention of the World heritage guidelines for the Sydney Opera House which recognise that the views and vistas between the Opera House and other public spaces within that buffer zone contribute to its world heritage value, and should they be altered, the World Heritage status of the Opera House would be seemingly diminished.
But support was difficult to find in any quarters…
Andrew Woodhouse, President of the Potts Point and Kings Cross Heritage Conservation Society shared my concerns and offered his voice to the cause, but more opposition was needed… Much more, and it wasn’t forthcoming… I would certainly have expected more resistance, in a city of five million, pertaining to what many would consider the death of a city icon, indeed a very important piece of naval heritage – either it was misplaced or just wasn’t there at all.
On this day my daughter’s eyes were drawn to the crane from a grassy verge on the western side of the Botanic Gardens… “Crane!” she exclaimed. “Yes. Let’s go and look at it” I suggested, knowing it would probably be both the first and last time she would see it, or at least recognize it as a crane. We ambled over the hill to a pleasant view above Andrew ‘Boy’ Charlton Pool, and cast our gaze over the bay. As usual, a couple of old navy hulks were tied up to the wharves. The Hammerhead stood with as much effortless grace as ever, despite being infested by the demolition cranes, clinging hungrily to its massive frame.
My daughter watched in awe as I explained to the fragile mind of a two year old, that, as beautiful and significant as it was, she may not be able to see the crane again. “Big crane going down” she quipped, and burst into a shower of tears. “Yes,” I calmed her before lightening the tone… “Little crane going up” she consoled herself, but it became crystal clear in my mind, that a two year old girl seemed to have more respect and regard for the heritage of our working harbour than the knuckleheads who had anything to do with the demise of this icon – and they are knuckleheads, I couldn’t think of a less insulting term to conjure up for these bureaucratic buffoons who play silly games with things of state and national signidficance they don’t have the right to. Illustrative of this point, is the outrageous display of public money that was sunk into a fireworks display for the recent Navy Fleet Review to celebrate Naval ‘heritage’, a cashpot that would have gone quite some way into saving this crane, the tangible evidence of naval industrial heritage in Sydney harbour for half a century. Instead we had a fireworks display that lasted minutes.
We turn and walk into the fading sun. At this time of the day it dips sharply over the Domain and through the concrete shadows of the nearby city. Our return way meanders past the successfully re-purposed (and once slated for demolition) Finger Wharves, exuding maritime heritage, before passing right by the sandstone edifice that is the Art Gallery of NSW, and the shady Speaker’s Corner of the Domain before finding St Mary’s Cathedral and Hyde Park. Such a historic walk through the richly textured layers of old Sydney, a walk that will now be somewhat poorer for the loss of the Crane…
A plaque on top of the Speaker’s Box reads “Stand up and speak your mind.” If more of us don’t head this call, if we don’t stand up for our heritage, if we sit idly by and allow it simply to fall away, if we allow these knuckleheads and bureaucrats to win we will all be the poorer; much more will be lost until there is almost nothing left to preserve, and nothing will ever, ever change. We will all be the poorer for it. The unnecessary and negligent loss of the Hammerhead Crane will become lasting proof of that.
Sydneysiders are familiar with the seaside holiday town of Forster on the NSW mid north coast. Many of us have spent summer vacations in and around the centre, with its abundant beaches, rivers and lakes offering plenty of outdoor activities for the visitor. As a result of this popularity the skyline of Forster (and its twin town Tuncurry to the north) has burst sharply skyward over the years, as open real estate around the town becomes scarcer and developers move in to take advantage of the area’s cashed up holiday rental crowds.
On my last visit, I found something I didn’t really expect – a formerly sleepy seaside hamlet on the verge of much bigger things. Already several big towers have sprung up creating more of a Gold Coast style resort, leaving in their shadows vast chasms of crumbling vestiges of bygone days; fibro beach shacks and modest brick freestanding cottages, all but now slowly disappearing under the growing weight of modern skyscrapers.
What amazes me is the speed at which Forster and towns like it are changing, and just how easy we are to throw away any pieces of our past like scraps of bone to a hungry dog. Every corner you turn in Forster you see For Sale signs propping up decrepit buildings, or safety barriers around abandoned houses and 60s era motels, as they are no longer seen as profitable and either left to rot or handed over to caretaker real estate agents to find suitable developer buyers who have no qualms about turning these little slices of history into contemporary piles of rubble, with their high volume high density money making concrete cubes rising from the ashes…
So who will miss these vestiges, these quaint beach style fibro and brick cottages with their dried up gardens of hibiscus and frangipani that have served their purpose well over the years but just don’t make the cut anymore in this profit orientated, market driven, real estate focused society we call Australia?… I for one. I see the beauty in these buildings, these modest, airy, charming, homely remnants of a disappearing world that have been unashamedly sold out exclusively for the real estate value of the dirt on which they sit.
I believe the council and state government should be looking at the heritage value of certain examples of this style of Australian coastal architecture, c.1920s – 1960s and preserving them rather than allowing wholesale destruction, and at the same time applying the brakes to the total redevelopment of coastal towns like Forster, which is occurring more rapidly than many would like.
‘Tikki Village’, pictured below, is one example of a land sale that recently occurred for over a million dollars, presently holding several ornate little fibro cabins that serve the community with cheap long term rental options, but zoned for medium density development and at risk of being turned into towers.
If you want to see the real Forster, the old Forster as it was, you’d better go soon as much of it is rapidly changing. Locals are quick to point out how the character of the place is briskly disappearing, never to return as it was. Below is a gallery of photos of the town, including ‘Tikki Village’, but be warned, many of the buildings shown won’t be there for very much longer, or may in fact already be gone.
All photos copyright Inheritance.