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‘THE SHIRE’: A TALE OF THREE JETTIES

There’s something almost surreal about standing and looking over an object that fits into its environment perfectly, that enhances its surroundings simply by being there, that seems like it has been there forever, but is set to disappear from view, for the whimsical short term gains of a clearly ignorant and questionably shady council.

Three jetties in the Shire (one at Gunnamatta Road, Cronulla, as well as the Scylla Bay Boat Ramp and Wharf, Como, and Burraneer Jetty at Lugano Avenue, Burraneer) have been earmarked for removal by the pathetic Sutherland Shire Council due to maintenance costs the council is simply not willing to wear. This is the same Liberal dominated council headed by (until recently) Mayor Kent Johns who is reportedly under investigation for accepting political donations for his Federal Campaign from property developers in exchange for reciprocal favours, at the same time rezoning large tracts of the Sutherland Shire to allow massive and unprecedented high rise developments, getting rid of the ombudsman who oversees corruption and even going so far as to protect developers from legal action against any wrongdoings. See the details here.

The corrupt Mayor Kent Johns. Image John Veage, Fairfax Media.

The questionable ex-Mayor Kent Johns. With power brokers like these at the helm of council, heritage is in trouble. Image John Veage.

For the locals of these areas, the jetties represent something more than just a form of aesthetic beauty. There is a function performed, a duty as it were, to the people of the Shire. Somewhere boats can tie up, kayaks can launch, a lazy line can be cast, and a sunny afternoon squandered happily away. There is nothing quite like sitting on the edge of a rickety jetty, dangling your feet over the edge, and mulling over a quandary or two while admiring the view of the world listening to softly lapping waters. Australia is a country designed for these jetties, and their loss makes us all a little poorer. Certainly our bays and hamlets would seem rather naked without them.

Heritage they are of course. Standing for many years and serving their purpose with quiet esteem, requiring very little to maintain in return, and beautifying the outlook like nothing else can. The Burraneer jetty stands watching the return trip several times every day of the 74 year old M.V. Curranulla, the Cronulla-Bundeena ferry, the oldest commuter ferry in fact in Australia working to a regular timetable. The jetty returns the favour, giving the passengers something to look at too, adding unquestionably to the maritime heritage of the bay and the Port Hacking River.

It appears as though this particular jetty suffers from sag due to insufficient and rotting piles holding its weight. A few more piles added and a bit of straightening would solve this problem, a far better alternative than the destruction of the wharf.

MV Curranulla ferry, the oldest continuos route in Australia, chugs nearby.

MV Curranulla ferry, the oldest continuous route in Australia, chugs nearby.

The other, at Gunnamatta Road, Cronulla (over 100 years old and formerly known as the ‘Hospital Bay Wharf’ built for taking quarantine cases from coastal vessels) doesn’t appear to have condemning maintenance issues at all. This one has received the most public attention, and may have garnered enough support to be saved yet, attracting a petition of 850 signatures in only 14 days, despite the council ignorantly rejecting and insisting the submissions be lodged electronically.

A third jetty, the Scylla Bay Boat Ramp and Wharf, at Verona Range, Como, is also proposed to go, but this one would at least be replaced under council plans.

At the time I investigated the Burraneer Jetty, it was a beautiful day, the sun was shining through an azure blue sky onto glowing waters. The Bundeena ferry chugged closely by as it had for many decades. I admired the reflections from crowded rock pools and sandy shallows up to the splintered hardwood timbers of a timeless whitewashed jetty.

While over at Gunnamatta Road, the view from the hill above was sublime. Stepping down the 1912-built steps carved out of sandstone onto the wooden landing is like stepping closer into a scene from paradise. Postcard-perfect, soaked in sunlight and there for us all, free of charge. A beautiful piece of man-made infrastructure that enhances its surrounds immeasurably while allowing the user to actually immerse himself and become part of the scene – such a rarity in any form.

A local was nearby, an old-timer looking over the scene. “Are you a local?” I asked.

“Since 1939” was the reply. But he seemed oblivious to the imminent loss of the wharf…

“That’s the wharf they want to get rid off” I commented.

“I hope not… This place is magnificent” was the reply.

If only he knew.

All images below by Inheritance 2013. Click on one for slideshow.

SMH story: Sutherland Council favours those with Liberal connections
SMH story: Rainbow Connections
SMH story: Cloud over ex-minister’s campaign donations
SMH story: September 21, 2013
SMH story: September 22, 2013
SMH story: September 26, 2013
SMH story: October 2, 2013

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THOMAS HOLT’S SUTHERLAND COTTAGE: ON CLOSER INSPECTION

Picture a cottage, if you will…
Not one that gets its glow from brightly whitewashed walls under a tightly thatched and bound wheat straw roof. Not one that breathes the soft air of lavender down a misty cobbled path behind box hedge in an English country garden. But something more rugged. Something more natively suited to where it finds itself, something that reflects the brashness and personality of a people and a land once far removed from the rest of civilisation, a distant and wild place that took in the unwanted element of British society, flung across the high seas; a new and fledgling colony where things, as they have thrived and progressed, could just as easily have withered and died away for good had it not been for the determination and sheer tenacity of its new inhabitants to make it succeed.

Such a cottage exists.
Not on the dusty weathered plains beyond the Great Dividing Range, although there are such things there. Not in the rustic shambolic remains of gold diggings scattered through towns along the dry western rivers and creekbeds, although there are such things there. Not in the rugged windswept landscape of an Arthur Streeton oil painting, though such things certainly are there.

This cottage exists in the very heart of the palm and grevillea tinged suburban ideal of the Sutherland Shire, a southward expansion of the city of Sydney, only footsteps from the lapping waves of Botany Bay, that hallowed body of water where Cook and his party came ashore to pronounce a new foundation of European acquirement.

In the years and decades that followed that initial landing, the colony would grow and augment, to the west, the north and south. Free settlers would arrive to replace the legions of convicts, commercial trade would be born, farming and working of the land to feed the bustling colony, building and development expanding into an almost limitless boom that continues to this day; fortunes would be made, by those willing enough to take an entrepreneurial chance.

One such fortune was that of the English immigrant Thomas Holt, born 14 November 1811 in Yorkshire, who came to Australia in 1842 and gained great wealth and fame as a wool trader, financier and businessman.

He soon became a successful landowner, building six mansions south of Sydney, including a Victorian Gothic grand estate ‘The Warren’ in Marrickville. He invested in over 3,000,000 acres of pastoral land across NSW and Queensland and consolidated more wealth selling holdings after gold was discovered in the 1850s. He was at various stages a director of the Sydney Tramway and Railway Co. as well as City Bank. He was also a successful parliamentarian, being member of the inaugural Legislative Assembly and the first Treasurer of the colony.

Later in life he would found the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, before returning to the country of his birth and continuing charitable work for the Salvation Army and the Rev. A. Mearns and Dr Barnardo, publishing Christianity, or the Poor Man’s Friend before passing away in 1888.

Among Holt’s many achievements he also holds the dubious honour of playing more than just a minor part in Australia’s great rabbit plague, after several of the beasts escaped from the grounds of his well stocked Marrickville mansion ‘The Warren’ and hopped off into the Sydney sunset. The rest, as they say, is history.

In the 1860s Thomas Holt acquired a considerable tract of land of some 13,000 acres around Kurnell in the Sutherland Shire, including Captain Cook’s landing site. It was here he constructed Australia’s first oyster farm at nearby Gwawley Bay. As the estate in Sutherland grew, he employed teams of workers on site digging the oyster claires and tending the property, and in the 1870s established his final mansion known as Sutherland House complete with English park landscape over 786 acres.

Thomas Holt.

Thomas Holt. Image State Library of NSW

Thomas Holt's "The Warren" mansion at Marrickville

Thomas Holt’s “The Warren” mansion at Marrickville. Image State Library of NSW.

Holt's Sutherland House. Image

Holt’s Sutherland House. The gentleman on lawn may be Thomas Holt.
Image Sutherland Shire Library

The cottage that we speak of was part of Thomas Holt’s Sutherland Estate. It was one of three similar workers’ cottages situated at the centre of the holding, and is in fact the only surviving remnant of this once grand and historic estate. It was probably inhabited by gardeners, coachmen or general hands and their families, as can be seen by the basic character of its workmanship and unadorned decoration.  Its construction is of simple weatherboard. It has a corrugated iron and skillion roof to keep out the rain, and a large wraparound verandah to keep the walls cool through the beating hot summers. The brickwork of a later laundry addition remains on the back side of the property, while inside it retains “original lath and plaster walls and ceiling linings, and original ledge and sheeted internal walls.”

Official dating can be difficult due to the nature of the long-running design use of such cottages, however it is typical of a style of architecture once prevalent in the Shire, and can be traced to be a product of at least the 1870s. As such, it remains one of the oldest buildings in the Sutherland Shire, often reported to be the oldest. The offset angle to the street frontage is testament to the true age of this building.

When Thomas left the estate, the land was sold to his son Frederick who resided there for thirteen years with his family before leasing the mansion to Mrs Mary Hamilton in 1894 for use as an infirmary. In 1908 the property was subdivided including the worker’s cottage which was sold at auction on 20 April 1908 with 33 acres. It was once again subdivided into two lots in 1952, but remained relatively unchanged as a structure, being owned for a continuous period of 70 years by the one family, of which Jan Buchanan was the last resident. During this time it was known as ‘The Gunyah’ which is an Aboriginal term for humpy or crude bush shelter.

In 2003 Sutherland Shire Council bought the property from Jan Buchanan for the sum of $610,000 and placed it on the Local Heritage List for preservation and future restoration for the benefit of the community. It was thought to be in good hands with the council researching the origins of the building and investigating the possibilities of its next course of action. There have been several heritage impact statements over the years of ownership by council, however no work has been undertaken to restore the house.

Fast forward to 2013 and the recently elected (and it must be said, development-friendly) council headed by Mayor Kent Johns have decided abruptly to remove the house from its draft LEP (among other heritage items), and document and demolish the building before selling the land for private redevelopment. Previous owner Jan Buchanan was devastated, telling Fairfax reporters “When I sold it, the council told me they had grandiose ideas about its restoration. They promised there would be a caretaker to look after it, but the last time I went to visit it was vandalised and run down. I had to walk away.”

Ten years prior, when council had originally purchased the property, they had a heritage impact statement prepared by Truman, Zaniol and Associates Pty Ltd. The Statement of Significance surmised:

“No. 5 Evelyn Street North is historically significant as a minimum at a high local level as a unique and tangible remnant of development in the Sutherland Shire from the early part of the 20th Century, and prior to the implementation of smaller lot subdivision. It is likely to be the oldest remnant workers cottage in Sylvania and certainly the only remaining evidence of the Holt Sutherland House Estate – all other buildings having been demolished. The significance of the place is embodied in the associations and historical nature of the existing cottage, how it addresses the street being offset, its extant original and early fabric and mature landscaping, all of which provides tangible historical evidence of the State Significant Holt Sutherland House occupation”.

In conclusion, the report suggested a possible candidacy for state significance, identifying the historic links to the Thomas Holt Estate and the rarity of the building within its own geographic environment.

In 2007 a comprehensive Historical Assessment of the house was undertaken by Dr. Annable who presented a glowing report to council for the preservation of the cottage.

“Historical research confirms the importance of the Sutherland House Estate in the history of the Sutherland Shire and its association with Thomas Holt. Historical research and physical analysis also confirm the historical significance and rarity of No. 5 Evelyn Street at a local level and highlight the ability of the fabric of the place to demonstrate the way of life, domestic amenities and tastes of its late 19th and early 20th century occupants and owners…

Much of the fabric of the original cottage is intact, as are early 20th century additions to the decoration and finishes. The cottage demonstrates the domestic amenities of estate workers in the late 19th century, a pattern of domestic life that was little changed until the advent of a piped water supply and sewerage in the mid-20th century. Much early 20th century decoration is preserved in the cottage, demonstrating the tastes and financial resources of its owners and is likely to be rare. The essence of the place resides in its simple form and scale, its materials and its modest decoration. Its owners and occupants were ordinary people.”

She continued, “The cottage has the ability to demonstrate a way of life that is now virtually extinct in the Shire. Its materials, method of construction, number and size of rooms, decoration, floor coverings, domestic facilities, simple garden and neat unpretentious appearance have considerable power to evoke a way of life that is now gone.”

In conclusion, Dr. Annable insisted council take urgent action to preserve the cottage in its original form, and prepare a Conservation Management plan to guide its full restoration and adaptive re-use as a private residence. Her findings were discussed by the council’s heritage sub-committee in 2008, who concurred the necessity to preserve the building, and a report was presented to council in February 2009.

Sutherland Estate vista. Image

Sutherland Estate vista. Image Sutherland Shire Library.

Holt's grand Sutherland House. Image

Holt’s grand Sutherland House. Image Sutherland Shire Library.

Thomas Holt's Sutherland House

Thomas Holt’s Sutherland Estate. Image Sutherland Shire Library.

Sutherland Estate mansion, destroyed by fire 1918.

Sutherland House, destroyed by fire 1918. Image Sutherland Shire Library

Sutherland Estate subdivision. Image

Sutherland Estate subdivision. Image National Library of Australia

Holt's Sutherland Estate subdivision.

Holt’s Sutherland Estate subdivision.

Questions are now being raised as a result of council’s total disregard for previous heritage assessments that clearly convey the importance of the house at a local and possible state level. The originality of the structure, the intact fabric of its construction inside and out, and its historical context relating to the Thomas Holt Estate all show with blinding light the significance of such a building to the very make-up and culture of the area and indeed the early years of Sydney’s expansion.

Sutherland Council nominates the prohibitive costs of restoring the house as the reason for proposed demolition. Originally it was slated to cost somewhere in the order of $200,000, now it is claimed that those costs have blown out to $495,000. “In its current state it is derelict, it would be irresponsible to invest more council funds in this property” said Mayor Kent Johns (in fact it is only derelict because council allowed it to become so).

With the land and property being acquired several years ago for the sake of preservation and restoration, monetary sources should have been allocated long before this point in time. The fact council wants to demolish the building before the sale also raises questions as to their real motives… Why demolish rather than sell as is and offer potential buyers the opportunity to restore one of the oldest buildings in the area and own a piece of historically significant real estate? Most private vendors always sell their land with a house in tact, no matter whether it is to be restored or offered as a potential development site – what the buyer then does with the property thereafter is up to them. It seems clear in this case the council wants this house off the LEP and gone from sight, perhaps to increase the base value of the land it sits on.

I personally believe the house is far too important to let go so easily. I would like to see the cottage remain in public hands, and restored, as historian Edward Duyker has suggested, in collaboration with local TAFE trade schools. Once restored the cottage could serve unlimited potential as a working museum, art studio or classroom, perhaps focussing on the crafts of the late 19th century. There would also be room for a period vegetable garden outside serving gastronomic fair of the era and educating modern day students how the lives of working families were once lived in the Shire.

Its proximity to historic Botany Bay could position the Sutherland Shire as a place not only to associate with the early days of settlement but also a place to see it in palpable action. A rare opportunity indeed to uphold some of the original character of the area that may be taken away once and for all if the current crop of cash hungry councillors get their way.

We all know just how important it is to keep things like this alive, the question is, do we have the necessary will, the tenacity and determination that those early settlers had, in order to maintain this tiny piece of early pioneering heritage in the middle of an upper-middle class Australian suburban ideal – the kind of place that this very cottage helped create.

Click on images below. All pictures Inheritance.

IMPORTANT: CLICK HERE to make your submissions on the Sutherland Shire draft LEP before 17 September 2013. Removal of the Thomas Holt cottage at 5 Evelyn Street Sylvania should be utterly opposed among other heritage removals.

An earlier post on the Thomas Holt Sutherland cottage here.

An earlier post on Sutherland Shire Council’s Draft LEP plans here. NOTE: As predicted, “buildings like this Art Deco Commonwealth Bank are at risk…” Guess what, a DA has just been announced that will add extra levels and potentially ruin this famous building.

‘THE SHIRE’: HERITAGE HATE ON THE BOIL

Thomas Holt Estate

I call it ‘heritage hate’, when a certain entity or governing body decides that there is nothing worth working towards with regards to the heritage of an identified item or area. It is not seen as important enough to warrant the necessary study, funding, or interest by the governing body needed to maintain and protect that heritage to an acceptable level. It is simply wiped from the agenda, and given the lowest possible afterthought despite the public’s perception, wants or needs regarding these matters that really belong to us all, and concern not only ratepayers of today but the children and grandchildren of generations to come.

The current state government led by Barry O’Farrell is an exponent of heritage hate. It seems as though now filtering down from the Liberal political machine at state level, that many Liberal councillors also share that sentiment at the local level. The heavily Liberal dominated Sutherland Shire council led by Mayor Kent Johns have embarked on a campaign of heritage hate soon after coming to power, writing a draft LEP that is so geared toward developer interests and non-protective of the shire’s great assets that it has prompted a backlash of over 2000 submissions, with many residents now wondering what lies in store for the future of their beloved Shire.

Heritage hate shows itself in many forms. One significant item that came up in the news recently is a cottage of Thomas Holt estate. The historic house at 5 Evelyn St. North Sylvania, formerly known as ‘The Gunyah’, was built in the 1870s as part of the original Thomas Holt Sutherland estate. It was one of three workers’ cottages and is the last remaining building of the historic estate, and one of the oldest houses standing in the Sutherland Shire. Thomas Holt himself was undoubtedly one of the most important figures in the Sutherland’s history, having accomplished numerous watermarks within his lifetime. The fact that this is the very last remnant of his famous Sutherland Estate makes it an extremely vital link to the history of the area and the early days of the colony south of Sydney.

A superstar of his day. Thomas Holt

A superstar of his day. Thomas Holt

The cottage is actually owned by Sutherland Council, being bought by a much more forward-thinking council back in 2003, for the purpose of future restoration and preservation as a living piece of local heritage. Now they have announced they will not be restoring, nor preserving the cottage. They won’t even be giving other potential buyers a chance. Instead, they have opted for the self-professed ‘document, demolish and sale’ procedure (which could be interpreted as ‘take a few photos, send in the bulldozers, and cash in’), truly an astonishing course of action considering the council at the time of sale enforced heritage listing on previous owner Jan Buchanan (whose family owned the house for 70 years) and eventually bought the house for a sum of $610,000. “When I sold it, the council told me they had grandiose ideas about its restoration. They promised there would be a caretaker to look after it, but the last time I went to visit it was vandalised and run down. I had to walk away” she told Fairfax reporters.

The reasons given by council for erasing this valuable piece of local history are, of course, financially motivated. Originally it was estimated to cost around $200,000 to restore the weatherboard cottage. However that has now blown out to $495,000. Liberal Mayor Kent Johns said “In its current state it is derelict, it would be irresponsible to invest more council funds in this property.” Now I’m not sure exactly who quoted Kent Johns and his council half a million dollars to fix up a weatherboard cottage, but I love to see the speedboat their accountant gets around in.

This seems to be another case of heritage loss by pre-empted neglect. The fact that council is putting a questionable restoration cost onto this project when in fact the house was paid for years ago for the very purpose of restoration raises serious concerns over the current spending patterns of Sutherland Council. Ratepayers, who deserve better, are being taken for a pack of dummies by this irresponsible council who see fit to strip the area they represent of a very significant piece of its visible history. And the case of council acting as owner, development applicant, judge, jury, and executioner, is always a situation that is questionable by its nature.

Sutherland Shire should be well and truly proud to maintain a little piece of Thomas Holt’s legacy in the shape of this house, not looking to simply cash in to fill up a short term budget hole. Absolutely disgraceful…

Even the Sutherland Historical Society have something to answer for. Strangely, for an organisation that would normally be considered the guardians of local heritage, they have remained fairly quiet on the situation of potentially losing one of their oldest buildings, seemingly adopting the ‘lay low and see’ attitude. Questions posed by myself and others including historian and honorary life member Edward Duyker, and editor of Doryanthes arts journal Les Bursill OAM (also a life member) have not been fully answered. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that Mayor Kent Johns, that proven purveyor of local heritage hate, is also patron of the Sutherland Historical Society.

Some members are questioning whether Mayor Johns is indeed an appropriate patron, and wanting to know exactly why the Society is not jumping up and down about this issue. Edward Duyker and others have also questioned the council’s negative stance on heritage moreover, after reading a passage in the draft LEP that slated the removal of a number of items that no longer meet the threshold for heritage listing. “What exactly is the changed threshold and what are the new criteria and what are the heritage items to be removed? Perhaps it is whatever suits local developers” Mr. Duyker notes… These questions remain unanswered.

'The Gunyah.' A cottage of the Thomas Holt Sutherland Estate

‘The Gunyah.’ A cottage of the Thomas Holt Sutherland Estate.

'The Gunyah.' A cottage of the Thomas Holt Sutherland Estate

built c.1870s, one of the oldest in the Shire.

The story of the Thomas Holt Estate cottage echoes that of another recent cottage demolition nearby, that of Bedford Cottage (otherwise known as ‘the Gardener’s Cottage’), located inside the Royal National Park at Heathcote, by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service. The Royal National Park is quite an historic park in itself, being the first designated National Park in Australia, and the second oldest in the world, behind Yellowstone in the USA. How a historic cottage could be trashed within this environment is a wonder. What codes of heritage preservation do the NPWS actually adhere to?

This building was built between 1909 and 1915 for James Toyer, an important gardener in the St. George area who married the daughter of the first Royal National Park manager. It was the site of the depot for the first horse drawn and later motorised buses in the Shire, and was renowned for its intricate herringbone brickwork. It was one of the earliest brick buildings in the Shire.

Despite years of neglect by the NPWS, the foundations were sound, according to Heritage Building Consultant Gary Waller, who estimated $250,000-$300,000 to restore the cottage with  a new roof and re-lined walls. A twenty year campaign by local historic groups came to no avail, including one proposal by local radio station 2SSR to set up the house as a broadcasting station back in 2006. They were told by Minister the signal may be detrimental to the flora and fawna in the park, which they found “a bit strange as Australia’s first official military signal came from the park.’’

What a missed opportunity this could turn out to be. Restoring and transforming the historic cottage at the entry of the Royal National Park, right near the Loftus Tramway Museum,  into a museum of early bus transport as well as an interactive radio broadcasting museum. Its close vicinity to the Loftus Tramway Museum with trams in fact running right by would have added to the experience. So there you have it, another wonderful piece of history lost, an opportunity lost and a beautiful cottage reduced to a pile of smouldering rubble. Now that’s a fine legacy for the National Parks and Wildlife Service to leave behind in Australia’s most historic park. And Sutherland Shire Council wants to follow suite…

Bedford Cottage, photo Hans Stephens

Bedford Cottage, photo Hans Stephens

Bedford Cottage, photo John Veage, the Leader

Bedford Cottage, photo John Veage, the Leader

Bedford Cottage ruins, photo John Veage, the Leader

Bedford Cottage ruins, photo John Veage, the Leader

Other posts on the Sutherland Shire click here.

More on the Liberal state government’s campaign of heritage hate here.

SOMETHING BIG IS HAPPENING IN THE SHIRE…

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!

cronulla overdevelopment 2

Breeze Unit Development site.

cronulla overdevelopment 1

Note the lifestyle advertisement.

False nostalgia

False nostalgia.

A lot more of this to come in the shire

The reality… A lot more of this to come in the shire.

Cronulla post office

Cronulla post office. Buildings in the mall are at risk.

Cronulla Commonwealth Bank

Art deco Cronulla Commonwealth Bank. Buildings in the Mall are at risk.

Surfside house, nestled between units. Houses like this are at risk of being lost.

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.

Click link to submissions page for Sutherland Council LEP here, before 1st May.

‘GUNYAH’ STILL UNDER A THREATENING CLOUD

Having endured in recent times an allegedly corrupt mayor, excessive developer-biased rezoning and a rapid changing of the character of their suburbs, Sutherland Shire residents now face the very real prospect of losing their oldest building, thanks to an errant council who seem determined to dig up, sell off and knock down as much as they possibly can during their time in the sun…

Sutherland Shire Council seems intent on pushing through its draft LEP, which will not only raise the building densities of many of the beachside suburbs, but also seeks to remove its oldest house from the heritage list. The worker’s cottage, at 5 Evelyn Street North, known as ‘Gunyah’, dates from c.1870 and formed part of the vast Thomas Holt Sutherland Estate. It is in fact the only remaining physical link to the estate and widely recognised as the oldest house standing in the Shire.

All this hasn’t stopped council from seeking to de-list the building, claiming restoration costs as being prohibitive. But there are a few fishy smells coming from Sutherland Shire’s reckless decision making… remembering council actually owns the site, and has let the building slip into disrepair over a period of more than a decade through total lack of maintenance.

And also remembering that the entire draft LEP springs from the troubled tenure of former mayor Kent Johns, who resigned both his mayorship and pre-selection for the state seat of Miranda in disgrace after allegations of corruption following his famous last-minute Mayoral minute, these are all reasons for concern. He remains on council, and many of his Liberal colleagues are still running the show, such as Cr Kevin Schreiber.

And the fact that this decision contradicts advice from not only council staff, but also the State Government independent review panel means councillors intend acting without any given mandate, neither from the public, nor state government, nor even their own council officers. This simply defies logic.

By de-listing the house they stand to now make a massive profit by on-selling the land as a greenfield development site. Perhaps rezoning is on the cards, as has occurred directly across the road where townhouse-units are now being built. The property minus the cottage would be worth a pretty penny (reportedly up to $1.8 million), considering its proximity to the shoreline and desirability of location.

Cr Kevin Schreiber, a Liberal councilor who served as deputy mayor 2012-13 next to Johns, told Fairfax “As much as we like to keep our heritage sites, … the cost far outweighs the benefit to the community.” But we can take what he says with a little grain of salt. Schreiber himself was referred to ICAC for questionable development approvals and political donations back in 2008, along with three other Liberal councillors including our friend Kent Johns.

Schreiber and Johns denied the claims, which related to 30 non-compliant approvals within two years, but all the councillors were de-listed from the Liberal party at the time and forced to register as Indepedents. That makes three times since 2002 by my reckoning Kent Johns has been involved in ICAC referrals, and yet this character remains a B ward councillor in the Shire still making planning decisions. Is there any wonder the LEP has turned out like it has?

Two peas in a pod, councillors Johns and Schreiber, both part of the Liberal team, both with corruption allegations against their names. Image Fairfax Media.

Current deputy mayor Tom Croucher, another member of the Liberal dream team, claims the council can’t afford restoration. “The council has no funds to restore it. I ask it be removed from the heritage list,” he said. Simple as that…

Okay let’s assume that to be true. That they can’t afford it. It may well be… So what gives them the right to de-list the building as a heritage item? Just because they can’t afford to fix it? It makes no sense to me at all, am I missing something here? If you or I own a heritage-listed house, and we decide we can’t afford to renovate it, does it then get de-listed, and sold to the highest bidder as a development site? Is that how it works? I really don’t think so. I could be wrong, but I didn’t think it worked that way. If it did there wouldn’t be many heritage listed homes left.

The clear and logical solution for Sutherland Shire Council is, if they really can’t afford to renovate the cottage – this asset to the people of the area, this visual link to early European settlement – then don’t. Sell it as a heritage listed item for somebody else to renovate, or lease it as a museum for people to enjoy. Don’t destroy the very local heritage you are meant to protect just to turn a bigger land sale profit, that is not the right thing to do. It may sound clichéd but once it is gone, it is gone for good, there is no bringing it back. And buildings of this vintage, in this locale, with heritage links to our founding forefathers, are already few and far between.

I implore people, residents and non-residents alike, to contact Sutherland Council, and ask that they not go ahead with de-listing and demolishing this important cultural asset as it would be an irreversible loss to a community so closely tied with the early European settlement and growth of Australia.

Email Sutherland council ssc@ssc.nsw.gov.au
The safety fence has already gone up around the house, this is not a false alarm.

Please sign our change.org petition here.

See previous posts on the Thomas Holt cottage here.

A vital link to the Sire's history, under a threatening cloud. Image Inheritance.

A vital link to the Shire’s history, under a threatening cloud. Image Inheritance.

SHARKS CRY POOR, TURN DEVELOPER

In a deal described as “like winning the grand final” by Triple M’s Grill Team, the NSW Government has approved a $330 million development on the site of NRL club The Cronulla Sharks home ground and current leagues club in Sydney’s Sutherland Shire. This is a big win for the struggling club, who have cried poor for some time citing $13m debts linked to developer Bluestone Capital Ventures, which they will now be able to pay off almost wholly thanks to the massive redevelopment. In a deal slated for quite some time, Bluestone Capital Ventures offered to kill off the club’s debt to St George Bank in a land grab that would see them ultimately take 100 percent of the revenue from the sale of the first 300 units in the 600 unit complex. Without this cash injection the club argued they may not be able to survive into the future, but the question must be asked, should their own financial mismanagement over many years be considered a plus in gaining consent for property development, and now, if any club or association cries poor, can they too build highrise on their own plots as well?

The plan which was granted state significant status (read ‘developer green lights’) includes eight towers up to 16 storeys containing 600 apartments as well as a new shopping centre, combining with the club facilities to form a so-called new ‘town centre’. Nearby Caringbah and Miranda Fair deal quite well with the need for local retail supply in a time when more people tend to be buying online and venturing less into multistorey shopping complexes.  The football ground itself would lose much carparking under the plan, but its not a problem, because according to the development consortium ”an extensive network of park-and-ride centres” in nearby suburbs would be created along with ”significant improvements to current public transport”. So the Sharkies can do what successive NSW state governments haven’t yet been able to – these directors (who have run their own club into the ground to the point where only a massive overdevelopment will bail them out) should be running our state!

Image courtesy SMH

Over 2000 objections were raised to the plan, many by concerned residents who fear a massive overdevelopment in the already congested Shire (try driving around Cronulla on a summer Sunday), waterfront eyesore, traffic gridlock at peak hours, and lack of public transport options, not to mention development infringement on the neighbouring Ramsar listed Towra Point wetlands and mangroves. A minimum buffer of 40m was recommended by council and various government agencies including Dept of Primary Industries – Fisheries, Office of Environment and Heritage and Office of Water, however, the project was approved with only 35m setback along the 70m length of the loading dock. Stormwater and flooding are also major issues on a development of this magnitude so close to important sensitive wetlands – so far these are yet to be properly addressed.

In an area already coming to terms with new housing estates such as Green Hills and Breen developments, Sutherland Council also rejected the plans as being too dense for the site as well as raising concerns with traffic and parking, but that didn’t stop the NSW Planning Department from giving it the final tick of approval. Local Member for Cronulla Mark Speakman SC MP voiced his disagreement with the project arguing against the scale and bulk as well as unsuitability of the location as a potential ‘town centre’.

At a time when the Caltex refinery at nearby Kurnell has signalled its imminent closure, with the loss of around 630 jobs, does it really make sense to be building massive residential blocks just down the road? Sure, in the short term there will be building jobs to fill, but building jobs are temporary, and after that there will be alot more people housed in these developments than actually working in them, meaning they all have to travel outside for their working lives, meaning more traffic, more conjestion, perhaps more unemployment for the area long-term. Cronulla will really struggle with this influx of people and cars.

On the same day the Sharks development was approved, so too was a $238 million development of the nearby Kirrawee Brick Pits envisioning another 432 units. Two towers of 14 and 11 storeys and seven smaller buildings will take form on the Brick Pits site in a decision that bypassed Sutherland Council altogether under Part 3A. “We put all our concerns on the table and they just didn’t listen to us…Once again the state government has not taken into account the concerns of the community. They are just walking all over us” said mayor Carol Provan, whose council spent $500,000 fighting the development in court. “We certainly need more development but we don’t need it in a place that is so gridlocked” she said. Earlier proposals for 250 units up to six storeys were knocked back in August 2009 by the Land and Environment Court – now we are double that size, and its all systems go, so work that out.

A new Shark Park. Watch those wetlands…

So when is a rugby league club not a rugby league club? When they turn developer and choose to chase millions of dollars in financial gain putting their own interests and that of their developer backers before any concerns of the community they apparently ‘represent’… Well done Sharkies, multi-million cash windfall for you, nice new shiny amenities and the toast of the NRL club stratosphere. Bad luck if you live nearby and are used to the pleasant laid back beach atmosphere of Cronulla – your club has just turned all that on its head and done its best to try and destroy it completely.

EPILOGUE
Perhaps after the recent elections the Sharks would have found a more sympathetic Sutherland council, with a landslide swing towards the Liberals across the suburbs, particularly in Sutherland. Whether this is linked to voters’ inability to determine between local and state matters remains to be seen, but having councils stacked with Liberal brands would only service Barry O’Farrell’s pro-development push on the state. We are aware of at least one Sutherland Liberal councillor voted in recently is a property developer, which beggars belief to some – do we really want property developers running our councils? The fact that one in seven votes at the local election was invalid shows that many people either don’t know or don’t care who they are voting for, and so developer friendly councilors are being allowed to creep in under the radar en masse.

Ramsar listed Towra Point wetlands fringe the waters around the Cronulla Sharks site, and have been described as ‘the last substantial habitat in the Sydney region for migratory birds and the myriad of species which depend on the Towra Point ecosystem.’ What impacts will this development have on Towra Point? Follow the link here.

Kirrawee Brick Pit development presentation here.

Sharks PAC Determination Report here

WATCH OUT NSW, YOU’VE BEEN “O’FARRELLED!”

There’s a new phenomenom sweeping the state of NSW, Australia. It all started March 26 2011 after the election with a statement by the incoming premier Barry O’Farrell “We’ll govern for all.” Since then the O’Farrell government certainly has left its mark on the state, and many members of the public have felt the effects of Barry’s ‘governing for all.’ With job cuts and scale backs as well as back room deals with gun lobbyists and developers on the agenda, the public are reeling, wondering who or what could be next on the chopping block. So get ready for it NSW, you’ve been “O’FARRELLED!”

Yes, it’s been a trying year for the state, some would even argue on our Australian way of life, as big bad Barry and his Liberal government, who swept to power in a landslide, have gone about their methodical prescription to change the face of NSW in so many ways. Before he’s through will we even recognise our great state and its constitutional form of democracy? Who knows…

Recently, the regional town of Grafton felt it, they’ve certainly been “O’FARRELLED!” as their historic jail has now been scaled back in service from a 250 bed centre to housing just 60 remand prisoners with the loss of over 100 jobs for the tight-knit community. Many townsfolk bravely stood night and day to form a road block outside the 119-year old fortress in order to stop the trucks coming to take the prisoners away to newer, ‘cheaper to run’ prisons such as Cessnock. As realisation crept in that they had finally lost their battle and the police lines moved in to break up the picket, protestors simply turned their backs, a potent symbol of how the O’Farrell government had turned their backs on the town’s own plight.

While finances are at the top of Barry’s agenda, not much consideration was given to the employment the jail achieves in a regional town like Grafton, which has, by this event, experienced ‘it’s darkest hour’. What will those 108 prison guards do now in times of rising unemployment, we all wonder. When he said back in 2011 “We’ll govern for all” he obviously didn’t mean them.

Grafton jail protestors, image SMH

But Grafton is not the only one to be “O’FARRELLED!” in recent times, that much is clear. Public servants, you are running scared. Nurses, teachers, emergency services, researchers, you’ve all been “O’FARRELLED!” along the line with pay freezes and lay-offs en masse under the government’s wage reforms. Public sector wages would be capped at 2.5 percent per annum, despite the CPI rising by 3.6 percent, leaving a shortfall of 1.1 percent. Over 35,000 public sector workers rallied in the Sydney Domain on September 8 2011 to protest against the attacks on public sector jobs, wages and conditions announced by Barry O’Farrell, which included a decision to axe several thousand public sector jobs. 67,000 teachers carried out a 24 hour strike on the same day.

Earlier this month it was announced that Community services workers will be cut by 968 positions over the next four years and the health department could lose more than 3600 over the same period, in a move that NSW Public Service Association Assistant Secretary Steve Turner said was “clear the Government doesn’t care about our most vulnerable children and their families, regarding their proper care as just another number to be slashed on the budget sheet.” Opposition Leader John Robertson was scathing of the cutbacks. “Sacking nearly 1,000 community services workers at the same time one in five reports of children at risk are not being followed up is nothing short of a disgrace” he said. “Cutting 968 staff from the department responsible for protecting the most vulnerable children in NSW will only see more children falling through the cracks… The latest job cut figures confirm that almost 8,000 jobs will be lost from hospitals, schools, fire stations, road safety and community services under Barry O’Farrell.”

Domain protestors. image directaction.org.au

Retail workers, you too have been “O’FARRELLED!” with the premier de-regulating trading on Boxing Day, meaning your hard earned holidays are being eroded and trading continues during this festive and traditional public holiday period.

Workers compensation laws too, have been “O’FARRELLED!” in a big way. Items such as weekly benefits beyond 2.5 years, medical expenses beyond 12 months, journey claims, claims to spouses killed at work, and legal costs are all in the target of Barry’s cuts, in effect altering worker’s rights immeasurably. The Workers Compensation Amendment Bill was rushed through the NSW Parliament in under 72 hours and was reported just 11 days after it was established. Any genuine inquiry would have taken at least 6 months, says MP David Shoebridge’s office. The committee received 353 submissions and held public hearings over just three days. Unions and workers of NSW were rightfully outraged.

Barry the butcher. image The Greens

Privatisation has been a big spinner for Barry too. Sydney Ferries, you’ve been “O’FARRELLED!” Soon you’ll be run by a foreign company Veolia Transport and let’s wait to see what that entails. No doubt job losses, route changes and ticket price hikes for the iconic ferries in a bid to bring down running costs.

And state electricity, why you’ve been truly “O’FARRELLED!”. Barry did a deal with the Shooters and Hunters party to gain their support to sell off the state’s power generators, passing that bill through and at the same time “O’FARRELLING!” our state’s National Parks, many of which will now be open to hunters blasting their guns in wilderness areas – great job Barry. 40 percent of National Parks land coverage including those with World Heritage Listing such as Barrington Tops and Dorrigo will be open up to hunters. “Barry O’Farrell’s shown today that he’s prepared to break every promise that he’s made to get a deal up to get this through,” opposition leader John Robertson told reporters. “A premier who promises not to allow hunting in national parks is about to allow a shooting spree to open up in some of the most pristine parts of the state,” he said.
Inheritance
believes this is political wheeling and dealing on a whole new level, trading one totally unrelated law to get another one through parliament. Where is the consultation, where is the study? And regarding the power sell-off, expect electricity prices to soar even further. A similar sell-off in South Australia skyrocketed bills up to 30 percent.

Now the NSW Govt has become a joint sponsor of “Shot Expo”, a weapons show, along with gun makers Winchester and Beretta. The Greens MP David Shoebridge said ”It’s just astounding the Game Council is using taxpayers dollars to co-sponsor a pro-hunting event with weapons manufacturers. This state government has no limits on how far it will go in promoting a pro-gun culture, including joining with death merchants to plug guns and hunting. NSW has run down hospitals, broken public transport and thousands of public servants being sacked, but the O’Farrell government still has the cash to promote gun ownership and hunting.”
Great way to spend our tax dollars Barry.

NationalParks protestors. image davidshoebridge.org.au

The State Records office, you’ve been “O’FARRELLED!”. In a little publicised event, the public Reading Room, Formally located in the Rocks, central to the public need to conduct research within its premises, has now been shut down and moved to the outer west suburb of Kingswood. So if you live anywhere near the centre of the city, you will now have to travel 40km away to gain access to the State Records, to a site with no public transport. It’s a real slap in the face for the history of our state.

NSW Fisheries, you’ve had the “O’FARRELL!” treatment too. The Cronulla Fisheries Research Centre is being forced to close against its will and broken up with up to 150 local job redundancies following. This is a world class facility with experienced researchers. Protests were held outside parliament after reports that bureaucrats tried sneakily to reclassify it to avoid the need for presenting a business case, and petitions of 18,600 names couldn’t even warrant a meeting with Primary Industries Minister Katrina Hodgkinson. Now THAT is arrogance. Sutherland Shire councillor Phil Blight made his statement to the protest “It’s a centre of excellence, perfect for the research and management of fish stocks and shark monitoring. It has the facilities, the tanks, the laboratories, the storage areas, the freezers, an extensive marine library – all the things that will have to be built again at Port Stephens or Mosman or wherever the staff are to be sent. It makes no sense.”
View this web link http://www.savecronullafisheries.net/
Debate rages within the department and public as to the benefits of breaking up such an institute but in the end O’Farrell won out, as he always seems to do. Why oh why Barry?

Fisheries protestors.image SMH

And now, planning laws in the state of NSW, you are being completely “O’FARRELLED!”. This could be the most dangerous and damaging “O’FARRELLING!” to the people of NSW yet. Barry and his planning minister Brad Hazzard have released their green paper aimed at ‘cutting red tape and de-politicising’ planning and speeding up the system, when in fact it would be taking powers away from local councils and removing the rights of residents to have their voices heard when it comes to opposing DA’s. This instead would go to a panel of non-elected representatives including independent certifiers, and so long as the DA passed basic criteria, public consultation and the right for individuals to make submissions would be void. The possibilities for corruption are rife, allowing developments through without public input and moving the process out of local hands, as has been demonstrated with private certifiers in the past, where developments have been built that did not comply. While we certainly have had issues regarding council’s attitude to heritage preservation in the past (and continue to do so), at least in theory they are meant to represent local constituents and should try to do so – tell us Barry, who are these new panels there to represent?

The opposition and the Greens call this a developer free for all, whereby the O’Farrell government is effectively creating a ‘tick and flick’ system of planning. With housing affordibility and population growth key drivers in this debate, pressures are immense from Canberra and indeed developer lobbyists who are trying to maximise their opportunities to build as big and as high as they can in the midst of this population boom. With land running out on the urban fringes and public transport not keeping pace with the growth of the city (yes, Barry), so-called ‘infill’ development within existing areas is on the agenda, as it can be cheaper and larger scale than greenfield sites. We, the residents, who are mostly AGAINST over-development, and the councils who, as stated, are meant to represent us, are in their way. So taking us out of the equation is good for the economy, good for the state, and most of all, good for Barry, and the developers who will run riot once these laws are passed.

image The Age

Make no mistake, this is about boosting housing densities and giving developer groups free reign. The Sydney Morning Herald broke a story in January 2012, which outlined government strategy to ask developers where they would like new greenfield sites to open for them, earning praise from developer lobby groups such as Urban Taskforce and the Property Council of Australia. “While supporting the positive moves for greenfield sites, the Urban Taskforce believes a similar leadership role is required for the even harder supply problem of urban infill sites,” the chief executive of the Urban Taskforce, Chris Johnson, said. ”The government could call for expressions of interest for infill sites and then set up a special approval approach.”

“You’d like to see a similarly efficient process for urban renewal opportunities – there is still overwhelming demand within the existing footprint,” said the Property Council of Australia CEO, Glenn Byres. Planning Minister Brad Hazzard sent an ominous warning to councils. ”The desirable course is to work with councils, but at the end of the day the state government and I, as Planning Minister, have the capacity to rezone without their concurrence,” he said.

With the heritage office of state government already reduced to a shadow of its former self in the name of the “Heritage Branch”, lumped in as an offshoot of the planning department, this doesn’t bode well for us in the game of heritage preservation. Rather than expanding to keep pace with the extent of new planning laws, the heritage branch is shrinking and becoming virtually toothless in its powers. We could effectively see whole areas of Sydney changed radically to accommodate more and more high rise, high density development, and the increasing traffic, pollution, and congestion that entails. Not to mention the continued disappearance of gardens and backyards within our cities and suburbs. But what should be lamented most here is the loss of community input, the trampling down and cheapening of public view, of what we, the people want for OUR planning future. To deny us that right, is not what you were voted in to do, Mr. O’Farrell, the man who claimed “to govern for all” and “put planning back in the hands of the people.”

Domain protest. image ABC

Americans made a big issue of getting angry over having their Olympic uniforms made in China, it made for lively debate in congress and became world news headlines (ours are also made in China but no-one seems to care). So how will we, Australians, now react when our very public planning rules are being turned on their heads by a dictator-like short term Premier and his developer-friendly goals suited only to appease the big end of town. We as citizens are being systematically stripped of our democratic rights, we should be up in arms over this.

Democracy, NSW, 2012, you too have been “O’FARRELLED!”.
Be concerned, be very very concerned…