A stunning heritage-listed funeral parlour near the waterfront in Gosford that has ushered out the lives of many local identities is itself facing the possibility of an untimely end. Creighton’s Funeral Parlour at 37 Mann Street was built in 1938 in the Art Deco style by architect F. Vanderwyck Snr. The Creighton’s family business was known in the area since 1844 and was involved in building and demolition work before becoming funeral directors in 1872. Six generations of the Creighton family practiced locally under the business name.
The building is treasured not only because of its association with the well renowned family, but because it is such a marvelous and rare example of an Art Deco purpose-built funeral parlour.
Externally, a grand central arch surrounded by decorative red brickwork heralds the main entrance. This is flanked on either side by secondary arches with quality timber framed lead glazed windows, and the theme is continued on the upper floor with a trio of balconettes showing ornate cast iron balustrades, and three magnificent streamlined parapets at roof level surging into the sky. Decorative balustrades also surround the lower windows. The construction is of textured cement rendered brick, comprising two stories at Mann Street, sloping back steeply to become one storey at the rear.
On the Georgiana Terrace side (left hand, facing) is an enclosed balcony made of locally quarried rock-faced ashlar sandstone while on the opposite wing is a sandstone garage consisting of twin Tudor arches and matching parapet. Behind the garage doors are open concrete pits to allow access for working on the funeral hearses. This has been currently re-purposed as a cocktail bar, showing clever use of a heritage asset. Rather interestingly, the roofline on the Georgiana Terrace side is scalloped while the garage side is straight-lined.
Internally, a central porch leads to the house chapel that extends below street level and is surrounded by small offices. An interesting feature are the backlit frosted glass windows obviously created due to a lack of natural light filtering into the room. Original drawings for the floorplans show that very little has been changed since 1938.
The parlour is located right in the middle of an identified heritage precinct containing several unique buildings, some of which the Creighton family were involved in constructing, including the heritage-listed 1929 former School of Arts directly opposite. According to the Australian Govt. heritage database:
‘The site is located on the main street of Gosford within a precinct of civic and commercial buildings, including Gosford Council Administration Building, the Sydney Electricity building, the Old Gosford Court House and Police Station (now a branch of the Conservatorium of Music), the School of Arts building, the Post Office, Gosford Public School and several churches including a small sandstone church designed by Blacket. This precinct is located near Gosford Wharf which served as the main transport link to the area before the railway was opened in 1887. With the opening of Gosford Railway Station, the main commercial area re-established itself about 0.5km to the north in close proximity to the station, leaving the earlier civic buildings in a group near the wharf.’
Such a beautiful, rare and significant local building that has indeed been heritage-listed because of its qualities should never come under threat. However current owners Zenith have submitted a DA to turn it into a 15 storey skyscraper with 4.51:1 floor space ratio while only retaining the façade of the original Creighton’s funeral parlour, completely overwhelming any heritage reference to the site while destroying the interiors and the structural make up of the building.
This outcome is simply unacceptable. While the developers will claim they are retaining the façade, the fact is they are destroying the heritage of the building and simply paying lip service to what has stood there and served the people of Gosford since the pre-WW2 era. There is no way that sticking a façade onto the end of a 127 apartment vertical glass monster is any substitute for the genuine heritage this site commands. What’s more is that the façade of the parlour will not be able to be left standing in situ while excavation takes place all around it. Rather, it will be deconstructed and pasted back together as an afterthought using new artificially aged and recycled materials, meaning the original fabric of even the façade will be completely falsified.
While we may not be able to stop unsightly highrise development from infecting waterfront areas up and down the eastern seaboard of Australia, we certainly should be able to stop the wanton destruction of locally listed heritage assets such as this one. The DA, being rushed through council currently, only allows comments until 24 September. The controversial rezoning of the site to a 36m height limit by council has opened the door for this kind of overdevelopment. I strongly urge people to use the link on the council website to oppose the demolition of this building in any shape or form by clicking here. Even a simple comment is helpful.
Remember, September 24 is the cut-off date. Save local history Gosford City Council, do not even think about sacrificing this very unique heritage treasure. A façade is not heritage. It is only a glimpse of what was once there…
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.
A battle is brewing in the NSW South Coast seaside port of Eden. It involves something very dear to the hearts of residents of any Australian country town, the local pub. The famous Hotel Australasia on Eden’s main street has stood like a fortress overlooking the fishing hamlet for 110 years… It has quenched the thirst of former whalers, seafarers and sleeper cutters and has welcomed in more recent times the throngs of summer tourists that come to Eden for a taste of the authentic south coast experience.
Sadly the pub, known affectionately by locals as ‘the pit’ closed down in 2013 as the family owners struggled to come to terms with expensive repair work to the roof and structure of the building. It was put on the market and eventually bought up by Great Southern Developments, a company that quickly sold on the poker machine licences for a tidy profit, and now intends only to knock down the historic hotel, and replace it with a generic big brand supermarket, a liquor store, and retail shops.
History-conscious locals have petitioned the Bega Valley Shire Council into taking a stand and putting the building on the local heritage register. They fear the town will lose a big part of its character should an integral landmark like this disappear, only to be replaced by another modern day dreary box of consumerist bricks and mortar, one that would render the town no different to any other that allows such soul destroying bland architecture in place of the heritage that once stood (Ulladulla, anyone?)
In fact it is a crime to even contemplate knocking down a pub as outstanding and historic as the Australasia, one that helped shape the township of Eden, over many decades, one that has been at the centre of the community, one that tourists and locals alike can immediately associate with its surroundings. The pub is the town and the town is the pub. And even if the pub is not a pub anymore, then the building should remain for posterity.
It has been suggested that the facade at least would remain, but that notion has recently been flatly rejected by the developer who obviously wants to cash in on every square metre of their investment, regardless of what is wrong or right. Talking to locals recently I learned that many even question the need for a third supermarket in town, two serve the population adequately as it stands.
Council’s Heritage Adviser, Mr Pip Giovanelli, Heritage Architect stated in a 14 May 2013 report:
“Full demolition of all buildings on the site would not address heritage values or community expectations. It would lose an important urban design element from the Imlay Street streetscape and would deny the option for a future owner to restore the building and reinstate a potentially very valuable tourist element into the town. This last point is very important as it is often the historic buildings that are sought for restoration and adaption when towns such as Eden cycle into economically more prosperous times. The recent restoration of the Royal Hotel in Queanbeyan is an excellent example.
…Retaining the historic front part of the building and erecting a supermarket behind would appear to be a workable strategy. A similar example of this approach is currently being done in Gipps Street Bega, where the historic Central Hotel is being retained as a two storey frontage behind which is the main supermarket accessed via the former carriageway. The rear of the supermarket will have a sympathetic frontage to the Coles carpark.”
It is right for council to nominate the hotel as a heritage item, but the developer is now taking the case to the Land and Environment Court. They believe the listing has come too late, and feel they have a God-given right to do with the land whatever they want to. So on one hand we have the concerned residents who simply and justly wish to retain the heritage and individuality of their town for future generations to enjoy, and a council that has heard their concerns. On the other hand we have the cashed-up developer who has snatched themselves a bargain property right in the town’s high street, doesn’t give two hoots about the subject’s history or visual townscape impact, and is acting like they are doing the townsfolk a swell favour by building another supermarket that they don’t actually need.
There is a simple solution to all this, and it is a win-win. And this could apply not just to Eden, but statewide, in fact nationwide… Leave the historic building alone, keep mundane and ugly oversized modern development OUT of high street, and build it on the fringes of town or somewhere less intrusive and somewhere where it is going to cause, oh I don’t know, less embarrassment to the people of the township… Everyone’s a winner and then not every town will look the same within about ten years. People can still then take their friends for a walk and point out the beautiful heritage of buildings like the Australasia and say “that’s a century-old watering hole…” rather than, “oh that’s another Woolworths, Coles or IGA…”
Appeal date in the Land and Environment Court is 28 April 2014.
Click on thumbnail images in gallery for slideshow… Colour images Inheritance, historic images courtesy Angela George’s collection / State Library of NSW.
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.
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.
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
The skyline of the southern NSW coastal town of Port Kembla will be forever changed when the iconic 198 metre Copper Smelter Stack is brought down by explosives. The State Government Planning Department has given final permission to remove the landmark, disused since 2003 but still a lingering reminder of the town’s industrial foundations, and visible from miles around and out to sea. For almost 50 years the stack has towered over the working class cottages of this city that hugs the rocky shelves of the Pacific Ocean, and is considered by many to be an icon of the area.
Certainly it is the most distinctive man-made object of the area, and one of the tallest chimney stacks in Australia. Whether it can be seen as beautifying or not, that is irrelevant in terms of heritage. Just because we may not think an object is attractive to the eye doesn’t mean its heritage value is not justified. On the contrary, heritage comes in many shapes and forms and the main point of reference is how it reminds us of how we once lived, worked, and grew as a nation. This constitutes true heritage, especially that of industrial heritage, where new techniques and ways of doing things are constantly evolving, thereby making redundant the old ways at regular intervals.
Steam locomotives, for example, are redundant as an effective means of transport, does that mean we should scrap all steam trains and not allow future generations the opportunity to lay their hands and eyes on them as we have had ourselves in the past? Many would argue that to see a fully working steam locomotive in the flesh is far more impressive than today’s electric equivalent. And there could be no arguement that this smelting stack in Port Kembla is similarly impressive.
The Hammerhead Crane at Garden Island is a recent example of redundant technology, and the sad decision made by the Federal Government to scrap this crane is a reminder of how out of tune we are with our industrial heritage, and how far we stand behind the rest of the world with regard to our dire lack of respect for heritage retention. With decisions like this being made time and time again here in Australia in the 21st century, we as a nation will be the poorer. When we erase these visible symbols of our industrial heritage, we erase the links to our past. The people who worked these things slowly disappear, their knowledge and workmanship disappears, and then the structures are taken away, we are left with very little to remember what once was commonplace.
What the powers-that-be are saying to us, by allowing demolition of our heritage items en masse, is that our heritage is not important. They are saying to us “we don’t need these reminders, we only want to look to the future, to growth, to prosperity, nothing else matters…” and that “it’s not important for our children to see these things, there is no relevance of these things anymore, they do not belong here and they add no value to these places…” I am one who disagrees with this philosophy whole-heartedly. I believe there is a place for these things, I believe they represent who we are, and where we have come from, and to lose them means we are losing an innate part of who we are, of our own identity, and we shouldn’t be allowing short-term financial decisions alone to govern how we treat these objects of our inheritance.
The copper smelter stack at Port Kembla represents Port Kembla… It is Port Kembla. Just as the Hammerhead Crane is Garden Island. When we strip these historic industrial places of their relevant monuments we are taking away something symbolic, and leaving behind a more generic display. Many people in Port Kembla and around the Wollongong area won’t feel a need to commiserate or even commemorate the loss of such an object. They may even be glad to see the end of it. But whether they like it or not Port Kembla is an industrial working town, a lively hub of coal and steel that has helped shape Australia’s eastern seaboard growth. And so the smelter, this towering concrete and brick edifice, deserves its place watching over the landscape, it deserves its rightful position as a centrepiece of heritage standing sentinel over the tapestry of south coast industrial workings it helped create.
A local lobby group known as Stack 360 would agree with me. They have the foresight to see that this industrial vestige can be much more than just a blight on the town as some believe. They have demonstrated what can be accomplished by lighting up the stack with sound and light displays, attracting the attention of locals and visitors alike, and turning the structure from an overdue relic into a tourist drawcard virtually overnight. With visions to go further and create viewing platforms atop the monumental tower (imagine the view), it seems that yesterday’s dirty industry can indeed be turned into tomorrow’s tourist industry as it has in many other countries around the world.
Unfortunately they may not get the chance. The site’s Japanese owners have declared they will not be saving the structure, which they claim suffers from concrete cancer, and demolition day had been set for 5 September. Port Kembla Copper had tossed up alternative techniques to demolish the stack after alarm was raised over the safe removal of asbestos within the expansion gaskets throughout the tower, and slower piece by piece removal was seen as a safer option to explosives. However explosive detonation was put firmly back on the agenda this year when a breakthrough occurred which could allow separate and safe removal of the expansion gaskets. Even now at this late stage, safety is of major concern for the Department of Planning & Infrastructure, the EPA, WorkCover and Wollongong City Council, who have stepped in to postpone the date of 5 September until all safety requirements can duly be met. “No demolition will occur until the Government is satisfied the work is safe, the methods are appropriate and all relevant concerns and issues have been fully addressed,” a joint statement said.
So for Port Kembla’s historic smelting stack, and industrial icon, the end, though not defined, is clearly near… Soon, maybe in September 2013, the stack will be felled and fall into a massive pile of rubble. Soon after that, the people who wanted it gone will have to find something else to talk about that they want gone. And soon again, after that, a meaningless business development will rise form its ashes. And then, when visitors ask the question, “what is there to see in Port Kembla?” where once we could have proudly replied “there’s a pretty impressive giant copper stack, one of the biggest in the country” now we will only be able to scratch our heads and throw up excuses. And not long after, this giant chimney will start to fade from our memories and we will even start to forget that it ever existed… Such is the way of the world.
Main image Pic by Andy Zakeli, illawarra Mercury.
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.
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 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…