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.