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HISTORIC ‘BRANDLESOME’ – A LITMUS TEST FOR COUNCIL

Truly a once in a lifetime opportunity, Bexley’s most Iconic Residence… This Federation Masterpiece is full of Period features, including High Ornate Ceilings, Wide Hallways, 4 Original Fire Places, Tiled Foyer Entry, Lead Light Windows and Main Entry, Slate Roof, Pressed Metal Ceiling and much, much more…

Not my words, the real estate agent’s… And this gracious description accompanied by bright and airy photoshoped images obviously went some way in selling the unique residence… Late in 2015 the house at 580 Forest Rd Bexley known as ‘Brandlesome’ traded at auction for $2.77 Million. It was owned by the Formby family for four generations prior, but unoccupied for many years and as a result both cocooned as a period time capsule, while also showing some signs of decay such as rising damp that inevitably result from such lack of use.

Brandlesome represents an outstanding example of Federation architecture that has rapidly disappeared from the local area. The building exhibits some fine ornate features consistent with the era, including herringbone brickwork, high chimneys and terracotta features, and those wonderful lead light windows that worked as a selling point for the real estate agent… Even rare examples of half-timber work are present, and this is not seen on many local Federation buildings.

Additionally, the very layout of the building is unique, being transversely designed, with a central front porch and large looping ‘keyhole’ arch. This is highly unusual among the regular rectangular or square shapes of Federation housing common of the time.

The fact that this house has been owned by four generations of the Formby family adds immensely to the heritage value for the local community, not to mention the original front boundary fence and the fact the house is basically complete and unaltered over the decades as many others have been.

All this would point to local heritage listing. But there is none.

Naturally a certain sense of speculation surrounded the future of Brandlesome when it was put on the market after being tightly held for so many years. But all bets were off just a short time after when a DA was presented offering complete demolition of the Federation beauty, subdivision into three land parcels and construction of three separate modern ‘superdwellings’.

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580 Forest Rd. Three oversized boxes proposed to replace one heritage marvel. DA image by ZTA.

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The development would be acceptable IF it didn’t involve destruction of a historic building. DA image by ZTA.

This could be seen as ‘very disappointing but very predictable’– words used by St George Historical Society president Bernie Sharah to describe the somewhat unsurprising outcome… Old house, big block of land, development biased council? We have seen it all before.

But one question still has to be asked, and that is this: Can this house be saved, and can it be saved while still making the new owner some financial gain?

The answer is Yes.

It has happened in other council areas such as Marrickville, whereby the development controls have been slightly altered to allow retention of the heritage property while adding value to the land by allowing more development in the surrounding parcel. In the case of Brandlesome, being slightly off centre on a large 2000 metre block of land, townhouses could be substituted down one side and along the back in an L-shape around the existing building, offering a better range of housing, and potentially increased profit for the developer, while most importantly retaining the heritage item.

This can be seen as a successful alternative to complete demolition, and one that offers a win-win-win situation by allowing the developer to increase their financial return, Rockdale Council to set a new standard for heritage retention mixed with quality new construction, and of course community benefit by preserving an extremely important piece of local heritage.

Far too many unique iconic houses are being lost in the area, as can be illustrated by another recent announcement that historic Halstead House in Mortdale, the oldest building in a heritage listed precinct, will be demolished in exchange for two modern dwellings. The owner says he doesn’t want to live in a heritage home, but then he should move out and leave it for somebody else. The reality is he wants to make a profit from the size of his land. And he certainly isn’t the first nor will he be the last. This will go on and on until many of our historic homes are lost.

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Another St George grand home to go, Halstead House, which was removed from heritage listing in 1999. Image Fairfax Media.

And that is why we need councils such as Rockdale to act creatively, to work with developers for best results, to be strict and consistent with guidelines, and to put local heritage retention at the forefront when determining DAs. This isn’t happening at the present time, but we need it to, as the stakes are so high. Heritage only gets one chance. And houses like Brandlesome are way too precious to sacrifice for the financial gain of single owners who came in at the last minute just to turn a profit. That is no way to treat our architectural assets that mean so much to us all.

The fate of Brandlesome rests with Rockdale council. This is now a litmus test to see if a local council has the will to ensure survival of its historic buildings. The new owners have already decided to neglect their building, filling it with bags of rubbish, leaving the windows wide open and the lights on day and night. But not all is decided, and there is still time to write a letter of objection to council, or a quick email to rcc@rockdale.nsw.gov.au (quote Ref Number: DA-2016/137).

 

Images above by Ray White Real Estate. Title image Inheritance 2016.

 

A DIFFERENT KIND OF ‘GATEWAY’

What constitutes a gateway building? What does it even mean, this wildly encompassing propagandist term ‘gateway building’? Is it a building with a gateway attached or a gateway within a building? I believe it is a recent turn of phrase, coined by councils, developer lobby groups and probably the Liberal government, in order to raise the building heights to ridiculously grotesque levels on certain sites at main intersections at entry points to basically every suburb in the land. And that they do, to full extent. Oh they do love a good gateway. The bigger the better. Yep, you can’t beat a good gateway.

And while councils and developers are falling over themselves to create the next great gateway to some generic overcrowded hovel that isn’t really worth driving through in the first place, it may be time to reflect on an older school of gateway building, perhaps a different kind of gateway, built to a much more human scale than what is currently being offered up by the usual suspects who seem obsessed with leaving misguided legacies of their own Trump Towers overshadowing our once scenic suburbia.

Let’s look at Blackshaw Pavillion. Until recently, this inoffensive interwar red brick utility commanded a prime position on the corner of Forest Rd. and King Georges Rd. at the edge of Penshurst Park – a gateway of sorts to Hurstville, Penshurst and Beverly Hills. Unassuming and typically Australian in appearance, the site of the pavillion welcomed visitors to the park and the area for many decades. It was built for a former local alderman who had a love for the game of cricket, as a player’s pavilion overlooking the former oval.

Since then the oval has long gone, replaced by leaner practice grounds over the years and more recently a large aquatic centre-come-gym, which seems to be expanding and swallowing up more of the former green space every time you blink an eye. At one stage there was an old bowling club a little further into the park, but that has also been weeded out.

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The former Blackshaw Pavillion, Hurstville Gallery & Museum archive

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The old oval. Blackshaw Pavillion at left. Archive photo, I grew up in Mortdale 2223 FB page.

Now Blackshaw Pavillion is gone too, reduced to a pile of smouldering rubble, in the shadow of another new gateway building across the road, the massive towers sprawling along Forest Rd at the old Dominelli Ford site that appear more like a concrete fortress when approaching from the west.

Word has it that council wanted the pavilion gone due to asbestos, but the demolition was carried out without any proper removal or remediation of the site. In fact, the pile of bricks remained for a number of weeks without any covering. So what was the real reason? Well perhaps that will yet come to reveal itself. Chances are Hurstville Council just didn’t want to pay the upkeep of what it sees a redundant building. Meanwhile other councils have found ways of re-inventing disused maintenance buildings, like the very successful transformation of a pumphouse service shed in Bigge Park Liverpool which has flourished after being reborn as a trendy park café.

What is interesting or in reality more worrying is that Hurstville Council tried to demolish Blackshaw Pavilion before, a couple years ago, before meeting strong community opposition and pulling their plans at the eleventh hour. That resistance, this time, was not forthcoming. Which makes one wonder why. What has changed?

Perhaps the demographics have changed, the population that may have put in submissions against these developments in the area have either moved on or passed on. Others feel burnt out by development fatigue, no longer able to pick up the laptop and write off another submission to council for fear of fertilising their ever growing migranes or going completely and utterly mentally ill before their time. I know the feeling.

Whatever the case, the new gateways are arriving and the older, more human, more welcoming gateway buildings are disappearing or becoming just a throwback to another time. A time before councils were run as thinly disguised commercial building companies, before developer land frenzies and state government sponsored concreting booms altered our cityscapes forever. A time before ‘gateway building’ became a term, let alone a flashy catchcry to push through even more ugliness in place of sanity. I wish we could build a gateway back to building codes of past…

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Hurstville’s new Gateway approaching from Forest Road.

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Another new ‘gateway’ at nearby Kogarah, on the site of the RSL club. 220 apartment Veridian development.

Another gateway for Kogarah – 'La Vista', 79-83 Princes Hwy.

And yet another gateway for Kogarah – ‘La Vista’, 79-83 Princes Hwy.

Title image by Tanya Jordon.

VICTORIAN PARTY HOUSE NO MORE

Sometimes a building finds itself the source of much community affection and attachment, and at the same time these are the buildings that by their nature often help to define a suburb. One such example is Victoria House in Bexley, an old 1855 mansion that served as a wedding function centre for 65 years until its closure in late 2014, by which time it had earned the enviable status of being the longest serving reception house in Australia.

On the weekend of 25-26th July the old girl threw open her doors one last time, not as a reception centre, but as an auction house, for the purpose of clearing out virtually everything that had come to adorn the graceful building both inside and out over the course of its meaningful life as entertainment venue come antiques museum. The walls were filled with Australian art, the floors with English Oak furniture holding up Oriental porcelain and Russian Religious icons atop Persian rugs, and the ceilings hung with dazzling crystal chandeliers, one of which belonged to none other than Dame Nellie Melba in her Dandenong Ranges property.

Outside the circular gravel entranceway was studded with Mercs and Jaguars all for sale, even the garden furniture and concrete planters were tagged, and of course, leftover cases of Pinot and catering equipment galore in the vast kitchen which has obviously seen its last crème brûlée come out on a silver trolley to the hordes of welcoming guests.

But the star of the show was the old girl herself, Victoria House. Constructed by John MacLeod, a master builder from the heydey of the colony who completed such famous structures as Town Hall and Fort Denison, as well as parts of the QVB, it was a wedding present for his son Hector, a renowned builder himself who sadly died at the age of 31 as a result of a work site accident. In the early forties the house was transformed into a reception centre and run by the same family for many decades, and now, Richard White, grandson of those original managers wants to convert the structure back into a private residence once more, resurrecting the old house name of Cluny Brae.

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Having grown up nearby and passed by the estate many times but never really knowing what went on inside, I saw it as an open invitation to wander around and take it all in. Up through the time-tarnished Victorian porch and into a formal landing, two vast open spaces, the Edward Room and the Colonial Room sprawl out on either side separated from each other by the cavernous catering kitchen. The Edward Room is the original grand ballroom, with sprung dance floor, intricate curved ceiling reminiscent of a church nave propped up by slender Roman columns, leading to a beautiful stained glass window behind the stage. The Colonial Room was converted in the 1960s from an original billiards room, with its magnificent wood paneled bar and great feeling of pompousness embellished with fine period furnishings. Between the two rooms simultaneous gatherings could be catered for half an hour apart.

If only these walls could talk… They would surely speak something of the endless nights of heartfelt celebration, of blushing brides, gushing parents and boozy heads… It is easy to see that Victoria House is still revered, many of the people filing through spoke fondly of having their wedding receptions take place within its walls decades ago. I even overheard two young girls talking of when they worked here, not so long ago, and chatted to a former MC of the house who was taking one final look.

I turned and said how sad I thought it was that all this was coming to an end. “Not really”, he replied, “all good things have to come to an end…” and I reflected on it later – that wasn’t a throwaway comment, he was absolutely right. All good things do come to an end, and perhaps that is where we should leave them, rather than pine after them in some dimly lit memory for years and years to come.

For so many people this grand old building held a special place, and over this weekend in July 2015, she still knew how to turn it all on one last time.

EPILOGUE: Elsewhere in Bexley…

Just up the road from Victoria House, the Federation masterpiece known as Brandlesome, at No.580 Forest Rd. has recently traded hands after being neglected and unoccupied for many, many years. We hope the building’s heritage status will ensure it remains an asset to the area for generations to come (although knowing Rockdale council it may be surrounded by townhouses by the end of the year).

And down the road, another local icon has closed its doors for the very last time. Bexley Jewellers has ceased trading after 46 years. I remember this shop as a child and recently went in to find smiling owners Mona and Raymond Awad still tending the business of jewellery and watch repairs as they had done for decades. This really was an old school suburban jewellery store in the finest sense of the word. Mona and Ray will be missed.

Brandlesome photos Ray White, all other photos Inheritance 2015.

KOGARAH RESIDENTS FACE THE ENEMIES WITHIN THE GATES

More than 200 men, women, and children packed the Kogarah School of Arts today to talk about the proposed LEP changes soon to be passed by Kogarah Council. Over the course of nearly two hours they heard from speakers including young gun MP for Kogarah Chris Minns, local residents and members of Kogarah.org, an umbrella group formed to address the shortcomings associated with the LEP and educate more people into standing up against unwanted overdevelopment within their area.

Clearly the proposed LEP for Kogarah is all about overdevelopment, and badly planned overdevelopment at that… Issues such as 21m (7 stories) height limits nowhere near railway corridors, highrise up to 39m all through the shopping and business precincts, density increases along the already congested Princes Highway and Rocky Point Rd. among others, removal of waterfront buffers, and total lack of consultation and transparency by Kogarah Council has forced these people to come together and fight what they see as an indignity being wrought upon their suburban lifestyle by the very ones in power who were elected to represent the residents interests, not walk all over them.

No Kogarah councillors chose to be present.

The fact Kogarah Council has not included a biodiversity study seems grounds to make the LEP invalid, said one speaker, a former lawyer with the Land and Environment Court. Not only illegal but also a bold statement by a reckless council who chooses to flaunt the rules in their arrogant push to quickly and quietly steamroll this bloated LEP through while the doors are wide open.

member for Kogarah Chriss Minns voices his concern over the LEP.

Member for Kogarah Chris Minns voices his concern over the LEP. When even a state MP says it is an overdevelopment then you know something is not right.

I think there is a moment in time when it becomes blindingly clear that the ones we are meant to trust to do the right things for us we can no longer trust, and this moment is now for Kogarah.

Perhaps it underpins a broader social problem nowadays, when even the local council can’t be trusted to bring the best results for its residents, then who can we believe in? Are we at that point where municipal pride has not only flickered away like some 1900s candle, but been highjacked by the deeds of wayward councillors who have clearly forgotten their role in the community, the reason for their position, the pride in their own job?

That lack of public confidence translates into somewhat of a breakdown in society, or at least in society’s values. Is it too much, after all, to expect that our cities and our suburbs, our streets and our schools, won’t be stretched to breaking point by the unwanted development we now find ourselves being repeatedly jabbed with, forcing residents to either scatter like rats or come together in bands to try and salvage what we can of what we see as our right to control our own destiny.

Well today, in Kogarah, the people didn’t scatter… They came in silently, queued on the stairs contently, and crammed the little School of Arts to physically demonstrate their opposition to a flawed and greedy piece of legislation which would only bring gains to council, government and those set to benefit financially from the mass rezoning of land parcels. The average resident can only lose here. And so their voices were heard, in numbers…

I would like to congratulate those involved with Kogarah.org, and all those who took time from their Sunday afternoon to come out and fight for their suburb, to fight against the greed and insanity of this overdevelopment. To fight to have a voice in what happens to their environment, their surroundings, to fight for what happens all around them, for their community. Yes, we all still have a community and it appears nowadays we do have to fight for it. It just seems a shame that the ones we are fighting are the very people we chose to represent us in the first place.

This is the exact type of development we DON'T want for Kogarah – 'La Vista', 79-83 Princes Hwy.

This is the exact type of development we DON’T want for Kogarah – ‘La Vista’, 79-83 Princes Hwy.

Check the Kogarah.org website here for the facts. Get submissions to Council by Friday May 29.

20 REASONS I HATE ‘URBAN RENEWAL’

By Inheritance 2015, inheritance.org.au

They call it ‘Urban Renewal.’ The politicians love it, developers love it, foreign investors love it, my average neighbour doesn’t really want to know about it, but I hate it. And here are a few reasons why…

Urban Renewal is the reason I have to sit in traffic for 25 minutes just to get from one side of my suburb to the other. By car.

Urban Renewal is the reason I have to stand on the edge of the road for 10 minutes and then play chicken to get from one side to the other.

Urban Renewal is why I am forced to look up at overbearing nondescript cheaply constructed boxes of up to 10 stories high in suburban growth ghettos with inadequate parking, natural lighting and open space. Meanwhile affordable blocks of land and perfectly good houses are being swallowed up and kids have to make do with honing their ball skills on Sony Playstations.

Urban Renewal is the reason the sun now sets in my mother’s backyard at 2pm, as it is totally eclipsed by the dark side of a neighbouring block of ‘townhouses’ (ie. units).

Urban Renewal is the reason my favourite row of Federation shops has just been chewed up by bulldozers and reincarnated as some ugly monolithic drab grey box with concrete cancer and render peeling off like snakeskin after only its first full year of inception.

Urban Renewal is why I have to park two streets away if I’m not home by 3pm and three streets away on bin night.

Urban Renewal is just another name for a marketing ploy that sees foreign investors take over our housing stocks and inject large sums of capital into the market to drive prices up and outpace many local buyers out of the possibility of owning their own home, most probably ever.

Urban Renewal is a quick way of propping up the local and state economies by giving people the false impression that it is boom time in the building industry and consumers have got way too much money to burn on housing.

Urban Renewal is the reason there are no more backyards in my neighbourhood. No more trees, no front yards, no side yards, no sparrows, no fairy wrens, no caterpillars, no Green Grocers, no Brown Bakers, no Black Princes, definitely no Yellow Mondays and no butterflies. There is a lot of concrete though, and concrete cancer, and the odd dwarf shrub for border embellishment.

Urban Renewal, funnily enough, assumes everyone wants urban renewal… I don’t. I like my suburb the way it is. That’s why I chose to live there.

Cartoon Center City Highway congestion

Urban Renewal is why there are torrents of rainwater flooding down the gutters of my street from duplex driveways every time the heavens open up. There is nowhere else for the water to go.

Urban Renewal is the reason property developers cruise my suburb in black Audi Q7s eyeing off their next blue ribbon investment that will make them another big brown envelope full of money.

Urban Renewal is a sweeping term that demands blanket slash and burn mentality. Nothing is left of my old neighbourhood – no heritage, no community, no environment, no funky warehouse conversions, no links to the past, no resonating cultural vibes, nothing.

Urban Renewal is a way of turning one block of land into two, three or four and then charging more for each subdivision than the original.

Urban Renewal is why I have to basically fight my way to drive into my local shopping centre/school/health care service. I then have to virtually compete in hand to hand combat in order to find a parking spot, and defy all odds Indiana Jones-style to get my choirs done and return to the car in time before I get a ticket or worse, have to battle through peak hour.

Urban Renewal is the reason I try and stay away from driving anywhere on weekends now. It’s just not worth the effort.

Urban Renewal is why I am too scared to invest all my hard earned savings into the house of my dreams, as who knows what will be built next door to the house of my dreams the minute I move in.

Urban Renewal is why I try not to get too excited about a beautiful old heritage building in my neighbourhood. I find it makes it a lot easier when the thing is replaced by a gaping big hole in the ground next time I jog by.

Urban Renewal is a fallacy that would have us believe the only way to make our suburbs pretty and safe is to knock everything down and build everything new again, this time with dinky shops on the bottom and multiple stories of residential dwellings on top (and lots of basement parking to store our black Audi Q7s). That way we can all be proud of our suburbs. Give me a break.

Urban Renewal is probably the reason why I have to put my child’s name down three years in advance to get her into some overpriced childcare facility. Same with school. It’s probably why I have to get to the train station at 5am to get the only parking available. It’s probably why I have to stand in the train too. And wait at the pharmacy, and the ATM. And get to the park three hours early to reserve a picnic table on a Saturday morning. And line up ten-deep outside the Vietnamese bread shop that does those special pork rolls I like. In fact it’s probably responsible for every little part of my life that I find shitty and annoying.

So thank you, Urban Renewal, you are making such a difference to my life, and will continue to do so, I’d imagine, for some time yet…

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ART DECO EMBRACE

I recently had the privilege of rummaging through an old Art Deco cottage that had been sold at auction as the result of becoming a deceased estate. While the house was traded for an inconceivable amount, purely due to its land value alone, and will inevitably be bulldozed in the longer term, what I found inside was a veritable time capsule of that era, one that still retained many of the original installation furnishings and fixtures, including doors, light and bathroom fittings, masonry and tilework, even what were probably the original carpets and mattresses still in good condition.

To stand the test of time for so many decades, to remain usable even to this day, and to repel the heavy wear and tear that a house and all its surfaces must endure on an unrelenting basis, demonstrates just how fine a quality of finish the Art Deco suburban home was adorned with…

Bank vault doors still kept guard with heavy chromed handles. Magenta heirloom rosebuds looked up from vibrant carpets underfoot while emerald ivy climbed the halls across sheets of crisp wallpaper. Frosted spectacular triangle shapes pierced the windows like leadlight icicles. Jade ornaments bedazzled the bathroom between geometrical tiles like carved Maori offerings. Organic flying saucers filled the corners of the rooms with their soft yellow glow while an original Smiths Sectric Durban clock kept time upon the wall as it had done for decades.

As I took it all in I could only stand in awe at the level of workmanship and decoration that was crafted into these dwellings of the period, and was left pondering the question “why are we knocking down so many of these wonderful and graceful buildings only to replace them with cheaply built and unremarkable alternatives?” The answer still makes me feel dumb.

Inside the house there was an air of regality that I knew now could not endure, not with new owners, not in this day and age… The former owner, over 90 years old, saw no reason to change things. The new owner –any new owner– nowadays, will want to put their own stamp on their possession and customise things to their liking, breaking the entire synergy of the long held original.

As a result I noticed the old carpets were ripped up and placed out onto the footpath on first inspection. Not that I have any right to criticize that, not everybody wants 80 year old carpets in their living room… What I can rightfully lament though is the fact the house has definitely now lost a sense of originality and completeness; The time capsule, if you like, has had its lid torn open and its contents strewn out into the hard light of day. Nothing will be the same any more, not in this house, not in many more like it…

All pictures Inheritance 2014.

DISAPPEARING SYDNEY

Sydney is disappearing… The city we know and love is being lost before our very eyes, sold off and torn apart, opened up and ripped into pieces.

Inheritance the blog was created to document this change and show some of the things we are losing across our city and our state. Inheritance Society and NSW Heritage Network were incorporated to allow like-minded individuals to come together and share their collective views and work towards turning the tide around.

Disappearing Sydney has now been created as a Facebook group to share photos and alert people visually to the loss throughout their own areas.

If you have a camera or a smart phone, you can be part of this group and make a contribution simply by uploading your own photos of buildings and places that are disappearing, sharing them with a wider audience.

It is not fair nor right that our city is being treated this way. Much of the high-rise development that is being pushed by local and state governments is a direct result of offshore foreign investment. Our state government in particular are willingly selling off prime assets and promoting NSW as being ‘open for business’, indulging in high density building frenzies and population growth spurts just so they can stand tall at the next election and claim how viable the economy has become.

But we have our eyes open. We are weary of the fact that they have become addicted to excessive residential building as a tool for injecting large scales of money quickly into the economy. We are aware that they have created an artificial housing boom by promoting foreign investment into exclusively new building projects, a boom that has left many of our next generation of Australians wondering how they will ever be able to afford their own piece of the pie.

We are aware they have watered down heritage and environmental laws to allow full exploitation of real estate potential across the state. And we are aware that our society and our lifestyles are being irreversibly altered and constantly threatened by this excessive race to grow the economy at all costs, in the most aggressive way possible, not by creating new industries and fostering smart technologies, but rather by simply injecting more people and pushing more concrete into the sky.

Indeed we have witnessed the shameless selling out of future generations. Rather than growing to become part of society and working towards a common goal of home ownership, many are left scratching their heads and saying “how will I ever own my own home?”

So much of our heritage is being lost to the building boom and we are constantly watching priceless treasures disappear forever, denying future generations a sense of place and perhaps a sense of understanding of our cultural identity – the visual links of layers of architecture laid down over decades.

All this disappears every time a developer decides to buy up in an area and flaunt lax heritage laws by bulldozing everything within site. Like great trees in the forest that have taken many years to grow and only a brief minute to cut down, so too are our heritage assets so carelessly sacrificed. And what remains is merely a testament to the greed of rapid economic expansion at any cost. What we are left with is an altered sense of culture and identity, a collective mindset that is severed , one that has difficulty reconciling the place of its own heritage in a rapidly changing world. What governments often try to make people forget is that all of this is also completely unsustainable within the context of life on this planet over the coming decades.

Heritage is important… Tangible evidence that people were here before us, often doing the things we do, living their lives, building our society to what it is today. For us to turn our backs on all that and simply bulldoze everything in sight for the quick growth of economy is unjustifiable. Inheritance and Disappearing Sydney seek to address these issues that confront us, not just for now but for generations to follow, because we want to endow these generations with the same chance of discovery that we have had ourselves. We want the cycle to continue. And we want them to be identified and feel a sense of belonging. For without our heritage we certainly are nobody…