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THE CHANGING FACE OF FORSTER-TUNCURRY

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.

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BATTLE BREWING FOR HOTEL AUSTRALASIA, EDEN

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.

THREE GENERATIONS OF BAY ST. FELLED FOR UNITS

Three generations of architecture sitting side by side are to make way for units along Rockdale’s busy Bay Street leading down to historic Botany Bay. A simple 1800s workers’ cottage, a free standing Victorian villa complete with original slate roof, and a brown brick Federation have been vacated and await demolition surrounded by a fence of doom, in an area that has the highest expansion rate for unit building currently in the state. A DA to turn the site into 19 strata units was lodged in December 2013 by applicants J & M Faddoul Pty Ltd, at a building cost of $3,275,000.

Rockdale Council seems to find no heritage value in these items that have stood for more than a hundred years and overlooked the constant march of progress stemming up from Botany Bay and down from the town centres where Thomas Saywell’s famous steam tram once traversed. Instead more and more units have now become the order of the day. Even a now rare workers’ cottage can’t stand in the way, nor a stunning double storey Victorian villa with many ornate original features, reminiscent of the recently lost Griffith House on the grounds of nearby St George hospital.

It seems an unnecessary shame that buildings like this are allowed to be felled continuously in this so-called enlightened age, in fact the rate of heritage loss seems to be increasing as large swathes of Sydney are rezoned for unit development, a trend which will no doubt spell the end for many similar buildings especially in areas such as Rockdale, where councils simply don’t have a clue as to their duty of guardianship, choosing rather to tow the Liberal state government line of urban renewal at all costs.

Rockdale Council is currently assessing another potential overdevelopment on the nearby Darrell Lea site on Rocky Point Road. The chocolate factory is to make way for between 350 and 600 dwellings, rising over the 3.3 hectare site in towers up to 12 stories high, within a LEP that currently allows four. In order to accommodate this scale of development, the land would have to be rezoned to R4 high density residential, a move which Rockdale Fifth Ward Ratepayers Association disagrees with, citing privacy, traffic congestion, and lack of amenities (there is no rail station nearby). However Rockdale Council has already adopted a motion to support the planning proposal, meaning residents may just be left as innocent bystanders in the process. Long live democracy in Australia… At least the developers have theirs.

All images by Inheritance. Click on gallery below for slide show.

East West elevation of 93-97 Bay St Rockdale.

East West elevation of 93-97 Bay St Rockdale.

North South elevation of 93-97 Bay St Rockdale.

North South elevation of 93-97 Bay St Rockdale.

Photo render of the development, 93-97 Bay St Rockdale.

Photo render of the development, 93-97 Bay St Rockdale.

BURWOOD BEAUTY IS IN THE EYE OF THE DEVELOPER

A beautiful Federation mansion in Burwood is now under imminent threat of demolition following the lodging of a DA to build eight townhouses on the 1853sqm estate. The six bedroom property, at 18 Wyatt Avenue Burwood sold at auction in April 2012 for $2,950,000 to Mr. Zhou who placed the DA in October 2013.

The house was once owned by Edward ‘Red Ted’ Theodore, who led an illustrious career as a Union leader, Queensland Premier and Federal Treasurer under the Scullin Labor government during the Great Depression, later making his fortune as a private business partner of Sir Frank Packer setting up gold mines in Fiji and holding the position of Chairman of Directors within Packer’s publishing giant ACP. Theodore has been described as a radical thinker of his time and has been immortalized with both a township in Queensland and a suburb in Canberra named after him.

The house backs on to the heritage listed Appian Way, and forms part of the fabric of the heritage-rich Burwood area, a landscape local residents fear is being eroded piece by piece if proposals like this are allowed to gain traction. That fabric was tethered a few years ago with the loss of the magnificent Federation mansion Tilba to a unit development – this new case is already drawing comparisons and can be seen as another litmus test of just how determined council are to protect the significant heritage assets of Burwood that happen to fall just outside their rather inadequate conservation zones.

Worryingly the determination of Burwood Council may not be where it should… The council’s heritage architect has already approved demolition of the property. It is now before councillors for final approval, who have received 39 letters of objection amongst a growing tide of concern by residents who have invested significant amounts of money to live in an area they see as a stronghold of Federation era heritage and a charming suburb of aesthetic beauty in its own right.

Former owner Edward 'Red Ted' Theodore. Image State Library of Queensland.

The Cary Grant-like former owner Edward ‘Red Ted’ Theodore. Image State Library of Queensland.

An elegant Federation mansion. Image federation-house.wikispaces.com

An elegant Federation mansion. Image federation-house.wikispaces.com

Rear of 18 Wyatt Ave Burwood. Image federation-house.wikispaces.com

Rear of 18 Wyatt Ave Burwood. Image federation-house.wikispaces.com

President of the Burwood Historical Society Jon Breen knows all too well about the imminent danger not only for this house but the suburb in general. “This side of Wyatt Ave has always been seen as a bulwark or protection zone for the internationally significant precinct of Appian Way,” he told Burwood Scene. “Twenty years ago the National Trust proposed a buffer zone around Appian Way to protect this unique and historically important area. Such a buffer zone would have stopped the demolition of a number of historic buildings.”

On the other side, building company Ausray International appears to see this as a done deal, already advertising the new townhouses on its website under the name ‘Ausray Wyatt Place’, making enlightening claims that “18 Wyatt Ave, Burwood is located in the best street in Burwood, it has best combination of character homes with peaceful leaf and green areas.”
…umm, is that one of the so-called character homes that you just applied to demolish?

Ausray International has already advertised the development. Image Ausray.

Ausray International has already advertised the development complete with plastic people. Ausray.

The proposed eight townhouse development.

The proposed eight townhouse development.

Inheritance has joined the fight by writing a letter of objection to any intention of approval. Our associate NSW Heritage Network have done the same. What remains to be seen now is whether Burwood Council will side with the concerns of residents they are meant to represent, or side with a new breed of developer-buyers who are more than happy to invest in the area purely to knock down these magnificent treasures in order to turn a quick profit and at the same time destroy the wonderful local heritage these homes represent. Considering 18 Wyatt Avenue sold for $2,050,000 back in July 2002, an average profit of $90,000 a year was made by the previous owner just by holding onto the property, which goes to show you don’t have to demolish to make money out of real estate in Sydney. Just treat it with the respect it deserves.

Link to Burwood and District Historical Society ‘Changing Scene’ page showing multiple heritage demolitions around the area.

Main title image federation-house.wikispaces.com

CENTURY-OLD STEEL CITY HERITAGE TO BE SWIFTLY SCRAPPED

Some of the last remnants of BHP’s massive steelworks legacy in Newcastle are to be scrapped under a plan by the state government to remediate former industrial land around the ports of Mayfield.

In a move announced by local Newcastle press recently, the former steelworks pattern store, medical centre and master mechanic’s office are to be demolished very soon to allow what is termed ‘remediation’ of the site. The land, to be leased out by the Newcastle Port Corporation to a private tenant under a 99 year scheme is prime development holding and the idea of sacrificing this heritage seems to be another rushed affair following a brief announcement over the Christmas period, and a refusal by the Port to avoid any public consultation over the demolition under state infrastructure laws.

What exactly does this ‘remediation’ refer to…? Certainly the large tract of land occupied can be fully remediated without the need to remove these three relatively insignificant structures. This is not Fukushima after all; the buildings don’t have to be demolished so the topsoil can be excavated and the area steam cleaned free from reactor-grade plutonium…?

Diesel Loco no 35 arrives by the Medical Centre, 1957.  Image newcastle Industrial Heritage Association.

Diesel Loco No. 35 arrives by the Medical Centre, 1957. Image newcastle Industrial Heritage Association.

The wonderful Master Mechanics Office. Image Newcastle Industrial Heritage Association

The wonderful Master Mechanics Office. Image Newcastle Industrial Heritage Association

Former steelworks pattern store. Image newcastle Industrial Heritage Association.

Former steelworks pattern store. Image Newcastle Industrial Heritage Association.

They were in fact the only three structures earmarked to be saved 12 years ago when redevelopment of the site was first slated… Here they have waited patiently while ‘remediation’ happens all around, and hopefully one day they will be restored and re-purposed to form part of the tapestry that makes up this site. A very important part too, being representative of the former vast empire of BHP, the steelworks which operated from 1915 until its closure in 1999, a gleaming relic of Newcastle’s industrial past. The steelworks pattern store, in particular, goes back even further, being constructed of sandstone blocks salvaged from a mansion that once sat on the Hunter River.

The Newcastle Industrial Heritage Association, a group of ex-BHP workers who advocate maintaining some of the steel giant’s legacy are against the plan. Its President Bob Cook says “The buildings are adjacent to the main entry of the steelworks, on a main road entry, and are quite practically located to be able to fit in with any future development on that part of the site, so it doesn’t seem appropriate to remove them unnecessarily when the use of the land is not known at this time.”

He sees the potential dollar value in the deal as a reason for their removal. “Quite clearly maximising the value of the land is by providing it as a free clear site and that’s one way of maximising the value, not providing any inhibiting potential buildings on the site… Clearly that’s the reason for this exercise.”

Inheritance agrees whole-heartedly, and we will be sending an objection regarding the removal of any heritage buildings on site. We would also call for a proper independent assessment of the site and whether there is a real need to remove the heritage items.

A May 2009 Remediation Fact Sheet prepared by Hunter Development Corporation gives away some of the truth of the matter. It clearly shows that the bulk of remediation work is required within a smaller 30 hectare area entitled Area 1, well away from these buildings, and in fact has already occurred. It says ‘The remediation strategy has been designed to contain contaminated soils and manage contaminated groundwater to a standard that allows industrial use of the site and addresses environmental protection of the Hunter River… The contamination, which is common to steelworks sites, is largely confined to a 30 hectare area of the site identified as Area 1. However, remediation work is also required to the bulk of the remaining areas of the site as well.’

This proves that these buildings, on the outer verge of the massive 150 hectare site, far away from the heavily contaminated Area 1, are in a low risk zone and do not need to be removed at all.

Not only this, but as part of the remediation process to date, two large stormwater drains were created at the eastern and western edges of the site, and the land re-shaped so that contaminated groundwater and surface water would be directed towards these drains rather than into the Hunter River. As can be seen the three buildings in question are on a higher fall of land away from the river and as such contaminants naturally drain away from these areas. (see images below including drainage arrows).

What I find rather strange is that the state government finds no problem with the proven high levels of airbourne pollution created by coal dust from open rail carraiges thundering all around the suburbs of Newcastle, causing respiratory health concerns to a growing number of residents, but three tiny heritage buildings left on a clean-up site for 12 years are now all of a sudden a top priority pollution threat. Perhaps, more than a decade after BHP left Mayfield, and after years of ongoing remediation already, the issue here is just a convenient way to get these buildings out of the way to allow for a true greenfield development of the site.

BHP Steelworks site, remediation factsheet image.

BHP Steelworks site, remediation fact sheet image.

BHP Area 1 shown, remediation factsheet image.

BHP Area 1 shown, remediation fact sheet image.

Area 1 remediation cross section, remediation factsheet image.

Area 1 remediation cross section showing work previously undertaken, remediation fact sheet image.

As more of Newcastle’s former industrial land is given over to developers, so too is the heritage of the city and its surrounds under threat from disappearing, as piece by piece, large swathes are redeveloped for housing and other uses. What remains to be seen is whether these important pieces of the puzzle can be kept and maintained, to at least show a hint of how the city grew, where it found its wealth, and what was once here. At least something should be kept as a tribute to all the hardened steelworkers who plied these grounds for so many years. If all this is gone then it really just becomes another block of land with which to fill with ever more residential housing…

Video of former demolition of BHP steelworks site by Warren Haasnoot.

Main title image: Former BHP Mediacl Centre, courtesy Newcastle Industrial Heritage Association.

HAZZARD AND HERITAGE: A MATCH MADE IN HELL

On the Australia Day Weekend and in light of the recent news of the historic Jolly Frog hotel in Windsor being gutted by fire, we take a look at the dire state of heritage in one of our most treasured precincts and the case Planning Minister Brad Hazzard has to answer for…

Brad Hazzard has been at the helm of the Planning Department in NSW for a number of years now, and the crowning factor of his tenure has been his ruthless insistence to push through overbearing developer-biased planning reforms on to an unsuspecting public on every front, with scant regard for residents’ wishes or indeed what were once considered commonsense controls.

In a clearly sneaky and contentious move, Minister Hazzard approved the controversial Option 1 road project through Thompson Square at Windsor just five days before Christmas 2013, obviously trying to sneak another trick beneath the public’s wary gaze just as everybody was gearing up for the summer holidays.

Thompson Square is Australia’s oldest surviving public square, and the attempted push-through of this project goes some way to highlight the contempt this government has for the heritage of NSW. A total lack of heritage knowledge, a combined political bully-boy mindset of which pure ignorance is at the heart, a ‘leave nothing to the people’ thuggish mentality is the only way I can describe it.

It reminds me of an old example in Vienna, Austria, where in the late 1980s a large postmodern glass sheeted building known as Haas Haus was inflicted upon Vienna’s most important public square, Stefansplatz, directly overlooking the Stefansdom, Vienna’s grand Gothic-Romanesque cathedral. The building was roundly criticized at the time and still remains ridiculously out of place and in fact completely unnecessary in the context of the historic Baroque-lined market square. The point here is, what may seem like a good idea by a small group of hard-nosed bureaucrats at the time, has long lasting consequences and in fact can severely scar or even totally deface an important historic precinct long after those few decision-makers have waltzed out of parliament with their golden pensions in hand.

Haas Haus in Vienna, infringing on Stefansdom Cathedral. Photo by Rory Hyde.

Haas Haus in Vienna, infringing on Stefansdom. Photo by Rory Hyde.

At least in Vienna, they seem to know when to stop… Closer to home, in Sydney’s Circular Quay, a similar issue, with the so-called ‘Toaster’ building occupying pride of place next to our iconic Opera House and crowding the shores of the famous harbour with square glass and metal shapes. And more recently, the Museum of Contemporary Art building extension, the so-called ‘Mordant Wing’ (or ‘moron wing?’), causing even more conflict with the surrounding heritage of the public space, introducing oversized flat black and white cubes into a maritime precinct that was characterised by sandstone Georgian and Art Deco architecture. This wing was added without the usual input from the Heritage Council, the very overseer that Hazzard and O’Farrell’s government are trying so hard currently to stifle.

Windsor’s Thompson Square is equally under threat, not from any one particular unsympathetic building, but rather a ghastly modern road cutting through the side of the square and continuing over the historic crossing on a suspended concrete byway replacing the oldest bridge on the Hawkesbury River.

Riders approach the Square. Image CAWB.

Riders approach the Square. Image CAWB.

Raising the Flag.

Raising the Flag. Image CAWB.

The Eureka Flag flies in defiance, Austrailia's oldest square.

The Eureka Flag flies in defiance over Australia’s oldest square. Image CAWB.

Residents’ action group CAWB has fought hard to keep this destruction at bay, enduring six months of continuous occupation of the square, and raising awareness of the need to protect such a historic site as their beloved Windsor. Noted historians and heritage architects such as Clive Lucas and high profile celebrities have added their voices to the campaign, the latest being Wendy Harmer on Australia Day 2014.

The CAWB, in its media release, says “In approving this strategically inept project, Minister Hazzard has ignored the overwhelming evidence of the government’s own experts…evidence that demonstrates this project fails to deliver on traffic, flooding and heritage.”

Unfortunately, in another blow for local heritage, the nearby heritage-listed and historically linked Jolly Frog hotel, unoccupied for a year, was gutted by fire on 20th January in unusual circumstances. Fire crews were called to the blaze around 9.45pm to find the building well alight, and a crime scene has since been established to determine the cause of the fire. CAWB fear this may pave the way for a wider road leading in to Windsor and through the Square, and say the hotel should and must be rebuilt, not demolished thereby further eroding the heritage values of the area.

The Jolly Frog hotel up in flames. Image NSW Incident Alerts Facebook page.

The Jolly Frog hotel up in flames. Image NSW Incident Alerts Facebook page.

Brad Hazzard, the Minister for Planning, and Robyn Parker, Minister for Heritage and the Environment, as well as Barry ‘the wrecker’ O’Farrell, should be standing up and working towards viable solutions for situations such as Thompson Square, not bulldozing their way through the tide of public angst currently on show. They are clearly ignoring their elected responsibilities as a government for the short-sighted aims that don’t really make any sense to the average Australian citizen.

Why are they intent on destroying this historic square, this wonderful vestige of Governer Macquarie’s legacy, this scenic and picturesque river crossing, this peaceful place bathed in colonial history? Why are they intent on replacing a two-laned bridge with another, uglier, more brutal, out-of character, two-laned bridge? Is it for CSG mining trucks to get more easily to the western escarpments as some have suggested? It defies logic.

Hazzard, O’Farrell, Parker and co.; you have so much to answer for in only your first term. You are a failure of government. You are intent on bulldozing our irreplaceable heritage at every turn, rather than performing your sworn duty of protecting it. You should be ashamed of your actions, and just because you are wielding the axe of power at the present moment, doesn’t mean your time of judgement won’t come soon enough. Tens of thousands of us are already judging you, we are casting a watchful eye over your actions in the fields of heritage, the environment, and sustainable development, and without surprise, you have unanimously failed in every respect in just your first term. We dearly hope, that you won’t be allowed to enter a second term, for the sake of what little is left after your torrid demolition spree over the entire state.

Do you trust this man with protecting OUR heritage?

Would you trust this man with protecting OUR heritage? That would be Hazzardous.

Main title image: Hazzard and Heritage, Inheritance 2014.

Read about the Government’s Planning Reforms here.

Read original Thompson Square post here.

THE FATE OF FATIMA ISLAND

We begin the year on an island. Which is not an unusual circumstance for a heritage advocate… But don’t let me lead you to believe this is another negative news story. No, we are starting on a positive note for a change (hopefully)!

Fatima Island, on a bend in the Cooks River at Tempe, is a small vegetated mudflat that has been disintegrating by the year. Now it has come to the attention of the Cooks River Valley Association who have duly raised awareness with Marrickville Council.

The island will be immediately recognisable to the many commuters who travel by train into the city every day along the Illawarra Line. As the city bound train crosses the bridge at Tempe the island comes into view from the east – I can clearly remember over my years of commuting to the city, looking out and seeing the little island sitting there, often populated by waterbirds oblivious to the rapid urban development encroaching all around… Fatima Island, and closer to Central, Sharpie’s Golf House sign, the first electrified advertising sign in Sydney, taken down in a blatant act of heritage vandalism several years ago – these were the two landmarks that stand out in the memory of my daily commute whilst peering out of the train window.

Although Sharpie’s Golf sign is long gone, sadly never to reappear, Fatima Island is still clinging on to the riverbed in its isolated vulnerable form. It is in fact the last remaining of a series of natural sand bars, and provides vital pest-free habitat for waterbird species including pelicans, ibises, cormorants and seagulls.

The island’s sandstone retaining walls, made of reclaimed convict hewn blocks, were built in 1901 as part of a public works program, but the naming of the island came about 50 years later. Remembering a monastery stood just across the river near Tempe House, The name ‘Fatima’ has it beginnings in a local Catholic Rosary pilgrimage in 1951 on the banks of the Cooks River to honour Our Lady of Fatima, channeling the Portuguese icon of the same name. At the time, Pope Pius XII asked Catholics across the globe to pray to the Virgin Mary ‘with greater fervour of the heart as is demanded by the increasing urgency of the need as well as the conversion of Russia back from communism.’

Recent picture of Fatima Island by John Veage, the Leader newspaper.

Recent picture of Fatima Island by John Veage, the Leader newspaper.

Fatima Island in 1984. Photo by Chrys Meader. Source Marrickville Heritage Society & Cooks River Valley Association.

Fatima Island in 1984. Photo by Chrys Meader. Source Marrickville Heritage Society & Cooks River Valley Association.

Fatima Island in 1984. reclaimed convict stone retaining bank present. Photo by Chrys Meader. Source Marrickville Heritage Society & Cooks River Valley Association.

Fatima Island in 1984. reclaimed convict stone retaining bank present. Photo by Chrys Meader. Source Marrickville Heritage Society & Cooks River Valley Association.

Fatima Island in 1984. Note convict markings in steps. Photo by Chrys Meader. Source Marrickville Heritage Society & Cooks River Valley Association.

Fatima Island in 1984. Note convict markings in steps. Photo by Chrys Meader. Source Marrickville Heritage Society & Cooks River Valley Association.

The wall has recently all but washed away due to factors such as boat wash, human visitation, de-stabilisation and natural erosion. The island is now only a fragment of what it once was, trees have fallen over and top soil been stripped away, and the next phase would be its complete loss in time.

Marrickville Council seems to be listening to concerns of local groups including Inheritance. In response to our submission and at a recent council meeting the feedback has been positive, and it now seems that Marrickville Council will be allocating $25,000 for a remediation works study on Fatima Island. This will go some way to restore what is esentially a significant bird habitat, a known piece of local heritage and a quirky piece of nostalgic landform with links not only to the Catholic Church, but the local Portuguese community and 1950s cold war!

Something as unique as this is surely worth protecting. And it is indeed heartening to see a council actually acting on behalf of a community for a change.

Main image John Veage, the Leader.