On Sunday October 6 the classic Federation style St George Bowling Club on Harrow Road Bexley was burned down by vandals. Nearby residents awoke to see flames gutting the heritage listed building around 1.45am.
Three people, aged 19, 15, and 14 were arrested at the scene, but the 14 year old was subsequently released on a youth caution. A fourth man, 18, has also been charged with the arson attack.
The bowling club, founded in 1900 and relocated in 1919 due to railway expansion, had remained uninhabited and its greens overgrown for several years. At a time when bowling clubs are struggling to maintain membership, many are folding or seeking other options such as amalgamation. Two clubs in the St George/Sutherland region have sought amalgamation in the last year alone, while another, Mortdale Bowling Club, was closed and demolished last year. Others are left derelict such as the St George Bowling Club, and can easily become a target for vandals and arsonists.
It is upsetting to see any building lost to deliberate arson attack, but to see a beautiful and rare Federation example of a bowling club such as this go up in flames is devastating. As a result the area has lost one of its landmark buildings and heritage treasures.
Bowling clubs are true community assets – they retain open space for recreational activity, and foster vital social gathering among residents. Not only that, they hark back to an Australian way of life quickly disappearing before our very eyes, and are often, as in this instance, architectural gems that warrant retention. Occupying large swathes of open real estate, they are also targeted by dozer-happy developers for ever-increasing medium density residential supply.
It is our opinion that the site of the St George Bowling Club should remain a public asset, and if not suitable as a bowling and recreational club, should be re-purposed for child care facilities or something similar. The fabric of the heritage clubhouse appears to have escaped the brunt of the fire, despite the interiors being gutted and the roof structure showing extensive signs of collapse. Being a double brick structure, the clubhouse could be re-built in the original style and used once again as a communal facility.
For it to be redeveloped as residential units would be a travesty for the community and send a very clear message to developers that they can get their right of way over publicly owned sites once a heritage building is vandalised or partially destroyed by fire.
Considering the state of the building, Inheritance has formally requested Mayor Shane O’Brien and Rockdale Council to rebuild the clubhouse as a heritage item for adaptive re-use as a club or childcare facility. At this stage we are awaiting response.
We also believe the state government should be adopting a strategic plan for the future of lawn bowling clubs if and when they should reach the end of their useful life as a club. This should be a statewide policy that prohibits private development on bowling club lands, instead preserving the community assets for what they were originally intended, public open space and/or public amenity. Anything less is a sell-out.
A nearby club at Hurstville was partially converted into a communal vegetable patch a few years ago, and a highly successful one at that. Many former clubs have been re-purposed as child care or elderly care facilities, many more have been sold out to private development, a point that may resonate with members of the 50-strong Sutherland Croquet Club who have practiced their game on the lawns next to Waratah Park, Sutherland for over thirty years, and have now been told that the grounds are being redeveloped for highrise of more than 500 units. See that sad story here.
The value of a simple bowling club cannot be overstated, as a place to get together, as a place to meet and greet, to share a laugh, a story, or a beer. A place for our elderly to congregate and play their sport, out in the open, in the fresh air, and live a more helathy lifestyle at a time when our medical professionals are trumpeting the virtues of activity and well-being… When or if population dynamics and financial pressures dictate that a club is no longer viable as a bowling club, then it should be re-purposed, to suit the next trending requirement. But it should always remain a public facility, with open space, community, and heritage in tact. More than anything it is public asset. And let’s not forget, once an asset like this is lost, it is lost for good.
As for the brainless vandals that caused the devastation to the St George Bowling Club, they will probably never know the full extent of the devastation they have caused…
Title image: still from video by Storm Pickett.
This post relates to a previous one regarding a Federation house that was for sale at 26 Dunmore Street Nth Bexley, for more details read here. As I feared at the time, the property was eyed off by developers in the hotly contested southern suburb of Bexley, and snapped up at auction for the princely sum of $1,446,000. As it turns out this was land value only, as soon afterwards the “fence of doom” went up and neighbours got their final glimpse of this beautiful Federation diamond in the rough that could have been saved, should have been saved, but was instead briskly turned to rubble.
The owner has advised council he will be subdividing the property and building three modern dwellings on the site at a proposed cost of $850,000 plus $10,000 demolition. Residents in the historic street are now banding together to try and stop inappropriate development taking shape on this block, hoping the new buildings will be more sympathetic to the current streetscape they value so dearly. As I reported in my previous post another owner tore down a similarly neglected Federation home on a corner block several years ago and after negotiation agreed to shape his new home in a style emulating that of a Federation house. Will the new developer be just as sympathetic, considering he proposes to build not one but three townhouses and has obviously bought the block to turn a profit?
That remains to be seen. What we do know is that the original house should have been protected from redevelopment in the first place, for a number of reasons.
First and foremostly it was a heritage building, a beautiful example of a Federation purpose built corner block, and it showed off many stunning period features that are now simply lost.
Secondly, it is located smack bang in the middle of a heritage precinct; its demolition detracts from the heritage value of the streetscape just as propping up three modern townhouses in its place would cheapen the entire surrounds. Whether Rockdale council has officially listed it or not as a heritage precinct is irrelevant, it is a heritage precinct, and certainly one of the best in the area and in fact southern Sydney. Rockdale council, which governs an area containing many fine heritage buildings, that also bond together to form some important heritage streetscapes, does not have any defined heritage precincts in their portfolio, meaning any street in any neighbourhood including the wonderfully embellished Dunmore Street Nth Bexley, is open for business to developers.
And don’t they just come rushing, especially when an unloved old building on a corner block like this, overgrown garden, probably a deceased estate, comes up for grabs. It doesn’t take much to look and see pure dollar value on this kind of investment; buy one, build three, triple your bottom line without too much effort exerted. And why wouldn’t they, more often than not they aren’t connected or affiliated to the particular area in question, they don’t walk around the streets and peruse the heritage quality of the neighbourhood or do the necessary groundwork to find out if their investment decision will have a negative impact on the area in which they have just bought – that’s the council’s job… And because they either refuse or can’t be bothered doing the research and making the decisions that will keep our heritage assets from falling, then it remains open season for developers, and houses like this will fall time and time again, only to be replaced with cheaply built office-like boxes overcrowded onto tiny blocks that do nothing at all to better the area they represent in any way, but return maximum profit to the said developer, who by now, is probably driving his brand new Merc AMG home to his concrete Mcmansion in a leafy suburb far, far away.
Meanwhile residents of Dunmore Street Nth, Bexley, are left to scratch their heads and gather together with placards saying “Developers not welcome here” wondering when did their beautiful heritage street that they have invested hard earned savings into start to go so horribly wrong. Unfortunately for the residents, who rightly claim some sort of ‘ownership’ to their street and their community are slightly off the mark this time – Developers ARE welcome here, they have been welcomed by council, they have been welcomed by the state government, in fact they are more than welcome, they are encouraged to build these sorts of over-sized monstrosities with heritage destruction as a by-product. The councils, the state government, they don’t really care about your heritage houses, your heritage shopfronts, your suburbs and your precincts – these are only in the way of more development. If they did, unlike in Rockdale Council’s case, they would have allocated neighbourhoods like Dunmore Street Nth Bexley a dedicated heritage precinct many years ago. But they didn’t, and so, as always, developers are welcome.
At least in the case of 26 Dunmore Street Nth Bexley, residents should have been given a chance to be informed about the demolition prior and as a result make submissions to the proposals. Under planning laws to be introduced soon by Premier Barry O’Farrell and (Bad) Planning Minister Brad Hazzard, even this simple right would be wiped away from neighbours. The first thing they would know or see would be the dreaded “fence of doom” go up by which stage, as we know, it is all too late. This is what we have to look forward to in this state once these reforms are pushed through… it makes no difference if the house is an ugly shack or a Federation diamond, if there is no heritage listing, it is fair game. And the fact that private certifiers are on the increase means council will have even less input and developers will have an easier and quicker path to get their foot in the door, or, perhaps more to the point, knock the door over.
The services of a private certifier were indeed utilised in the decision to allow demolition of this house. Almost within the blink of an eye the house was sold at auction and bulldozed without residents input. Remembering the response I received from council when I questioned the possibility of demolition immediately after the sale, it read “Any development application lodged to either demolish the building or undertake alterations and additions to the building would consider what impact such has on the nearby heritage items, with specific matters for consideration included in both Rockdale Local Environmental Plan 2011 and Rockdale Development Control Plan 2011…” In this case I don’t believe the private certifier has duly considered the impact of demolition on the nearby heritage items… Have they consulted with residents at any point? If not I believe residents would have a right to deem the legality of the demolition highly questionable.
Such is the future of planning in NSW under the state government’s exempt and complying development code, and White Paper reforms which are still being pushed through despite strong disapproval state-wide from many stakeholders. Welcome to the brave new world of planning in NSW, where heritage is seen as nothing more than something that ‘gets in the way’ of new development, and developers are clearly ‘welcome’ at every corner.
Inheritance Society has written to Rockdale Council with a submission against any new modern-looking development on site, while questioning how demolition was allowed when it so clearly impacted nearby heritage items, and also requested Rockdale Council to consider Dunmore Street and surrounds as its first official heritage listed precinct.
Title image by Chris Lane, The Leader.