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.
I like many other proud Australians ventured into Sydney Harbour over the October long weekend to take a look at the marvellous celebrations based around the Royal Australian Navy’s centenary and Fleet Review. It was 100 years to the day on 4th October, when 7 ships of the original fleet of the newly formed Royal Australian Navy sailed through the heads and into Sydney Harbour. Now, tremendous festivities were held to mark this great occasion, including a re-enactment of the entry by modern warships of the RAN and a flotilla of international ships representing 17 nations, a parade of 16 historic tall ships from around the world, RAAF fly-overs, fireworks and light show spectacular and of course the visit of His Royal Majesty Prince Harry to review the fleet.
Considering the enormity of the occasion, marking 100 years of continuous service of the Royal Australian Navy, through two World Wars, Korea, the Cold War and more, with all the tradition this entails, I can’t help reflecting what a shame it seems now that the Hammerhead Crane at Garden Island, a perfect backdrop to the passing parade of warships, will be sacrificed by the Federal Government for the sake of saving a relatively small amount in maintenance costs.
When you look at the costs involved in putting on this Fleet Review, a whole lot of pomp and ceremony that lasts only a few days – and enormous costs they are, 40 million dollars to taxpayers including a 10 million budget to keep the ships tied up and open, it seems so deceptively wrong that the Australian Defence Force has cried poor this whole time not being able to find the relatively modest funding of $700,000 in maintenance required to upkeep the Hammerhead Crane. This after all, would be the ultimate lasting tribute to the heritage of the Navy in its 100th year – a full restoration of a Sydney icon and renowned symbol of the Royal Australian Navy… A distinctive feature of the Garden Island base and the Sydney Harbour skyline, a truly extraordinary piece of Naval engineering and an asset to the people of Sydney.
To spend just a fraction of what was outlaid for a ten minute fireworks display would have truly left a far more lingering impression in highlighting the longstanding heritage of the Navy in Australia and in Sydney Harbour. While the fireworks quickly went up in smoke like every other generic New Year’s display, the preservation and restoration of the famous crane would have been timeless and benefited Australians for far longer than just ten minutes.
Of course I am not anti-celebration… Just let’s make heritage part of the celebration… It is a celebration of Naval heritage after all…
I guess it may be just too much to ask, perhaps a little too illogical in today’s throw-away society, that a living piece of naval architecture be preserved for posterity as opposed to watching 3.9 million dollars worth of lights and gunpowder smoke go up into thin air.
Still, when future generations look back at 2013, the centennial year of service of our great Royal Australian Navy, and they see that the defence budget allowed for 40 million dollars of tax payers’ money allocated to a single weekend spectacular, while $700,000 couldn’t be found for the long term preservation of a heritage icon, they may just be scratching their heads and wondering if the spectacular Navy Fleet Review was little more than just an opportunity lost.
All images below Inheritance. Click on one for slideshow (not the 40 million dollar kind)… Title image of fireworks courtesy ABC.
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
Picture a cottage, if you will…
Not one that gets its glow from brightly whitewashed walls under a tightly thatched and bound wheat straw roof. Not one that breathes the soft air of lavender down a misty cobbled path behind box hedge in an English country garden. But something more rugged. Something more natively suited to where it finds itself, something that reflects the brashness and personality of a people and a land once far removed from the rest of civilisation, a distant and wild place that took in the unwanted element of British society, flung across the high seas; a new and fledgling colony where things, as they have thrived and progressed, could just as easily have withered and died away for good had it not been for the determination and sheer tenacity of its new inhabitants to make it succeed.
Such a cottage exists.
Not on the dusty weathered plains beyond the Great Dividing Range, although there are such things there. Not in the rustic shambolic remains of gold diggings scattered through towns along the dry western rivers and creekbeds, although there are such things there. Not in the rugged windswept landscape of an Arthur Streeton oil painting, though such things certainly are there.
This cottage exists in the very heart of the palm and grevillea tinged suburban ideal of the Sutherland Shire, a southward expansion of the city of Sydney, only footsteps from the lapping waves of Botany Bay, that hallowed body of water where Cook and his party came ashore to pronounce a new foundation of European acquirement.
In the years and decades that followed that initial landing, the colony would grow and augment, to the west, the north and south. Free settlers would arrive to replace the legions of convicts, commercial trade would be born, farming and working of the land to feed the bustling colony, building and development expanding into an almost limitless boom that continues to this day; fortunes would be made, by those willing enough to take an entrepreneurial chance.
One such fortune was that of the English immigrant Thomas Holt, born 14 November 1811 in Yorkshire, who came to Australia in 1842 and gained great wealth and fame as a wool trader, financier and businessman.
He soon became a successful landowner, building six mansions south of Sydney, including a Victorian Gothic grand estate ‘The Warren’ in Marrickville. He invested in over 3,000,000 acres of pastoral land across NSW and Queensland and consolidated more wealth selling holdings after gold was discovered in the 1850s. He was at various stages a director of the Sydney Tramway and Railway Co. as well as City Bank. He was also a successful parliamentarian, being member of the inaugural Legislative Assembly and the first Treasurer of the colony.
Later in life he would found the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, before returning to the country of his birth and continuing charitable work for the Salvation Army and the Rev. A. Mearns and Dr Barnardo, publishing Christianity, or the Poor Man’s Friend before passing away in 1888.
Among Holt’s many achievements he also holds the dubious honour of playing more than just a minor part in Australia’s great rabbit plague, after several of the beasts escaped from the grounds of his well stocked Marrickville mansion ‘The Warren’ and hopped off into the Sydney sunset. The rest, as they say, is history.
In the 1860s Thomas Holt acquired a considerable tract of land of some 13,000 acres around Kurnell in the Sutherland Shire, including Captain Cook’s landing site. It was here he constructed Australia’s first oyster farm at nearby Gwawley Bay. As the estate in Sutherland grew, he employed teams of workers on site digging the oyster claires and tending the property, and in the 1870s established his final mansion known as Sutherland House complete with English park landscape over 786 acres.
The cottage that we speak of was part of Thomas Holt’s Sutherland Estate. It was one of three similar workers’ cottages situated at the centre of the holding, and is in fact the only surviving remnant of this once grand and historic estate. It was probably inhabited by gardeners, coachmen or general hands and their families, as can be seen by the basic character of its workmanship and unadorned decoration. Its construction is of simple weatherboard. It has a corrugated iron and skillion roof to keep out the rain, and a large wraparound verandah to keep the walls cool through the beating hot summers. The brickwork of a later laundry addition remains on the back side of the property, while inside it retains “original lath and plaster walls and ceiling linings, and original ledge and sheeted internal walls.”
Official dating can be difficult due to the nature of the long-running design use of such cottages, however it is typical of a style of architecture once prevalent in the Shire, and can be traced to be a product of at least the 1870s. As such, it remains one of the oldest buildings in the Sutherland Shire, often reported to be the oldest. The offset angle to the street frontage is testament to the true age of this building.
When Thomas left the estate, the land was sold to his son Frederick who resided there for thirteen years with his family before leasing the mansion to Mrs Mary Hamilton in 1894 for use as an infirmary. In 1908 the property was subdivided including the worker’s cottage which was sold at auction on 20 April 1908 with 33 acres. It was once again subdivided into two lots in 1952, but remained relatively unchanged as a structure, being owned for a continuous period of 70 years by the one family, of which Jan Buchanan was the last resident. During this time it was known as ‘The Gunyah’ which is an Aboriginal term for humpy or crude bush shelter.
In 2003 Sutherland Shire Council bought the property from Jan Buchanan for the sum of $610,000 and placed it on the Local Heritage List for preservation and future restoration for the benefit of the community. It was thought to be in good hands with the council researching the origins of the building and investigating the possibilities of its next course of action. There have been several heritage impact statements over the years of ownership by council, however no work has been undertaken to restore the house.
Fast forward to 2013 and the recently elected (and it must be said, development-friendly) council headed by Mayor Kent Johns have decided abruptly to remove the house from its draft LEP (among other heritage items), and document and demolish the building before selling the land for private redevelopment. Previous owner Jan Buchanan was devastated, telling Fairfax reporters “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.”
Ten years prior, when council had originally purchased the property, they had a heritage impact statement prepared by Truman, Zaniol and Associates Pty Ltd. The Statement of Significance surmised:
“No. 5 Evelyn Street North is historically significant as a minimum at a high local level as a unique and tangible remnant of development in the Sutherland Shire from the early part of the 20th Century, and prior to the implementation of smaller lot subdivision. It is likely to be the oldest remnant workers cottage in Sylvania and certainly the only remaining evidence of the Holt Sutherland House Estate – all other buildings having been demolished. The significance of the place is embodied in the associations and historical nature of the existing cottage, how it addresses the street being offset, its extant original and early fabric and mature landscaping, all of which provides tangible historical evidence of the State Significant Holt Sutherland House occupation”.
In conclusion, the report suggested a possible candidacy for state significance, identifying the historic links to the Thomas Holt Estate and the rarity of the building within its own geographic environment.
In 2007 a comprehensive Historical Assessment of the house was undertaken by Dr. Annable who presented a glowing report to council for the preservation of the cottage.
“Historical research confirms the importance of the Sutherland House Estate in the history of the Sutherland Shire and its association with Thomas Holt. Historical research and physical analysis also confirm the historical significance and rarity of No. 5 Evelyn Street at a local level and highlight the ability of the fabric of the place to demonstrate the way of life, domestic amenities and tastes of its late 19th and early 20th century occupants and owners…
Much of the fabric of the original cottage is intact, as are early 20th century additions to the decoration and finishes. The cottage demonstrates the domestic amenities of estate workers in the late 19th century, a pattern of domestic life that was little changed until the advent of a piped water supply and sewerage in the mid-20th century. Much early 20th century decoration is preserved in the cottage, demonstrating the tastes and financial resources of its owners and is likely to be rare. The essence of the place resides in its simple form and scale, its materials and its modest decoration. Its owners and occupants were ordinary people.”
She continued, “The cottage has the ability to demonstrate a way of life that is now virtually extinct in the Shire. Its materials, method of construction, number and size of rooms, decoration, floor coverings, domestic facilities, simple garden and neat unpretentious appearance have considerable power to evoke a way of life that is now gone.”
In conclusion, Dr. Annable insisted council take urgent action to preserve the cottage in its original form, and prepare a Conservation Management plan to guide its full restoration and adaptive re-use as a private residence. Her findings were discussed by the council’s heritage sub-committee in 2008, who concurred the necessity to preserve the building, and a report was presented to council in February 2009.
Questions are now being raised as a result of council’s total disregard for previous heritage assessments that clearly convey the importance of the house at a local and possible state level. The originality of the structure, the intact fabric of its construction inside and out, and its historical context relating to the Thomas Holt Estate all show with blinding light the significance of such a building to the very make-up and culture of the area and indeed the early years of Sydney’s expansion.
Sutherland Council nominates the prohibitive costs of restoring the house as the reason for proposed demolition. Originally it was slated to cost somewhere in the order of $200,000, now it is claimed that those costs have blown out to $495,000. “In its current state it is derelict, it would be irresponsible to invest more council funds in this property” said Mayor Kent Johns (in fact it is only derelict because council allowed it to become so).
With the land and property being acquired several years ago for the sake of preservation and restoration, monetary sources should have been allocated long before this point in time. The fact council wants to demolish the building before the sale also raises questions as to their real motives… Why demolish rather than sell as is and offer potential buyers the opportunity to restore one of the oldest buildings in the area and own a piece of historically significant real estate? Most private vendors always sell their land with a house in tact, no matter whether it is to be restored or offered as a potential development site – what the buyer then does with the property thereafter is up to them. It seems clear in this case the council wants this house off the LEP and gone from sight, perhaps to increase the base value of the land it sits on.
I personally believe the house is far too important to let go so easily. I would like to see the cottage remain in public hands, and restored, as historian Edward Duyker has suggested, in collaboration with local TAFE trade schools. Once restored the cottage could serve unlimited potential as a working museum, art studio or classroom, perhaps focussing on the crafts of the late 19th century. There would also be room for a period vegetable garden outside serving gastronomic fair of the era and educating modern day students how the lives of working families were once lived in the Shire.
Its proximity to historic Botany Bay could position the Sutherland Shire as a place not only to associate with the early days of settlement but also a place to see it in palpable action. A rare opportunity indeed to uphold some of the original character of the area that may be taken away once and for all if the current crop of cash hungry councillors get their way.
We all know just how important it is to keep things like this alive, the question is, do we have the necessary will, the tenacity and determination that those early settlers had, in order to maintain this tiny piece of early pioneering heritage in the middle of an upper-middle class Australian suburban ideal – the kind of place that this very cottage helped create.
Click on images below. All pictures Inheritance.
IMPORTANT: CLICK HERE to make your submissions on the Sutherland Shire draft LEP before 17 September 2013. Removal of the Thomas Holt cottage at 5 Evelyn Street Sylvania should be utterly opposed among other heritage removals.
An earlier post on Sutherland Shire Council’s Draft LEP plans here. NOTE: As predicted, “buildings like this Art Deco Commonwealth Bank are at risk…” Guess what, a DA has just been announced that will add extra levels and potentially ruin this famous building.
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…
Back in the mid 1980s, a massive beautification program took shape around Darling Harbour to mark Australia’s bicentennial celebrations. Industrial workings were removed and the entire precinct cleaned up, new facilities were built including world-class exhibition and convention centres, harbourside halls and entertainment, parks and fountains, and of course the iconic monorail that now exists only in our memory. 25 years on, and current premier Barry O’Farrell has redevelopment on the cards once again, this time erasing many of the grand designs that marked Darling Harbour as a place of open public amenity and quality modernist architecture, a place that is still welcoming, charming and not overbearing in its scale, a place that captures the essence of the 1988 and all the bicentennial glory that came with it.
Barry O’Farrell is no stranger to upsetting the general public with his planning policies and acts of heritage vandalism of late, by treading over our views and in many cases blocking them out in the shadows of high rise towers. It is almost a given now that whatever he does in the context of planning causes most of us to stand back and take stock… We’ve gone from mild bemusement to temperate head scratching to a stark realisation of false prophecy fulfilled and now to absolute horror and shaken disdain, where it will all end nobody knows…
This time he has also managed to upset more than a few taller poppies along the way. Naturally if we are talking about an award-winning and quite stunning piece of Sydney architecture, and the architect, who is still very much in the here and now, gets wind of the idea the current Premier wants to knock it all down, just 25 years after it graced the city’s skyline, there is going to be a little ‘discomfort’ associated with the idea. Especially when that building, the Sydney Exhibition Centre, has attracted legions of fans of 20th Century architecture worldwide by the relevance of its form, function, and beauty and the way it simply enhances, rather than detracts, from the pleasant surroundings it finds itself in.
So what are we losing?
Phillip Cox designed the Exhibition Centre in the modernist style with multi-tiered glass surfaces over five interconnected halls with tall steel masts rising overhead in a maritime theme, glistening white in the afternoon Sydney sun. The project took 36 months to complete and was built by the Darling Harbour Authority for the state government of the time. The building has been awarded several acclaims including the highly coveted Royal Australian Institute of Architects Sir John Sulman Medal in 1989 and MBA Excellence in Construction Award in 2007. It is met at one end with the John Andrews designed Sydney Convention Centre, semi-circular in appearance and quite an impressive building in its own right. Both recently celebrated their 25 year anniversary with a black tie event. Both served as venues for events during the Sydney 2000 Olympics. Both, as I see it, are quintessentially Sydney buildings.
Phillip Cox has rightly slammed the government’s redevelopment plan as “an act of vandalism.” His impressive portfolio of Sydney buildings includes the Sydney Football Stadium and the National Maritime Museum, and his list of awards includes the RAIA Gold Medal, the highest accolade bestowed upon an Australian architect. He described the government’s plans, which have allowed big developers to completely take the reigns of both the planning stage and redevelopment, as “insane… How do you control developers with no planning controls over the area in question? They will take over the park, demolish the exhibition centre, an icon of Sydney, that will (soon) be on the heritage register… We have two commercial developers trying to make a buck out of it and minimise expenditure.”
He offered up a second option of utilising the existing Harbourside shopping arcade as part of the project. “We put an alternative solution to Nick Greiner (former premier and head of Infrastructure NSW) showing how all the buildings can be retained and still achieve their expectations for increased areas without doing all this horrendous vandalism that’s about to take place down there,” he told Fairfax. ”It’s obvious, get rid of Harbourside, it’s a failed shopping centre, put the facilities in the best location and still activate the area with cafes and bars and keep the existing buildings as part of the heritage of Sydney.” For that to take place, Harbourside, which is a privately owned shopping precinct, would have to be bought by the government, and according to Infrastructure NSW project manager, Tim Parker, that wasn’t going to happen.
John Andrews, designer of the Sydney Convention Centre, also received the RAIA Gold Medal and has been described as the first Australian architect with a truly international reputation. He was renowned for his work on universities in America in the 1960s including the Harvard Graduate design school, as well as Intelsat Headquarters in Washington, the CN Tower in Toronto, later returning to Australia to work on important commissions such as the Cameron Offices at Belconnen, and another university project ANU’s Toad Hall, so named by students due to its Wind in The Willows setting characteristics.
Understandably, he also has misgivings over the plan to tear down his most iconic work, slating the idea as “rather stupid.” And he elaborated “Does it make sense to pull down $120 million worth of (building) that’s perfectly all right?… As Australia, we just haven’t grown up, we haven’t developed any good manners and we don’t protect and look after our good things. I don’t understand why the (new) architects … are so keen to knock everything down,” he said. ”Why don’t they just reuse things and add to them?” To add insult to injury, Andrews only found out about the proposed demolition through a leisurely read of a newspaper article.
But Phillip Cox and John Andrews aren’t the only critics of the new state government plans. Former public works minister Laurie Brereton, who oversaw much of the original Darling Harbour redevelopment in the 1980s, branded the new project “the work of Philistines.” Australian Institute of Architects president-elect Paul Berkemeier, called for proper consultation and a complete set of models and drawings to be released…”They’re just ephemeral images. They could be made out of green cheese for that matter and you’d be no wiser” he said. And Peter Webber, former government architect and professor of architecture at Sydney Uni told Fairfax “The government should have prepared a separate master plan for the precinct, taking public opinion into account, rather than wrapping the master plan into the tender process… I think it’s a back to front process. Instead of allowing feedback as the proposal was developed we are presented with almost a fait accompli.”
Docomomo Australia, an organisation that is dedicated to the ‘documentation and conservation of buildings, sites and neighbourhoods of the modern movement’ has gone one step further in their criticism. They have nominated the Darling Harbour site to ICMS, the International Council on Monuments and Sites, for a heritage alert, the first time ever for an Australian site. Docomomo Australia vice-chairman Scott Robertson said Darling Harbour was “one of the finest modernist collection of buildings in Sydney”, and likened the government’s plans to that of Russian president Vladimir Putin, who also made the heritage alert list over his treatment of developments threatening heritage sites in Russia.
So what are we getting instead?
In exchange for the loss of these two (three including the monorail) outstanding examples of 20th century Australian architecture, we are getting a jumble of oversized public and private buildings developed and planned by big construction company Lend Lease for the state government. The scale will be big… Three or four towers in Haymarket up to 40 storeys in height adding over 540 apartments to the skyline and allowing, as Lend Lease Development general manager Gavin Biles says “more people to live, work and play in the heart of the city”…Well how nice that sounds. A new town square, boulevard connecting the the new precinct to the waterfront and so-called IQ Hub would also be created accommodating technology and creative entrepeneurs in low-cost workspaces. Again, how nice. The Sydney Entertainment Centre would also be lost but no-one is jumping up and down about that… you see, we don’t just whinge for the fun of it, people make noise when we are actually losing something of real value.
Tumbling onto Tumbalong Park, an overbearing theatre, booming down over what’s left of the public space. New International Exhibition and Convention Centres would be built, dwarfing everything that is currently there, and behind them, massive twin towers rising above the harbour like the former World Trade Centers of New York. Not much would be left of Darling Harbour as it stands now, all laid to waste in this 2.5 billion dollar blunder over 20 hectares of our sacred public land. In the interim, a temporary exhibition centre would be built at Garden Island to host events over the three year period of construction, but that encountered a few hurdles as well, with a deal breaking down in May between the state government and Pages Hire and Echo Entertainment Group who were chosen to construct the halls. A new deal has been brokered since, but it has set the government on a course of last minute preparedness, and given opposition leader John Robertson a perfect opportunity for the perfect jibe. “The O’Farrell Government and Infrastructure NSW can’t build a tent” he said. And he may have a point.
But Infrastructure NSW, headed by Nick Greiner, the state government department charged with pushing through projects of this magnitude, are adamant of its success. Darling Harbour Live, the project’s PR codename, delivers the spin: ‘By delivering a ‘whole of precinct’ approach that responds to the character of such a unique location, integrates seamlessly with the adjacent city fabric, and provides state of the art operation and functional performance, Darling Harbour Live will build on the vibrancy of Darling Harbour to create a memorable new precinct and public place on Sydney’s harbour foreshore.’
However, architect Philip Thalis, of Hill Thalis, who won the initial Barrangaroo design (before it was bastardized to suit more highrise residential and James Packer’s high roller casino) is critical of what they term ‘a whole of precinct approach’, claiming ”No holistic plan has been released, just a selective crop of perspective views… Again in NSW, we get planning by press release, instead of by public policy or real planning.” In other words, we, the public, are being left in the dark once again, a practice that Barry O’Farrell is becoming quite accomplished with.
And the AIA have echoed the mounting chorus of opposition, showing concern for the government’s technique of committing so much of the project “through a single contract with a single developer”. Its president-elect Paul Berkemeier commented “The government has contracted out its responsibility to prepare a master plan for the use of public land, as well as the rights to demolish and develop it… The Institute’s view is that city development is better served by a multiplicity of players in the development industry, not just one. That is the way most urban areas have been developed, and re-developed, in the past… What we question is the muddled brief to which they are responding and the out-dated and wasteful demolish and rebuild strategy underlying the whole proposal” and finally “the government’s responsibility is to defend the public interest, not to sell it”. But it seems that is exactly what they have done. By the Lend Lease consortium being given total access to this large and precious swathe of land in Haymarket for residential/commercial development, and in turn the project rights to the whole planning process and redevelopment of the public centres, this in effect reduces the cost to the government of supplying new facilities to the public. In effect, this is privatisation of planning. Our land, our city, and our architectural assets have been sold off to big developers, it’s as clear and simple as that.
Click on the pretty digitised images below for pictorial propaganda of how the site will look, from Darling Harbour Live. Notice all the pretty plastic people in various poses of joy and happiness. Why is it that all the plastic people in these digital images are attractive, Anglo and under 35?
A website called savethecentres.com.au has been set up to publicise the fate of the Exhibition and Convention Centres, and tell a compelling story of why we need to recognise the importance of these purpose built buildings. These centres are icons of bicentennial Sydney, they are a cohesive collection of 1980s modernity, and what we are getting will be simply an inferior product… Massive great bulky square blocks built in a generic ‘international style’ rather than Sydney-specific or even coastal Australian specific. They will do nothing for our city apart from make Lend Lease a lot of money and pack more in to a place that is perfectly designed as it is.
Not only is our public land being sold out but it is being done so at such a rushed rate, almost as if to get the results through before the public wakes up to the fact and realise what has actually happened, by which point, it will be all too late. To lose two iconic, world-class buildings that haven’t yet lived their full life, for the sake of a big business deal done by a short-sighted and architecturally ignorant government is more than just a shame, it’s a tradgedy for the people of Sydney and our status as an international capital of culture.
And as for Russia’s Vladimir Putin, our man Barry may trump him just yet. The dictatorship of this planning department grows more ruthless and powerful every day, more than willing to sweep aside any public opposition with keen PR spin and multi-billion dollar partnerships with single-minded developers like Lend Lease. Meanwhile our heritage and internationally acclaimed architecture gets brushed aside like things that don’t matter. Well, in a newsflash for Barry O’Farrell and his government, by the volume and standard of high profile opposition on show here, clearly they do matter… It’s time to treat them as such.
The DAs are on public exhibition until 2 August 2013. To comment on the designs, visit planning.nsw.gov.au
Save The Centres website here. Some beautiful images and articles about the importance of what we are losing. Sign the petition too.