Tag Archive | maritime heritage Sydney NSW

PETERSHAM ‘EYESORE’ IN THE WAY OF A PARKING LOT

Occasionally one gets relegated to the sidelines in this age of heritage mayhem while family matters, other choirs, and real jobs get in the way. But then something happens – a misguided decision by an ignorant council or a just plain silly comment by some rogue councillor that lights a spark inside that makes you want to take up the charge again.

This time the council is Marrickville, and it relates to their decision to totally ignore the advice of their own heritage advisor’s report and not heritage-list the unique 1886 brick warehouse at 6 Livingstone Rd. Petersham owned by Beynon & Hayward furniture removalists and storers. The building was linked for many years to James E. Gould, a local produce merchant who served as Alderman and Mayor on Marrickville Council over a period of over 18 years, and was purpose-built to suit the narrow triangular site over two stages between 1886 and 1904.

Certainly the shape of the building is quite individual, and from some angles almost looks like something conceived by the mind of the great Dutch illusionistic artist  M.C. Escher. That combined with the corrugated iron roof and a real ‘wild west’ silhouette has made the warehouse quite a landmark for locals and visitors passing by on their daily commute.

Already the council has been slammed by the Australian Institute of Architects and the National Trust for not considering the much loved warehouse important enough to place in protection of a listing. On the contrary, certain councillors are calling for it to be demolished in favour of units or a carpark. Independent councillor Victor Macri has notably referred to it as “an eyesore”, seemingly oblivious to the rare heritage qualities of the shape and form of the classic 19th century warehouse.

Norwoodestate

Plan of Norwood Township Lots 13,14,15,16, sold in 1856 for 150 pounds. Image Lands Titles Office of NSW.

I think it is a wonderful building, and find Cr. Macri’s attitude extremely dangerous for a councillor in a renowned heritage area such as Marrickville to have. I don’t believe he reflects his ratepayers’ beliefs in any way, and if you are a resident within the Marrickville council area with any sort of knowledge and respect for Australian merchant heritage, perhaps you should think very carefully before giving people like this any semblance of power at the next local elections. Hopefully the building will still be standing by then.

Looking at an aerial view of the site, council’s intentions become clear. To expand the neighbouring council-owned carpark by simply eliminating the warehouse is just taking the easy option. The fact that Cr. Macri owns a hairdressing salon on Marrickville Rd. may tilt his opinion on the need for more local parking somewhat.

Lucien Jay Buddle

Aerial view, showing thewarehouse to the left of the carpark. Image courtesy Lucien Jay Buddle.

In any case the thought of replacing a heritage building such as this with a carpark is an outdated one. One similar example that comes to mind took place at Mortdale a couple of years ago when a local Masonic Hall was bulldozed to make way for an unnecessary carpark, and was widely deplored by residents all round.

The need for more carparks will be totally dependent in the future on the use or over-use of cars. The car as a mode of transport will one day become redundant as the road system fails to cope with the increase in traffic to the point where it simply breaks down to total gridlock altogether. Certainly in the current phase of government initiatives there is little contingency for this forecast situation except for building more carparks. Will that solve the problem of over-congestion, or will it simply encourage more of the same? Marrickville Council seems to think it is part of the solution, and aims to sacrifice important local heritage to achieve this short-sighted goal.

At least some voices of reason on council still seem to recognise the importance of putting heritage ahead of whimsical planning folly. Liberal councillor Mark Gardiner stated to Fairfax “It’s not for councillors to decide what buildings are important. It’s for councillors to take the advice of heritage experts and they are saying strongly that this building is important.”

Indeed it is important… As a general rule if an expert heritage report states an item is important, it probably is. That’s why it is written by an expert. And if a council is voting on the future of a heritage building, but that same council owns a carpark next door that it wishes to expand, that, to me is called a conflict of interest. Will this conflict of interest be the death of another iconic heritage building in Sydney’s suburbs? We all have the right to voice our concerns and condemn what we know is wrong.

streetshot

Northern view showing loading dock. Image Heritage Assessment Report, IP0714 Item 9.

Inheritance has written to Marrickville Council to formally object to their decision.

Main title image by Jo Catherine.

Link to heritage assessment by Maxine Bayley here.

Link to Change.org petition here.

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HAMMERHEAD vs. KNUCKLEHEADS – KNUCKLEHEADS WIN

On a golden Autumn afternoon in Sydney I decided to take a stroll around the Botanic Gardens with my little daughter in tow. To one side, the idyllic aspect that every tourist knows, a postcard scene – the Sydney Opera House with its gleaming sails of iridescent white, and the iron-clad Harbour Bridge, hanging over a dreamy jade body of water, ferries plying the glistening waves en route to Woolwich or Manly or somewhere similarly exotic. To the other side, a slightly less celebrated but no less beautiful vista of harbourfront workings – Garden Island with its sleepy naval fleet, grimy Woolloomoolloo with its workers’ pubs, pie carts and Finger Wharves jutting out from crowded streets, and standing above it all bathed in afternoon sunshine, the genuine industrial grandeur of the Hammerhead Crane that marks the spot so well and has been a permanent fixture on the Sydney horizon for more than fifty years…

Of course I knew all that was about to change. Mounted high on top of the Hammerhead Crane there are smaller demolition cranes already working away picking apart and lowering pieces of the giant icon one girder at a time. Like soldier ants crawling over a stricken carcass they rummage through at a steady pace and soon enough the entire structure will be nothing more than an unidentifiable decomposing pile of scrap.

It didn’t have to be like this…

Department of Defence bureaucrats set the wheels in motion some time ago, and the matter was put to bed by a former Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities Tony Burke who is now nursing his cushy job as The Manager of Opposition Business in the House, while another pack of equally inadequate politicians take hold of the reigns of power.

When the sad news broke, I tried to garner support for the retention of the crane. I wrote the successive Ministers, without response. I wrote the proprietors of similar cranes in Scotland who have turned their investments into feasible tourist attractions. I wrote the nearby Art Gallery of NSW for support from an arts perspective, the State Library of NSW, Sydney writer’s groups, all without success. I even tried UNESCO as the removal of the Crane poses a clear contravention of the World heritage guidelines for the Sydney Opera House which recognise that the views and vistas between the Opera House and other public spaces within that buffer zone contribute to its world heritage value, and should they be altered, the World Heritage status of the Opera House would be seemingly diminished.

But support was difficult to find in any quarters…

Andrew Woodhouse, President of the Potts Point and Kings Cross Heritage Conservation Society shared my concerns and offered his voice to the cause, but more opposition was needed… Much more, and it wasn’t forthcoming… I would certainly have expected more resistance, in a city of five million, pertaining to what many would consider the death of a city icon, indeed a very important piece of naval heritage – either it was misplaced or just wasn’t there at all.

The final days of the Hammerhead Crane.

On this day my daughter’s eyes were drawn to the crane from a grassy verge on the western side of the Botanic Gardens… “Crane!” she exclaimed. “Yes. Let’s go and look at it” I suggested, knowing it would probably be both the first and last time she would see it, or at least recognize it as a crane. We ambled over the hill to a pleasant view above Andrew ‘Boy’ Charlton Pool, and cast our gaze over the bay. As usual, a couple of old navy hulks were tied up to the wharves. The Hammerhead stood with as much effortless grace as ever, despite being infested by the demolition cranes, clinging hungrily to its massive frame.

My daughter watched in awe as I explained to the fragile mind of a two year old, that, as beautiful and significant as it was, she may not be able to see the crane again. “Big crane going down” she quipped, and burst into a shower of tears. “Yes,” I calmed her before lightening the tone… “Little crane going up” she consoled herself, but it became crystal clear in my mind, that a two year old girl seemed to have more respect and regard for the heritage of our working harbour than the knuckleheads who had anything to do with the demise of this icon – and they are knuckleheads, I couldn’t think of a less insulting term to conjure up for these bureaucratic buffoons who play silly games with things of state and national signidficance they don’t have the right to. Illustrative of this point, is the outrageous display of public money that was sunk into a fireworks display for the recent Navy Fleet Review to celebrate Naval ‘heritage’, a cashpot that would have gone quite some way into saving this crane, the tangible evidence of naval industrial heritage in Sydney harbour for half a century. Instead we had a fireworks display that lasted minutes.

Woolloomoolloo Finger Wharves

Woolloomoolloo Finger Wharves, saved only by Green Bans in 1991.

St Mary’s Cathedral statue

We turn and walk into the fading sun. At this time of the day it dips sharply over the Domain and through the concrete shadows of the nearby city. Our return way meanders past the successfully re-purposed (and once slated for demolition) Finger Wharves, exuding maritime heritage, before passing right by the sandstone edifice that is the Art Gallery of NSW, and the shady Speaker’s Corner of the Domain before finding St Mary’s Cathedral and Hyde Park. Such a historic walk through the richly textured layers of old Sydney, a walk that will now be somewhat poorer for the loss of the Crane…

 

 

Speaker’s Corner

A plaque on top of the Speaker’s Box reads “Stand up and speak your mind.” If more of us don’t head this call, if we don’t stand up for our heritage, if we sit idly by and allow it simply to fall away, if we allow these knuckleheads and bureaucrats to win we will all be the poorer; much more will be lost until there is almost nothing left to preserve, and nothing will ever, ever change. We will all be the poorer for it. The unnecessary and negligent loss of the Hammerhead Crane will become lasting proof of that.

 

Previous postings on the Hammerhead Crane click here.

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.

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.

NAVY FLEET REVIEW: AN OPPORTUNITY MISSED?

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.

Older posts of the Hammerhead Crane here.

‘THE SHIRE’: A TALE OF THREE JETTIES

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.

The corrupt Mayor Kent Johns. Image John Veage, Fairfax Media.

The questionable ex-Mayor Kent Johns. With power brokers like these at the helm of council, heritage is in trouble. Image John Veage.

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.

MV Curranulla ferry, the oldest continuos route in Australia, chugs nearby.

MV Curranulla ferry, the oldest continuous route in Australia, chugs nearby.

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

THOMAS HOLT’S SUTHERLAND COTTAGE: ON CLOSER INSPECTION

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.

Thomas Holt.

Thomas Holt. Image State Library of NSW

Thomas Holt's "The Warren" mansion at Marrickville

Thomas Holt’s “The Warren” mansion at Marrickville. Image State Library of NSW.

Holt's Sutherland House. Image

Holt’s Sutherland House. The gentleman on lawn may be Thomas Holt.
Image Sutherland Shire Library

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.

Sutherland Estate vista. Image

Sutherland Estate vista. Image Sutherland Shire Library.

Holt's grand Sutherland House. Image

Holt’s grand Sutherland House. Image Sutherland Shire Library.

Thomas Holt's Sutherland House

Thomas Holt’s Sutherland Estate. Image Sutherland Shire Library.

Sutherland Estate mansion, destroyed by fire 1918.

Sutherland House, destroyed by fire 1918. Image Sutherland Shire Library

Sutherland Estate subdivision. Image

Sutherland Estate subdivision. Image National Library of Australia

Holt's Sutherland Estate subdivision.

Holt’s Sutherland Estate subdivision.

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 the Thomas Holt Sutherland cottage here.

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.