Having endured in recent times an allegedly corrupt mayor, excessive developer-biased rezoning and a rapid changing of the character of their suburbs, Sutherland Shire residents now face the very real prospect of losing their oldest building, thanks to an errant council who seem determined to dig up, sell off and knock down as much as they possibly can during their time in the sun…
Sutherland Shire Council seems intent on pushing through its draft LEP, which will not only raise the building densities of many of the beachside suburbs, but also seeks to remove its oldest house from the heritage list. The worker’s cottage, at 5 Evelyn Street North, known as ‘Gunyah’, dates from c.1870 and formed part of the vast Thomas Holt Sutherland Estate. It is in fact the only remaining physical link to the estate and widely recognised as the oldest house standing in the Shire.
All this hasn’t stopped council from seeking to de-list the building, claiming restoration costs as being prohibitive. But there are a few fishy smells coming from Sutherland Shire’s reckless decision making… remembering council actually owns the site, and has let the building slip into disrepair over a period of more than a decade through total lack of maintenance.
And also remembering that the entire draft LEP springs from the troubled tenure of former mayor Kent Johns, who resigned both his mayorship and pre-selection for the state seat of Miranda in disgrace after allegations of corruption following his famous last-minute Mayoral minute, these are all reasons for concern. He remains on council, and many of his Liberal colleagues are still running the show, such as Cr Kevin Schreiber.
And the fact that this decision contradicts advice from not only council staff, but also the State Government independent review panel means councillors intend acting without any given mandate, neither from the public, nor state government, nor even their own council officers. This simply defies logic.
By de-listing the house they stand to now make a massive profit by on-selling the land as a greenfield development site. Perhaps rezoning is on the cards, as has occurred directly across the road where townhouse-units are now being built. The property minus the cottage would be worth a pretty penny (reportedly up to $1.8 million), considering its proximity to the shoreline and desirability of location.
Cr Kevin Schreiber, a Liberal councilor who served as deputy mayor 2012-13 next to Johns, told Fairfax “As much as we like to keep our heritage sites, … the cost far outweighs the benefit to the community.” But we can take what he says with a little grain of salt. Schreiber himself was referred to ICAC for questionable development approvals and political donations back in 2008, along with three other Liberal councillors including our friend Kent Johns.
Schreiber and Johns denied the claims, which related to 30 non-compliant approvals within two years, but all the councillors were de-listed from the Liberal party at the time and forced to register as Indepedents. That makes three times since 2002 by my reckoning Kent Johns has been involved in ICAC referrals, and yet this character remains a B ward councillor in the Shire still making planning decisions. Is there any wonder the LEP has turned out like it has?
Current deputy mayor Tom Croucher, another member of the Liberal dream team, claims the council can’t afford restoration. “The council has no funds to restore it. I ask it be removed from the heritage list,” he said. Simple as that…
Okay let’s assume that to be true. That they can’t afford it. It may well be… So what gives them the right to de-list the building as a heritage item? Just because they can’t afford to fix it? It makes no sense to me at all, am I missing something here? If you or I own a heritage-listed house, and we decide we can’t afford to renovate it, does it then get de-listed, and sold to the highest bidder as a development site? Is that how it works? I really don’t think so. I could be wrong, but I didn’t think it worked that way. If it did there wouldn’t be many heritage listed homes left.
The clear and logical solution for Sutherland Shire Council is, if they really can’t afford to renovate the cottage – this asset to the people of the area, this visual link to early European settlement – then don’t. Sell it as a heritage listed item for somebody else to renovate, or lease it as a museum for people to enjoy. Don’t destroy the very local heritage you are meant to protect just to turn a bigger land sale profit, that is not the right thing to do. It may sound clichéd but once it is gone, it is gone for good, there is no bringing it back. And buildings of this vintage, in this locale, with heritage links to our founding forefathers, are already few and far between.
I implore people, residents and non-residents alike, to contact Sutherland Council, and ask that they not go ahead with de-listing and demolishing this important cultural asset as it would be an irreversible loss to a community so closely tied with the early European settlement and growth of Australia.
Email Sutherland council email@example.com
The safety fence has already gone up around the house, this is not a false alarm.
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.
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