With the onset of the state election on March 28, campaigns by locals in Parramatta and Windsor to protect their heritage are stepping up a gear. In Parramatta, groups which have been working independently for many years, are beginning to join forces. In Windsor, a prolonged campaign is reaching a climax.
Despite rain showers and only three weeks to organise, a crowd estimated at between 150 and 200 (I’m wrong – 2 independent counts came to 250!) attended last Saturday’s rally in North Parramatta. The meeting was in response to the NSW Government’s Parramatta North Urban Renewal (now Transformation) proposals encompassing the site of the current Cumberland Hospital and the historic Parramatta Female Factory Precinct, including the former Roman Catholic Orphanage and Parramatta Girls’ Home. Above, historian and former mental health nurse at Cumberland Hospital, Dr Terry Smith recounts the history of the site from 1792.
The North Parramatta Residents Action Group was created in response to proposals including 4,100 apartments up to 30 storeys adjacent to conservation areas and their own historic residential streets and a huge loss of public land. Speaker after speaker, with almost unanimous support from the crowd, urged a slowing of the planning process and a reopening of community consultation. It is a site of national heritage importance and remarkably little known. Terry pointed out that it had once been better known within the local community, with picnics held within the hospital grounds and patients assisting the community at a time of bushfire crisis. Deep concern was expressed for the wellbeing of psychiatric patients who are to be relocated from this site.
Contrary to expectations, state member for Parramatta, Dr Geoff Lee did attend and attributed his passion for the site’s built heritage to Gay Hendriksen, who escorted him on a tour of the site shortly after his election in 2011. The rally acknowledged his role in activating interest in the site, after years of failed attempts by predecessors, and under questioning, he said he had written to the minister seeking a review of the consultation process. Nonetheless, he continued to resist any suggestion of a built heritage management strategy until after the confirmation of his government’s planning proposals. The Labor opposition candidate James Shaw committed to placing the proposals on hold until further consultation and described the current proposals as a gross over-development of the site.
In recounting stories of the site, Terry Smith described how the women of the colonial Female Factory were employed in washing and making clothes for other institutions. Bonney Djuric, a former teenage inmate of the Parramatta Girls Home and leading advocate for the memorialisation of the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct, pointed to the continuity of treatment of women and children in these institutions. Well into the late 1970s, girls in the Parramatta Home were deprived of any real education and worked in the institution’s laundry and kitchens. In the past decade, Bonney has won commitments from ministers and heads of department for the conservation of these buildings and their use in commemorating and educating about past practices. She acknowledges the need for compromise, but urges state and federal governments to cooperate on national heritage listing before World Heritage listing can be achieved.
Meantime, in the Hawkesbury area, locals have been fighting to save their heritage for more than 500 days. Through rain, cold and heat, members of Community Action for Windsor Bridge have maintained a vigil. The CAWB is a grassroots organisation based in Windsor NSW, the third oldest settlement in Australia after Sydney and Parramatta. They are dedicated to fighting for the most progressive infrastructure solution for Windsor and the Hawkesbury. A current plan by the Roads and Maritime Services, known as Option 1, would see the demolition of the historic Windsor Bridge, the construction of a two lane ‘like for like‘ replacement, and a major, arterial road bulldozed through Thompson Square, Australia’s oldest public space. Not only would this proposal be destructive to the unique and fragile heritage of an important part of our nation’s history, CAWB says, it would also prove to be an ineffective solution to the ever increasing demands of road users. They are organising a public rally, with great entertainment, for Sunday, March 8 (see poster alongside). It will be attended by veteran activist Jack Mundey and representatives of The National Trust and Anti Coal Seam Gas Lobby. They are urging everyone to join them and invite their Facebook friends.
In both Parramatta and Windsor, the interests of developers and other businesses appear to be given priority above all others – often with the claim of keeping projects “cost neutral”. Even the respected economics editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, Ross Gittins, commented in an article last weekend – “Still, we mustn’t forget that these days, the economy is run for the benefit of business, not the rest of us.”
Below are extracts from Terry’s Facebook page, posted December 26, 2014 –
The North Parramatta Precincts comprise the archeological remains of Charles Smith’s Farm later Marsden’s Mill Dam Farm dating from 1792 and later again John Blaxland’s Vineyard (to 1866), the Marsden Mill 1812, The Government Mill built 1799 closed 1820. Buildings include the Female Factory 1818 – 1846, Asylum for Lunatic and Invalid Convicts 1846 – 1849, Parramatta Lunatic Asylum 1849 – Cumberland Hospital today, Roman Catholic Orphanage 1839 – Girls Industrial School to 1980, Parramatta Gaol 1839 – 2011. A number of heritage buildings are to be demolished including parts of the Gaol built after 1860, parts of the Lunatic Asylum including the old laundry 1875, Master Attendant’s residence 1909 (unique architectural style), The Deputy Superintendent’s Residence 1909 (a large two storey Federation House), The Nurses’ Home an Art Deco building of 1934, demolition of at least two 19th century weatherboard cottages (former staff quarters) and alterations to other buildings diminishing their heritage value! . . .
In addition will be the destruction of a large number of trees planted in the 19th and early 20th centuries creating what could be Parramatta’s own Botanical Garden (in fact 19th and early 20th century directors of the Sydney Botanical Gardens, Moore and Maiden, are believed to have assisted with the asylum’s landscaping).
Photo from a tourist booklet c. 1925 of the Parramatta River behind Male Ward 1 (my collection). On the opposite bank are the Wistaria Gardens and Glengarriff (Medical Superintendent’s gardens & residence). The two black swans were famous during the 1920s as they came to nest in the hospital grounds every year attracting much public attention which precipitated the opening of the Wistaria Gardens to the public in 1929.