A sense of urgency has descended on members of North Parramatta Residents Action Group after the return of sitting Liberal state member Dr Geoff Lee, following Saturday’s state election. They fear he has ignored their request for the reopening of the Parramatta North Urban Renewal process. The area includes nationally important heritage sites. The Parramatta Female Factory site is world significant and the earliest surviving convict female factory site in Australia, predating all but three of the current World Heritage Convict Sites. Click here to watch a video where historians and Parramatta Female Factory Friends, led by Gay Hendriksen, second from right in the photo above, argue that the only way to ensure the site’s survival is World Heritage Status. You can sign their petition to the Federal Minister for the Environment and share it with others.
North Parramatta Resident Action Group is seeking at least 6 months further consultation where the consultation is driven by the interests of the site and the community and not by what seems a predetermined agenda. They want transparency and independence that allows for broader expert and community engagement towards the development of a Built Heritage Management Strategy and Master Plan as originally conceived. The 32 hectare Cumberland site, part of a total 146 hectares of historic Parramatta lands in public ownership, includes 200 year old buildings which housed the colonial convict Female Factory, the 1840s Roman Catholic Orphanage, the Parramatta Girls’ Home, Parramatta Lunatic Asylum (now Cumberland Hospital), playing fields, gardens and riverbank walks.
At a public rally organised by the action group on February 21, Dr Lee acknowledged that he had been inspired by the site’s historic treasures when escorted on a tour by Gay Hendriksen, shortly after his election to the NSW parliament in 2011. He recognised the opportunities for heritage-driven tourism and publicly spearheaded the consultation process in November 2011. It appeared to promise a sympathetic urban renewal process allowing residential development harmonious with the heritage environment, public access and enjoyment of the site. Pictured above is the current gradual demolition by neglect of the portico of an historic building in the Female Factory complex.
The action group was mobilised into existence little more than two months ago, when the impact of development proposals for the government owned historic site began to be understood. Public land was to be rezoned and sold off to private developers to build more than 4000 units of up to 30 storeys. New developments would overwhelm the heritage sites and destroy the ambience. This was nothing to do with a harmonious setting for some of Australia’s most important heritage. Left, an image drawn from the proposals and published by NPRAG on its February public rally flyer.
It has since transpired that former Minister for Planning and Environment Pru Goward granted an extended time to respond to the current UrbanGrowth NSW proposal as exhibited before Christmas. No date has been provided for the extension, there is nothing on the DoPE website about this extension, nor has Dr. Lee provided any indication as to how the extension is to be advertised to the general public. Nonetheless, you are encouraged to send submissions by email to email@example.com or by post to Department of Planning and Environment GPO Box 39 Sydney NSW 2001, and share this information with others.
Of course, NPRAG is not alone in its concern for the site. Since the 1950s, the National Trust has been advocating the care and conservation of buildings on the Cumberland site. Click here to see the trust’s position paper Vision for North Parramatta. Many individual historians have been researching aspects of the history and the Parramatta Female Factory Friends have been advocating preservation. Another group of former teenaged inmates of the Parramatta Girls’ Home, led by artist Bonney Djuric, has spent more than a decade fighting to record the history of their own traumatising experiences and to heal some of the damage done while in the “care” of the state run institution. Left, facing camera, Bonney Djuric escorts a visitor through Bethel during last year’s exhibition Exposed to Moral Danger. Right, a visitor traces names and comments carved by girls held in solitary confinement.
The former girls are a vital living link to the brutal history of the site. The continuity of modes of control, discipline and punishment from the Female Factory days is undeniable – removal of babies from their mothers, physical and sexual abuse, numbingly repetitive domestic activities, hair cropping and solitary confinement for those considered most recalcitrant. The Parramatta Industrial School for Girls, also known as the Girls’ Home, was established in 1887 and continued to operate until 1974. Girls admitted were frequently deemed “exposed to moral danger”. Their crime? Poverty, deprivation, victims of abuse, neglect, runaways and only the occasional criminal. From 1909, being Aboriginal was sufficient reason for girls to be removed from families, so that Aboriginal children made up a disproportionate 7% to 10% of inmates.
Parragirls was established in 2006 by former Parramatta Girls, led by Bonney Djuric and former Aboriginal inmate Christina Riley, to provide a contact register and support network for former occupants of the home and their families. Bonney established a comprehensive website and events were successfully organised. After a fortuitous meeting in 2011 with artist Lily Hibberd, who was already working on a project Benevolent Asylum, Bonney and Lily began to explore and develop the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct: Memory Project. “Important to both of us,” Bonney says, “was coming up with a new mode of ethical practice to engage with and interpret institutional sites of confinement that would place former occupants at the centre of the process rather than at the periphery as subjects, or footnotes.” The exhibition Exposed to Moral Danger, above, was part of the Memory Project and the launch of Christina’s powerful memoir Life of Riley. Left, Geoff Lee with Christina at her book launch, during the Wistaria Festival, Cumberland Hospital, September 2014. The ultimate goal is for the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct to become Australia’s first National Site of Conscience.
A public forum Protect our Heritage, will be held in St Patrick’s Cathedral Hall, 1 Marist Place, Parramatta, Wednesday, April 8, at 6pm. Federal member for Parramatta, Julie Owens and local residents will discuss the proposed North Parramatta Urban Renewal project and show 3D images of the development proposals. Your participation will be welcome. RSVP by clicking here.