Despite the setbacks, Parramatta heritage is on a winning streak

NPRAG members Brett Evans and Inara MolinariThe chance that North Parramatta heritage might be rescued from rampant development sponsored by the NSW Government is increasing by the minute. Federal Minister for the Environment Greg Hunt has just announced a two year assessment of the Parramatta Female Factory precinct for National Heritage listing, click here. The campaign to collect 10,000 signatures on a petition to force a debate about the future of North Parramatta in the NSW Parliament is within striking distance of its goal. NPRAG members, Brett Evans and Inara Molinari, right, are collecting signatures today at Parramatta Farmers Market.

• You can sign the petition here
• Scan a copy of your completed petition to NPRAG at infonprag@gmail.com
• Post the original copy (required by Parliament) to the address listed on the petition ASAP

After many years of campaigning by disparate groups, the threat posed by the NSW Government to the nation’s heritage has mobilised all these forces to activate a national Parramatta Female Factory - c1826 - Augustus Earleand coordinated campaign. It is still gathering momentum. First there was the arrant nonsense of “community consultation” launched in November 2013 by the government’s development arm UrbanGrowth NSW. In only six months the consultations apparently moved from a blank slate to an outline plan for 4,000 new apartments on 31 hectares of land. The only option for those being “consulted” was where to place the proposed new buildings – some up to 30 storeys high. There seemed little relationship to the community’s stated priorities during “consultations” of heritage protection, adaptive reuse for commemorative and creative purposes, and environmental sustainability. Above, Augustus Earle’s depiction of the Parramatta Female Factory c1826.

Then there was the release of the draft master plan on December 19, 2014, just before Christmas, with only three weeks in which to respond. This absurdity only fueled community anger at the impossibility of analysing thousands of pages of proposals. A few dedicated souls did. The only response initially to alarm at the lack of any heritage conservation masterplan seemed to be “Trust me, I’m a politician – of course we will protect the heritage, after we have raised the funds from selling the land.” It didn’t go down well. Use this blog’s search facility (top right hand corner above the blog title), “Parramatta Female Factory”, if you want more information about actions to date.

1-IMG_4086You don’t have to look any further than another part of the Parramatta local government area for an excellent model of what can happen when a major heritage site is treated respectfully. On the Parramatta campus of the University of Western Sydney, historic buildings are conserved and thoughtful designs allow for adaptation and effective re-use. Right, the Female Orphan School, opened in 1813, and was designed by Governor Macquarie’s wife Elizabeth, with convict architect Francis Greenway. The pair also worked on designs for the Parramatta Female Factory and St John’s Church, Parramatta.

1-IMG_4085Restoration of the orphan school took more than a decade and reopened in 2013 as the Whitllam Institute and art galleries. Left is the interior of the entrance hall, where a modern staircase follows the outline of much earlier stairs and exposed original wall surfaces reveal something of its previous usage. The Female Orphan School is not to be confused with the Roman Catholic Orphan School in the North Parramatta precinct, which opened in 1844. Church authorities were concerned that children, especially of Irish convict women, were not receiving the church education deemed desirable through the Protestant run Female Orphan School.

1-IMG_4059There are many neglected buildings in the North Parramatta heritage precinct, which were designed by NSW Government architect Walter Liberty Vernon, including a former laundry, right, hospital wards and admission centre. By contrast, Vernon buildings on the university campus, have been carefully restored. They represented the philosophic change in psychiatric care, when they were part of Rydalmere Hospital for the Insane, 1888 to 1985,

1-IMG_4076The Vernon Buildings now house the university’s School of Business, left, and a heritage marker notifies the Vernon Building Heritage Walk, with informative graphics and background notes. There are many other similar markers throughout the grounds. The former boiler house and steam laundry were destroyed by fire in the years between vacating the hospital and the establishment of the university campus in 1995. But they are the foundation of a contemporary Boiler House Restaurant and Cafe, below, and remnants of the boiler mechanism provide dramatic sculptures in the grounds.

1-IMG_4079The university offers many opportunities for the general public, as well as students and staff, to visit the site and familiarise themselves with its history or participate in events. You can find a self-guided Parramatta Campus Heritage Walk by clicking here and further information by exploring the website. The Boiler House restaurant and cafe overlooked the colorful stalls of Student Clubs Week, right, which ended yesterday.

It is just under 18 months since this blog was first published. Last week it passed the milestone of more than 10,000 views. Most have been from Australia, but it has attracted views from many different countries around the world.

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