It would be an absurdist comedy if the consequences weren’t so serious. Suzette Meade, president of North Parramatta Residents Action Group dubs it a tale of two cities. She also thinks she might become a script writer for ABC TV’s satirical comedy Utopia. It offers such a parallel to local experience of nonsensical political and bureaucratic behaviour.
Last Tuesday, August 25, the state government announced a revitalisation of Sydney’s oldest and most important historic precinct in Macquarie St, including Hyde Park Barracks, above. The convict architect Francis Greenway designed the barracks and some of the buildings in both the Sydney and Parramatta precincts. No mention was made of selling off parts of nearby Hyde Park or The Domain to finance the Sydney changes. This is despite the government’s chosen method to finance conservation of buildings from the same era in North Parramatta, by selling off vast tracts of land around them to allow massive new development.
Last Thursday, August 27, Suzette hosted a media conference on the site of the early colonial Parramatta Female Factory Precinct. Among those represented were NPRAG, the National Trust, Friends of the Parramatta Female Factory, Parramatta Female Factory Precinct: Memory Project, the CFMEU, political parties and various heritage groups.Since early February, when the resident action group was formed, members have been working to persuade the state government to “Press Pause” on its proposal to turn the World Heritage class site into an infill dormitory suburb of 4000 residential apartments in blocks up to 30 storeys high. The group has networked and built a comprehensive community coalition.
Suzette said, “Make no mistake. Despite UrbanGrowth NSW and the state government’s rhetoric, the current proposal is not heritage driven. It is a fast-tracked, poorly and unimaginatively conceived cash grab of public assets to fulfil government housing quotas that are being and can be satisfied in more appropriate locations. Parramatta is the cradle of our modern nation. Since 1788, this extensive and unrivalled site with its more than 70 historic intact buildings, has been witness to exceptional personal stories and social changes that have shaped and informed who we are today.
“Green bans saved the historic Sydney we all love and which international visitors flock to. The Rocks, Victoria Street, Centennial Park, Woolloomooloo, the QVB building for instance would not be here today if it were not for our great national icon and environmental activist, Jack Mundey, protecting these unique places from inappropriate development.”
During the 1970s, Jack, right, was secretary of the Builders Labourers Federation, which introduced “Green Bans” in response to community advocacy when residents were desperately trying to protect their homes and cherished sites from gross redevelopment. Though often against their own need to earn a wage, a “Green Ban” meant that BLF members refused to take any action to demolish or build on a threatened site. Long since retired, Jack was present at the conference with the state secretary, Brian Parker of the Construction, Forestry Mining and Energy Union, which now represents the builders. Brian can be seen to the right of Jack and Suzette to the left, behind Jack.
“How disgraceful it would be that this part of Australia’s history would be destroyed,” Jack said. “The Green Bans in the 70s and 80s stopped so much of Sydney being destroyed. The Green Bans will be reborn in this part of Parramatta and we will win this fight as well.” An earlier Green Ban that the union put on the Female Factory site has now been extended to include the entire precinct, including the 1840s Roman Catholic Orphanage, left, and the children’s hospital Bethel.
Brian Parker reiterated Jack’s concern that communities need green spaces and the chance for future generations to to be educated in their own history. He spoke of the huge scale of coming development, which will have an enormous impact on Parramatta in the next decade and of the vital need to balance this with open space. He said workers would stop the North Parramatta development from going ahead by putting their “bodies on the line”. “The CFMEU is going to show our muscle if they try and bring one bulldozer in here to tear this place apart,” he said. “But we won’t win without the support of all local residents.”
In the meantime, arts and cultural representatives from across western Sydney have been meeting for the last 18 months to instigate collective thinking across the arts in the region. The primary aims of the Western Sydney Arts and Cultural Lobby are to secure equity in arts funding for the half of Sydney’s population living in western Sydney, a place at the table where decisions are made and to communicate the success of arts activity across the region. In a paper just published by the lobby, members say that the funding paradigm needs to change.
“The dynamic art scene of western Sydney has evolved enormously over the past 40 years yet it has been woefully underfunded – A point made clear in an independent report from Deloitte, which found that despite its burgeoning population and booming economy, the region’s art scene has flourished and thrived into a rich and dynamic force but remains well short of its potential as a result of being grossly underfunded.”
The lobby is pressing for the establishment of an infrastructure development fund – $200 million of the $600 million already allocated to arts infrastructure by the state government. After losing a 10 year battle for the Old King’s School in Parramatta, left, among its allocations would be the development of a new cultural precinct to house arts and cultural companies that require permanent accommodation. “The government must deliver on the commitments made in its State Infrastructure Plan to build facilities in western Sydney.” Members want funding doubled to a Western Sydney Cultural Fund over the next four years for artists, programs and cultural organisations, and specific investment in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts development. They are currently making submissions to government and opposition parliamentarians.
In North Parramatta, Suzette Meade announced a symposium to be held at Parramatta Leagues Club, on Tuesday, October 13. “To lead the paradigm shift for a better vision, NPRAG will be hosting an event the public didn’t get through UrbanGrowth NSW: the Fleet Street Heritage Precinct Symposium. Speakers from academia, tourism, the arts and successful heritage organisations and towns such as Abbotsford Convent, Port Arthur, and Ballarat, will be invited to share their experiences and brainstorm alternative master plans and funding options for this iconic site.” More detail will be announced later.