It took a lot of commitment for people to trek through Sunday’s deluge to attend the protest march (see previous post) from Parramatta Pool to the North Parramatta Heritage Precinct. In fact, the march had to be cancelled on police advice owing to safety concerns with flooding and wild winds. Nonetheless, a couple of hundred people crowded into the foyer of Parramatta War Memorial Pool to hear some stirring speeches. And they were well rewarded. Federal member for Parramatta, Julie Owens MP, above, announced that should a Shorten Labor Government be elected on July 2, one of their first actions would be a recommendation to the Australian Heritage Council that National Heritage status be granted to the North Parramatta Heritage Precinct. The crowd cheered and applauded. National Heritage listing is a prerequisite for World Heritage listing, which was granted to the adjoining Old Government House in 2010.
Julie Owens stated that Parramatta Park, which includes the swimming pool site, was declared as Australia’s first public park in 1858. Parramatta, she said, is not merely Sydney’s second CBD, but a leading Australian city dense with indigenous and colonial history. A succession of speakers expressed deep anger at the secrecy with which the Baird state government has developed its plans and how any objection was seen solely as rejection and the individuals as “haters”. Luke Foley MP, leader of the state opposition Labor Party, said he was in favour of the expansion of the stadium, which currently threatens the future of the pool, but he is also in favour of the pool. Why can’t we have both, he asked, to the cheers of the crowd. Luke Foley, above, with Suzette Meade, North Parramatta Resident Action Group president.
The rally was organised by NPRAG, which has been growing fast since it was formed only 18 month’s ago in response to community anger. The state government had announced the sale of much of the land in the North Parramatta Precinct as “surplus” and the development of thousands of new residences, including 20 and 30 storey apartments. Deputy leader of the opposition and shadow minister for planning, Michael Daley, described NPRAG as extraordinarily reasonable. Members have only asked for a pause and the opportunity for widespread community input into planning. They have not been intransigent in opposition to change and are open to ideas and discussion. In the crowd were members of Parramatta Swimming Club, Parramatta Female Factory Friends, Save the Powerhouse Museum, Western Sydney Wanderers, environmentalists, historians, local residents and supporters.
Jamie Parker MP, Greens member for Balmain, right, addressed the crowd about his own youthful memories of swimming at the Parramatta Pool and the role of the War Memorial pool in contributing to a strong sense of community. It takes years to create the resources valued by communities, he said, and to just remove them, without alternative, publicly discussed plans, is profoundly destructive. He fully supported the impassioned plea of a previous speaker, to consider the significance of the pool as a memorial to those who fell in World War II and the importance of providing low cost access and swimming lessons to children. Recent migrant families especially, may have no understanding of the dangers water poses for the inexperienced.
Speaker after speaker made reference to the secrecy of government decision making as it affects the whole of NSW and to the subsequent distrust in which they are held by so much of the community. A representative of the CFMEU spoke angrily about Premier Mike Baird and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull as merchant bankers, who ignore the needs of ordinary citizens. While union members will hold steadfast to protecting the North Parramatta Heritage Precinct, they have already been protecting the historic Windsor Bridge for more than a year. The state government plans to replace the bridge while demolishing the 1795 Thompson Square – the oldest town square in Australia. Windsor locals have now maintained a day and night vigil over their heritage for well over 1000 days.
NPRAG organisers made quite clear that they were not members of any political party, but that they would work with those politicians that gave priority to community needs and were prepared to be honest in discussion. Julie Owens said that for a long time she had tried to avoid involvement in what was essentially state business, but with the dismissal of elected local governments and no opportunity for democratic engagement, she felt a responsibility to step in. National Heritage listing is certainly a federal responsibility and a primary aim of NPRAG, The National Trust NSW, the Parramatta Female Factory Friends and the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct – Memory Project.