NSW Premier skewers democracy again in service of developers

On Monday, the NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, below, abandoned all pretence at community consultation in government planning decisions. Hours before the second community consultation about the future of the Powerhouse Museum, Ultimo, was due to begin, she announced that a new facility would be built on the old DJ’s carpark site on Parramatta River, above, to be purchased from Parramatta Council at a cost of $140 million. “Any future redevelopment at Ultimo would potentially include residential units, while retaining an arts and cultural presence,” she said. The interests and values of the Rum Rebellion had won again.

This was no longer the pretence at community consultation, conducted by the same people, over the future of the North Parramatta Heritage Precinct four years ago, when participants were encouraged to think widely and creatively. By the second session the results had been distilled into one option of choosing where to place potential buildings.

As it was, my heart sank as we read the two key questions in the first consultation. This was the Museum of Arts and Sciences (MAAS) Project Public Meeting (Parramatta), organised by the Department of Planning and Environment with MAAS, on Wednesday evening, July 26. About 100 people grouped around tables had one and a half hours to respond –

Question 1: What would you like to see, do and experience at the new Museum in Western Sydney? What would make it an exciting place for you and your family/friends to visit?

Question 2: If some Powerhouse Museum presence stays at Ultimo, what would you like to see, do and experience?

Once again the parameters of community involvement were strictly limited. There had been media reports that former Premier Mike Baird’s developer driven thought bubble of selling the Powerhouse Museum, (SMH photo right, by Louise Kennerley) and relocating it to Parramatta had not withstood financial scrutiny and community pressure was forcing a rethink. In booking for the free event, people were invited to submit three key questions they would like answered in the consultations.

Mine were along the lines of questioning the assumptions on which the project was based:

  • Why dismantle a popular and well established cultural institution in the heart of Sydney?
  • Why move it to a small flood prone site on the bank of the Parramatta River?
  • Why not consider a museum for Parramatta that relates to its rich indigenous past and early colonial history already holding national and World Heritage values, like the North Parramatta heritage precinct?

It wasn’t long before it was clear that many others were questioning the same assumptions and offering a range of alternative proposals.

Organisers stated ,”The new museum will be designed with community input and will be on the cutting edge of science and innovation. To deliver the best possible museum, a business case has been established to ensure all options are investigated, tested and analysed. Community consultation is an important element of the business case and local community members are invited to be part of the conversation.”

People certainly responded: Why, if you are going to spend $500 million delivering the museum to western Sydney, spend $100 million purchasing the Parramatta River site and another $100 million on flood proofing it, before you even begin building a new museum? You could do so much more with that money. Parramatta is difficult to access from many parts of western Sydney and now with new road tolls and poor public transport, it’s not going to get any easier. Why the rush? The government wants the business case for the project to be submitted to cabinet before the end of the year. For such a major institution, why not spend time engaging community and experts in conversation from the ground up?

Why not operate like the Smithsonian Institution which now has 19 museums and the National Zoo across the United States? “Congress authorised acceptance of the Smithson bequest on July 1, 1836, but it took another ten years of debate before the Smithsonian was founded. Once established, the Smithsonian became part of the process of developing an American national identity—an identity rooted in exploration, innovation, and a unique American style.”

In western Sydney, MAAS could operate like Western Sydney University with its network of campuses across the region. Indeed it could be linked to the university and work with the existing arts centres serving different parts of the region. An excellent example of such a productive collaboration was last year’s Gravity (and Wonder) exhibition, left, at Penrith Regional Gallery. What about the new technology park planned for Luddenham and links to the Blue Mountains World Heritage Centre?

On the “community” consultative process alone, there were plenty of questions: Where was the cultural diversity among the participants, which is such a feature of Parramatta, let alone the region’s population? Where were the young people for whom the future museum is so important?

The deadline for responses about the MAAS  project is August 18. You can reply to the question: “Is there anything else that should be taken into consideration when developing the business case?” https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/536XXPF

Highlighting the state government wish for haste was the Parramatta City Council meeting on Monday, July 10, conducted by administrator Amanda Chadwick and attended by 200 people. Twenty speakers were registered for the public forum including Better Planning Network, National Trust of Australia, Australian Institute of Architects, Saving Sydney’s Trees, Parramatta Female Factory Friends, ParraGirls, Darug Elder Kerrie Kenton and North Parramatta  Resident Action Group, left.

Present also was Sydney Morning Herald columnist, architectural critic and former Sydney city councillor Elizabeth Farrelly. She couldn’t suppress her chortles at the absurdity of the administrator’s role. Every time the administrator Amanda Chadwick said a motion was before council, followed by “I have resolved . . .”, her smiles broke out afresh. Her report the following Saturday was scathing –

“Oh, and the item on everybody’s lips: the new development control plan enabling UrbanGrowth’s massive, 20-storey resi-velopment of the area euphemistically dubbed the Parramatta North Urban Transformation Precinct. Our finest treasures reduced to that. PNUTP. More than a thousand public objections. Twenty impassioned speakers. The screens scroll. RESOLVED CHADWICK.

“Why cram so much in? Why vet speakers? Why ram this through when national and perhaps world heritage listings are expected any week?

“Could it be because this was the last ordinary “meeting” before democracy returns in September? Is this how we do things now in Sydney? Is this “inclusion”? Approved voices only? Excuse me, Big Sister, but how exactly is this different from tyranny? From Big Brother’s deliberate erasure of history? How is “inclusive, resilient” (Parramatta promotional buzzwords) not classic doublethink?

“It’d be funny if it weren’t so dangerous, running hand-in-murderous-glove with the wholescale destruction of everything . . . ”

The only speaker in favour was the head of the UrbanGrowth team planning the North Parramatta transformation. She stated that people were stopping her in the street saying yes, yes, yes. That was undoubtedly happening at the archaeology open day, when the focus was on the history and heritage and not the proposed development to come.

Conflict over the national heritage site continues to escalate. NPRAG president, Suzette Meade, left, wrote yesterday – “Thanks to our continued relationship with University of Sydney’s Professor Peter Phibbs from Sydney School of Architecture, Design and Planning we were able to secure two events to be included in the University’s Festival of Urbanism.

“Urban Growth tried very hard to dissuade the university from holding a tour on the site claiming it was a construction site and unsafe, and then followed that up with an offer to hold the tour  themselves and provide free lunch for tour goers. The university stood their ground and secured Dr Terry Smith local historian and myself to provide a two hour tour of the Cumberland Hospital Precinct to architects, planners and industry specialists.

“We had also included a discussion on the future of the Heritage Precinct, this was passed on to the Western Sydney University to hold at the Female Orphanage/Whitlam Institute.   Unfortunately we were told there was no room for NPRAG to speak and then advised Urban Growth NSW were invited to be keynote speaker.  We continued to push the university hard for equal representation and negotiated to allow a ‘community member’ to speak at the event.  Speaking will be long time advocate for the precinct and former NPRAG committee member Jason Burcher.”

Better news from the Premier on Monday was the announcement of $100 million for the redevelopment of the Riverside Theatres. There is no doubt that this commitment is the result of years of negotiation between Parramatta Council and the state government, following the enormous success of the theatres under the direction of Robert Love.

Thank you UrbanGrowth NSW for a vision of North Parramatta’s heritage future

No, that headline is not a joke – nor have I swapped sides. It was my personal response after attending Discovering Parramatta North Open Day, conducted by UrbanGrowth NSW on Saturday, May 27. From informal feedback, it was a response shared by many who attended, including Parramatta National Trust. Our focus may have been different from our hosts, but the experience began to put flesh on our alternative vision for the future. The aim of Open Day was to learn about the recent archaeological discoveries on the site. Above is Parramatta Holroyd Sun’s photo of nine-year-old Hannah Bunby from Parramatta North Public School. She wants to become an archaeologist and on a school tour the day before, she met the archaeologists led by Aboriginal Jamie Eastwood, right, in the pit where they were working.

One hundred people including school students, Parramatta Female Factory Friends and hospital personnel were given a preview on the Friday. On Saturday, 300 people participated in a succession of guided tours led by members of the state government’s development agency or by other experts who are consultants to the North Parramatta Transformation Project. UrbanGrowth’s project team leader Donna Savage gave a brief overview of the project and archaeological work to date, before each tour. She was followed by Jillian Comber, consultant in Aboriginal and historical archaeology, who is leading some of the research. Archaeological teams with indigenous expertise and links to the land have been working across the site.

Freely available were high quality fact sheets about the sites under investigation giving detailed information on the research to date and the history either known or newly revealed. Papers included Aboriginal History and Archaeology; Aboriginal Artefacts; Water Management 1803 – 1880s – Ditches, Dykes and Drains; The Parramatta Female Factory – an Archeology of Absence; The Ward for the Criminally Insane 1861 – 1963 – Escape from Parramatta Lunatic Asylum; and Parramatta Hospital for the Insane 1878 – 1983 – Change of Name and Change of Attitude. Some of the items excavated from the sites, above. Jamie explained that more than 2000 Aboriginal artefacts have been unearthed, and that some like spear heads of silcrete, indicate that trade was conducted with other groups, because silcrete is not a local stone.

As well as being a known Aboriginal settlement area, Parramatta North was the site of some of the colony’s first farms, from the 1790s. It was also home to early colonial institutions including the convict Parramatta Female Factory from 1818 and the Roman Catholic Orphan School from 1841, which later became the Parramatta Girls Home. Parramatta Gaol dating from the 1840s is also on this site. The Parramatta National Trust’s photo, above, of the excavated ha-ha (a deep trench with a sloping side that ends in a vertical wall), shows it was filled in with earth and old bed frames in the 1870s, denoting a change of practice in treatment of the mentally ill.

Both North Parramatta Residents Action Group (NPRAG) and Parramatta Female Factory Friends were provided by organisers with tables close to the central meeting point. NPRAG displayed their artist’s impressions of UrbanGrowth’s proposed developments and of their own alternative proposals for creative arts facilities, and public open space for the benefit of community physical and mental health. The drawing of UGNSW’s proposals, left, drew an angry response from two staff members. One claimed they were a serious misrepresentation and another stated there was a great deal of misinformation circulating. While the drawings were concept only, they were sourced from the only information available from UrbanGrowth at the time. It was stated that the high rise buildings shown on the Cumberland Hospital side of the old Parramatta Gaol are now positioned on the east side. Another change that has been made as a result of community feedback is that there will be no new residential buildings in the historic Governor Gipps courtyard.

For some within UrbanGrowth and within the community, there is deep mutual distrust. UrbanGrowth claims misrepresentation while community members claim secrecy and planning to a hidden agenda. UrbanGrowth says it can’t display developer proposals until they have been drawn up by the developers and approved by Parramatta Council, while community members claim that UrbanGrowth won’t have control anyway if their current development application to sell off two thirds of the 30 hectare site in 17 super lots is approved. Anger and distrust foment between a rock and a hard place.

For those visiting the site, the inspiration of the day was the recognition of just how much information and evidence about our ancient and more recent past sits just below the surface of the site. It was illuminating to see what could be achieved when real money, expertise and resources are applied to archeological research and heritage building repairs. UrbanGrowth’s aerial view, above, of repairs being undertaken on the Roman Catholic Orphan School.  The state government argues that only by selling two thirds of the site can it afford the conservation needed on the other third. Those of us who have lately witnessed the demolition of Parramatta Swimming Pool before any alternative plan was in the pipeline, have only to remember how quickly the government could find $30 million to match Parramatta Council’s $30 million when community anger forced them to begin planning for a new aquatic centre.

The draft Development Control Plan (DCP) and Development Application DA/1124/2016 relating to Parramatta North Urban Transformation Precinct are on display by Parramatta Council until June 13. You can make your submission online or by using the template created by NPRAG.

The Royal Australian Historical Society, The National Trust of Australia, Parramatta Female Factory Friends and NPRAG are all submitting objections to inappropriate residential development to Parramatta Council. At last year’s RAHS conference in Wollongong, NPRAG president Suzette Meade discussed the work NPRAG has carried out to protect and promote Parramatta’s heritage. Suzette’s presentation is on YouTube.

She explains that there are over “77 state heritage listed buildings around the Cumberland Hospital grounds. The Female Factory Precinct, filled with buildings designed by government architects Francis Greenway to Walter Liberty Vernon, is undergoing a National Heritage Listing Assessment and is a more than worthy candidate to be added to the current 11 convict locations on the UNESCO world heritage listing. If sympathetically re-interpreted and re-developed, this huge site could become Australia’s equivalent of Colonial Williamsburg but with one unique advantage – it is all real, all still there physically and historically and not some modern confection channelling the past.” Another Parramatta National Trust photo, above, reveals the layers of history under the site of the Female Factory.

The submission developed by Parramatta Female Factory Friends highlights the absence of a Master Plan. There is a precedent for this, they write, in that the Rozelle Hospital/Callan Park grounds and buildings’ Master Plan is the result of community input and acceptance. “This must be carried out for the Cumberland Hospital site as it has a far more singular, significant and extensive history than the Rozelle Hospital.”

Another concern they raise, is shared by every other community organisation – the height of buildings and transfer of floor space. The height of buildings seriously impacts heritage buildings and the valued park like setting of PNHS. These must be scaled back further, they say. Setbacks must be reviewed. They also point out that the DDCP (page 26 C.3) states that floor space cannot be transferred. “The DA is not a legal document,” they say. “There is no protection for future floor space ratios (FSR) being altered by a developer.”

(A quick note – I delayed publishing this in the hope that advice about potential World Heritage Listing would arrive in time from heritage consultants to the project. There has been a delay, but it is clear that it would still be subject to the qualifications expressed in submissions, above.)

One of the great concerns among the many protests is the proposal to preserve only a selection of heritage buildings and thus destroy the continuous narrative of the site. An example is the proposal to remove buildings like those from the 1960s on the site of the Parramatta Girls Home and leave only the old Roman Catholic Orphanage and the children’s hospital, Bethel (see Parragirls’ photo, above, right). Those newer buildings represent a change of government policy, when some of the girls gained access to education.There are many potential adaptive re-uses for all these buildings.

Parragirls represents girls formerly institutionalised in the Parramatta Girls Home. Under the leadership of Bonney Djuric, they have developed the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct – Memory Project.  It has been evolving since 2012. One of their long term aims is to establish Australia’s first International Site of Conscience. On UrbanGrowth’s open day, they were hosting an event, Long Time Coming Home, remembering the Stolen Generations and other Indigenous Australians who were separated from their families and communities. Above is the Mt Druitt Aboriginal Children’s Choir performing at the event. Unfortunately, it was finishing by the time I could get there, but from the pleasure expressed by departing audience member it was clear that the talking circle, art, song and storytelling were a great success.

This is the whole point of this post. Rather than the rush to sell off “surplus” land by the NSW government, let us all share in exploring the potential of this remarkable site. UrbanGrowth has shown us some of the real possibilities. In the meantime, we’ve just been alerted to another stunning government fiasco – Parramatta Advertiser, May 31, 20017, pages 8 – 9. Parramatta Council has blocked the use of the Old King’s School as the temporary Parramatta Primary School, owing to serious risk of flooding from the  adjoining Parramatta River. What does that say about former Premier, Mike Baird’s “thought bubble” proposal to move the Powerhouse Museum onto the nearby banks of the Parramatta River?

Three important comments have been received in the four hours since this post was published and are now added in the sequence in which they arrived:

  1. On Facebook from Cumberland Hospital historian Dr Terry Smith – “I have to say that I am deeply disappointed with what I’ve heard of the archeological interpretations of some of the finds on the site. Without any evidence whatsoever, one archeologist claimed in television interviews that patients were chained to the floor of the ward for the criminally insane and wiled away their days playing a harmonica. There is NO historical evidence that patients were chained to floors (or walls) of this ward. Apart from this fact, the patients in this ward were extremely dangerous and would never have been allowed a harmonica, the metal from which would have provided a easy weapon. The bedsteads were not buried in the 1870s but rather in the early 1960s when Dr Eric Hilliard wanted to remove as much of the old 19th century structures as possible that resembled a prison. This included filling in the Ha Has and demolishing the ward for the Criminally Insane and several old sandstonewalls! If these points can be so easily discounted, then one might wonder about the rigor of their other interpretations?
  2. From NPRAG president Suzette Meade – “UGNSW have in fact prepared a 3D model and submitted it to the Heritage Office 18 months ago (its in the minutes of the meeting available online to view). NPRAG requested for it to be viewable to public the staffer at the time said we could only look at it on their computer screen at their offices.
    We then submitted a Freedom of Information order to make it public and of course the reply was CABINET IN CONFIDENCE.
    What do they have to hide ?
  3. By email from TKD associate and senior heritage consultant  Sean Williams – “Part of the Cumberland Hospital (East Campus) site (essentially the Female Factory/Lunatic Asylum Precinct) and the Norma Parker Centre/Kamballa site is currently being assessed by the Federal Government for inclusion on the National Heritage List (NHL). UrbanGrowth NSW supports the listing.The Commonwealth Department of Environment and Energy has confirmed that the NHL assessment is based on the identified heritage values of the place – ie the area nominated for inclusion on the NHL. The Federal Government does not take into consideration any current or future proposals for change unless they consider them to represent a substantial risk to the identified heritage values.

    In relation to world heritage listing, the Commonwealth has confirmed that the identification and assessment of the values would be expected to follow a similar rigorous approach to that for inclusion on the NHL, although the focus is on establishing whether the place has ‘outstanding universal values’.  Assuming that the site is nominated and the Commonwealth is satisfied that the place meets at least one of the 10 world heritage criteria, then it can refer the nomination to the World Heritage Centre to progress its evaluation and potential future inclusion on the WHL.  Again, UrbanGrowth NSW supports this listing.

    More about the WHL assessment process can be sourced from: http://www.environment.gov.au/heritage/about/world/world-heritage-listing-process.

    You can also visit the World Heritage Centre website at: http://whc.unesco.org/

  4. Another significant post was added to Facebook – History B4 High Rise about Melbourne’s Abbotsford Convent

Save our heritage and end governance by the interests and values of the Rum Rebellion

Pressure grows for a complete rethink of the state government plans for the sale to developers of 20 hectares (two thirds) of the North Parramatta Heritage Precinct. The draft development control plan and development application are currently on exhibition by Parramatta Council until June 13. You can inspect them here. All submissions by that date will be considered before a final decision is made. In light of the continued appropriation of Parramatta Park lands by the state government since UrbanGowth’s plans for North Parramatta Heritage Precinct became public, there is yet another argument for a complete rethink of the “urban transformation project”. A brief glimpse of the treasures of the site is given on a YouTube video recorded by historian Dr Terry Smith, above.

Among those supporting NPRAG’s campaign to save the site is internationally renowned author Thomas Keneally, left, and his daughter Meg, who is a direct descendant of a woman of the convict Parramatta Female Factory. Watch them on YouTube as they explain.

By chance I heard Michael Cathcart’s interview on ABC RN with author Judith White on May 10. She is a former executive director of the Art Gallery Society of NSW and her book is called Culture Heist: Art Versus Money. I was transfixed when he asked about her opinion that government appointed boards of NSW arts institutions “continue to play out the interests and values of the Rum Rebellion“. The 1808 rebellion, just 20 years after the establishment of the colony of New South Wales, was a coup by the military and property elite to protect their power and influence from control by the British government. Their self-appointed government lasted two years.

Judith White believes those early attitudes of protecting power and influence are still systemic in NSW and distinguish the management of state government arts institutions from their now more successful counterparts in Victoria and Queensland. She doesn’t suggest that people start out with bad intentions, but rather that the power and influence of the business and property elite play out behind the scenes in NSW in subtle ways. She suggests that the NSW government gives priority to status in the corporate world of appointees to boards of directors rather than to their commitment and advocacy for the arts. It’s the same criticism made last year by former director of the Australian Museum, Dr Desmond Griffin, about appointments to governing boards of NSW cultural institutions. They lack experience in best museum practice.

Was this a clue to why it is that UrbanGrowth NSW seems so adept at conducting community consultations about the North Parramatta Heritage Precinct and then paying little attention to the results? Where are the advocates for history and heritage within the leadership? UrbanGrowth NSW is the agency responsible for developing and implementing the state government’s plans to subdivide and sell most of the North Parramatta site for “urban transformation” to high rise apartments for thousands of new residents.

An interesting assessment of Parramatta’s transformation to “Australia’s next great city” and of the NSW government’s treatment of Parramatta Park and heritage sites appears in the landscape architects online publication Foreground. Paulette Wallace has a PhD in cultural heritage and international experience in the field. She writes, “One of the core issues with Parramatta’s transformation is that development appears to be placing state interests above local interests . . . Parramatta, it seems, is at risk of an enforced vibrancy, which gives the people what the government says they need, rather than what a democratically-elected council might implement in response to the demands of its constituents.”

The publicly owned green hectares of Parramatta Park extend around the World Heritage listed Old Government House (above) overlooking Parramatta River and the city. This year, the state government has already demolished Parramatta War Memorial Pool on the parkland (Foreground’s photo this month, right, of the ruins of Parramatta War Memorial Swimming Pool), in order to expand the adjoining Parramatta Stadium. While the previous Parramatta Council was complicit in this decision, the community was largely unaware until mid last year, by which time it was too late.

No alternative plans had been developed for the thousands of regular pool patrons. It is only their furious protests that have belatedly led to state and council’s recent commitments of million of dollars to build an alternative aquatic centre in the next five to seven years. In the meantime, the state government is preparing to annex the Mays Hill precinct of Parramatta Park for the proposed swim centre.

Desmond Griffin was scathing in his criticism of the proposal to relocate the Powerhouse Museum to Parramatta. No feasibility study or evaluation of cultural impact were conducted he said. He also said that NSW is the only state without a major history museum. This is an issue that has surfaced repeatedly in the community struggle to resist the proposed future development of the Parramatta North (Fleet Street) Heritage Precinct by the NSW Government. The 30 hectare site, across the Parramatta River from the Old Government House in Parramatta Park, is the site of some of the most significant elements of Australia’s colonial history and thousands of years of pre-colonial Aboriginal custodianship.

Another layer to NSW planning was added with the creation of the Greater Sydney Commission in 2015 by the NSW government. Chief commissioner Lucy Turnbull, is a business woman, former lord mayor of Sydney and wife of the Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull. She says, “In Parramatta, the amenity and cultural importance of places such as Centenary Square, Parramatta Square and Parramatta Park need to be recognised and protected. We must ensure the highest standards for Parramatta’s public spaces.”

Now there are some glimmers of hope. After the abrupt departure of Premier Mike Baird in January this year, there are some encouraging signs that new premier Gladys Berejiklian may be listening a little more carefully. Her new minister for the arts Don Harwin, has announced community consultations about what the community wants of a new world-class museum for Parramatta (artist’s impression, left. Doubts have emerged about moving part or all of the Powerhouse collection from Sydney to Parramatta, to a council owned site on Parramatta River. Register to participate in consultations.

President of North Parramatta Residents Action Group, Suzette Meade says, “We will be presenting to the Arts Minister and the Premier our alternative vision, left, for this once in a lifetime opportunity to create a world class arts and cultural precinct at the Fleet Street heritage precinct in North Parramatta. This is our chance to recognise that Parramatta is a highly unique and important piece of our state and country’s cultural heritage. Imagine the premier state not having a Museum of NSW.” The History Council of NSW supports the consultations.

UrbanGrowth NSW is holding an open day at the Parramatta North site, 5 Fleet Street, Parramatta, on Saturday 27 May, 10am-4pm. They state it is “to allow the community to see what’s happening on the site and learn more about what’s planned over the next 7 to 10 years as we conserve, unlock and share the heritage of Parramatta North. See the archaeologists at work and view the artefacts on display.  Discover what is being done to protect the local flying fox colony, and find out how the important heritage is being conserved.” Registration and information. Be prepared to ask the tough questions about where the high rise buildings will go and the proposed light rail route. North Parramatta Resident Action Group will also maintain a Save Our Heritage Vigil at the gates from 10am.

The Parramatta Female Factory Precinct Memory Project is presenting Long Time Coming Home, on the same day between 12pm-4pm. Enter via 1 Fleet Street, to explore the site’s indigenous legacy.  Visitors are welcome to explore this historic child welfare institutional site.

Democracy repeatedly sabotaged in heritage, arts and cultural planning

Sabotage – to destroy, damage or disrupt, especially by secret means.

Parramatta Council has published a cultural discussion paper and is inviting community responses by April 7. Culture and Our City – a cultural discussion paper for Parramatta’s CBD is seeking feedback and ideas to contribute to a new cultural plan. I urge you to read it and respond. The plan is intended to guide arts and cultural directions, over the next five years and beyond. Somewhat unexpectedly, I found myself reacting with anger and frustration. Yes, I had been a willing participant in a focus group for the discussion paper, but my frustration was not with the research or the principles articulated in the draft.

Bear with me, this requires some explanation.

The research was commissioned by the new City of Parramatta Council, which is administered by an appointee of the NSW Government. There will be no democratically elected council until September, by which time the state government will have run the show since May 2016. No government would allow the release of a document in its name without its approval and authorisation and it shows in this one. The parameters of the research are restricted to Parramatta’s CBD and do not include the rest of Parramatta’s local government area, including the North Parramatta Heritage Precinct. For almost 70 years, the Parramatta community has been tantalised with promises of cultural opportunity and then betrayed more often than not in their implementation.

According to the 1948 County of Cumberland Scheme released by the NSW Government, Parramatta was to be the most important centre after Sydney. The only drawback at the time was the lack of adequate cultural facilities in Parramatta. I was an active part of a push that led to the opening of Riverside Theatres in Parramatta in 1988, above (Sydney Festival 17 photo), but still there was no gallery. Then the state government, under Labor Premier Bob Carr, invited artists and community members to discussion groups in the late 1990s about the future of the Cumberland Hospital site, now described as the North Parramatta or Fleet Street Heritage Precinct. Opportunities were sketched for future artists studios, music and dance rehearsal spaces, heritage and community facilities – and on the outskirts – medium density residential development – not unlike current proposals by North Parramatta Residents Action Group.

Nothing more was heard until Parramatta Council released its Arts Facilities & Cultural Places Framework (2005) – Parramatta: Identity, Contemporary Culture & Prosperity. “The Parramatta Arts Facilities & Cultural Places Framework 2005,” it said, “will assist Council in establishing a clear direction for the planning, the provision and resourcing of a broad range of arts infrastructure & cultural places for the City over the next ten years. The vitality of Parramatta comes down to establishing cultural assets with a point of difference, that are unique, reflect the community and complement rather than replicate the rest of Sydney’s cultural resources. The City must also build its cultural identity and creative industries to attract, retain, validate, and acknowledge the role of artists in our community, as well as to generate new wealth and prosperity for Parramatta.”

Then Lord Mayor of Parramatta, David Borger, was the political champion of this framework, and officiated at the opening of Parramatta Artists Studios – the foundation component of the framework, where production has continued to flourish. The framework stated there would be three sites for the placement of facilities –

Cluster 1 Venue—Civic Place (the administrative heart of the CBD)

Cluster 2 Venue—Old Kings School (on the bank of Parramatta River and across the road from Riverside Theatres)

Cluster 3 Venue—North Parramatta Mixed Use Site (i.e. North Parramatta Heritage Precinct)
Twelve years later, not one of these facilities has been achieved. The first was not so much a matter of the state government as a fierce struggle between council, landholders and developers. Civic Place, now known as Parramatta Square, left (artist’s impression), is finally under construction, but there is no mention of a major gallery or exhibition space. This is primarily the council’s responsibility.
Determined advocacy by artists, the Western Sydney Arts Lobby and proposals for adaptations of the Old King’s School buildings, continued right up to the March state election in 2011. Then a week before the election, Labor Premier Kristina Keneally announced $24.6 million for the refurbishment and transformation of the heritage buildings into galleries and spaces for arts groups – intended for regional and not just local use, see photo below. The government was defeated and after six months the new Liberal/National Party Government failed to allocate funding and claimed it was an unfunded election promise. In 2015, the government announced the precinct would become a primary school, which is now under construction.
In the meantime, the state government announced the decision to subdivide and sell much of the North Parramatta Heritage Precinct for high rise development.  It claims the sale of one of Australia’s most important historic sites is the only way it can finance preservation of its heritage. A framework masterplan was to be developed by the government agency UrbanGrowth NSW. Local residents were appalled. Many of them lived close by in a Parramatta Council heritage listed zone and by 2013 were banding together in protest. One of them explains their distress, with relevant links:
“There are over 10 conservation areas in Parramatta district and these all have residents. The contradictions between what’s supported and allowed for property developers and for those who are resident in the conservation areas affects more people than just those adjacent to the high density/high rise planned in what’s called the ‘Parramatta North Urban Transformation’. List of conservation areas link. Link to straightforward map of North Parramatta Conservation Area (there are 2 parts of this one area). This map is worth a close look.  The current North Parramatta Heritage area between  O’Connell and Villiers St is very close to 90,000 sq metres in size.

“Regulations governing what can be done by property owners are in the Parramatta Local Environmental Plan 2011   (Current version for 23 September 2016 to date Part 5 Clause 5.10) Parramatta LEP requires owners to organise and pay for all archaeological surveys prior to submitting DAs for approval and construction of a simple garage or shed on their land as it is in a conservation area where it is anticipated features/items of archaeological significance can be found in the land.  Surveys have not been done of the entire conservation area so it falls to each individual to do instance-by-instance. (We can’t even dig a vegetable bed.)

“The inequity and hypocrisy around the different circumstances of those in conservation areas compared to property developers who plan to profit from high rise development in recent rezoning/planning is stark.”

In June 2014, then NSW Premier Mike Baird announced a cultural ambassador for western Sydney, Liz Ann Macgregor, left, the Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA). For many years, under her leadership, the MCA has worked closely with a “terrific network of galleries, organisations and artists in Western Sydney doing innovative and highly engaging work.” She was keen to bring their work to closer government attention. She was also keen to bring the services of Sydney museums and galleries to the west. In February 2015, Mike Baird announced the sale of the Powerhouse Museum at Darling Harbour and its relocation to Parramatta. To many it was seen merely as a land grab for developers and resistance by Save the Powerhouse supporters was fierce.

Nonetheless, the Powerhouse move was seen by others as symbolic of the state government’s commitment to western Sydney and enthusiastically embraced by David Borger, now the Western Sydney director of the Sydney Business Chamber, and other civic leaders and, more cautiously, by the Western Sydney Arts Lobby. Anything, after all, was better than nothing. Later that year a Deloitte report, commissioned by Sydney Business Chamber – Western Sydney, and three western Sydney councils – Parramatta, Penrith and Liverpool, Building Western Sydney’s Cultural Economy – A Key to Sydney’s Success, recommended relocation of the Powerhouse Museum to western Sydney.

Since then, there has been much debate about what funds the sale of the Darling Harbour site, left, would actually generate, the cost of relocation and whether Parramatta Council should simply donate the announced new site, it already owns, on the banks of the Parramatta River. The current fiasco over the state government’s authorisation of demolition of the city’s main swimming pool to make way for the expansion of a sports stadium is a guide to what may come. Parramatta Council acquiesced without protest, before the administrator was appointed last year. No financial compensation has been made for the loss of the popular pool and no state funds committed to the building of a new one. A new aquatic centre is said to be two to five years away. Sabotage of community interests now seems standard practice.

A year ago, exchange visits between Save the Powerhouse Museum and NPRAG members led to mutual support for each other’s positions and SPM supporting a proposal for a museum unique to Parramatta and the region. The visitors were gobsmacked by the volume and evidence of Australia’s colonial history in the Fleet Street Heritage Precinct and the site’s treasury of thousands of years of Aboriginal custodianship.

Last October, Liz-Ann McGregor was the guest speaker at a Western Sydney University event – the launch of a Bachelor of Creative Industries. The new degree combines majoring in a chosen field within the creative industries, with minors in business management and law. Liz Ann spoke in the presence of WSU Vice-Chancellor Professor Barney Glover, who was also the newly appointed president of the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (MAAS) Trust. The trust will play a pivotal role in the Powerhouse’s relocation to Parramatta (see artist’s impression). She spoke of the current dispiriting atmosphere that surrounds financial support for the arts at state and federal levels and internationally and the likelihood of little change in the foreseeable future. She spoke of her own frustration when arguing with ministers for better support for western Sydney and meeting with a wall of resistance.
In this climate, a long term project like MCA’s C3West offers a model of alternative approaches that have been bringing artists, businesses and community together for more than a decade. A course like the new Bachelor of Creative Industries can equip artists with the financial and marketing skills to enter into these relationships. It takes a long time for artists and business to learn to talk each other’s language, she said. It’s a slow process, but artists can often articulate issues and offer possible solutions.
Under Suzette Meade’s leadership North Parramatta Residents Action Group has been listening to community and working with other organisations to develop an economically viable alternative proposal for the Fleet Street Precinct. They want genuine community consultation. Their supporters and collaborators number in the thousands, but neither state government nor Parramatta Council are really listening.
Is it any wonder she wrote to Sydney’s Lord Mayor Clover Moore last week appealing for her help? In a neat summary Elizabeth Farrelly wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald

“This week, when North Parramatta Residents’ Action Group begged Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore to “adopt the community of Parramatta, as we are left without a democratically elected council” there certainly was envy. It was the envy of people deliberately disenfranchised at a moment of great change, people gazing wistfully at a place where local government is strong, free and fair. It was an “I’ll have what she’s having” moment.This envy is entirely justified.

“Parramatta is reeling from a governelopment boom: 3000 apartments on its irreplaceable heritage precinct (Cumberland Hospital, 1818 Female Factory); the $2 billion ultra-ugly Parramatta Square project behind the old town hall; the proposed new Powerhouse, or whatever fragment of it finally drifts up-river; the demolition of the Pirtek Stadium and pool for a bigger, more lucrative stadium (no pool); plus masses of private development like Meriton’s 54-storey Altitude, the city’s tallest tower, on the old David Jones site. Barely a squeak of affordable housing anywhere, and the people held voiceless, all the while, by a government-appointed city administrator.”

It makes better sense to create a cultural hub celebrating indigenous and migration history (NPRAG’s Artist’s impression in their Alternative Vision, above)

I’m off for three weeks to New Zealand. Family members there tell me local governments are guided by democratically elected advisory committees and it is one of the world’s most democratic countries. Now there’s an idea!

Community advocacy confronts the challenges of heritage conservation

A dedicated communprag-first-rally-0215nity activist needs the characteristics of a fine actor – the sensitivity of a butterfly and the hide of a rhinoceros. Oh, and the wisdom of Solomon and the stamina of a marathon runner. It has been a headlong rush for the management committee and membership to learn and respond since the founding of North Parramatta Residents Action Group two years ago. (Locals assemble for the first rally above.) Some have no prior experience of community organisations. Passion for their cause is deep and emotions run high. More than a year ago, a general meeting of members affirmed the right of the management committee to take action on their behalf, without first consulting the membership. Action is often required quickly in response to government decisions.

Ratstudio-gl-ugnsw-overviewher than simply object to state government proposals to sell off most of one of the nation’s most important heritage sites for the development of nearly 3000 new apartments, left, North Parramatta Residents Action Group has been committed to developing an alternative vision, below left. Surveys of local residents and members since the group’s studio-gl-nprag-concept-overviewfounding two years ago, a symposium in 2015, which attracted a wide range of planning expertise and community experience all produced ideas and opinions, which have helped shape their vision.

NPRAG was spurred into life when UrbanGrowth NSW claimed in 2014 that extensive NPRAG rally crowdcommunity consultation had shaped their draft masterplan for the sale and development of what is now the Cumberland Hospital site. Most local residents had never heard of the proposals and those who had, at the protest rally left, were bitterly opposed to the high rise apartment blocks comprising the bulk of the plan. Within weeks, a constitution had been drawn up and membership established. They were determined to protect and enhance the historic buildings and sites of the Parramatta local government area, especially those of national and World Heritage significance; oppose the over-development of Cumberland Hospital and Parramatta Park precincts; and support retention and public ownership of existing active and passive recreation sites, including Parramatta pool. The pool and the stadium occupy designated Parramatta Park land.

Council amalgamations forced by the former Baird Government from mid 2016, don’t allow for local government elections until September this year, so the usual democratic channels are not available to citizens. The result has been frustration and fears of a deliberate state government campaign to exclude community protest and participation.

nprag-pool-protest-1216Under the dynamic leadership of president Suzette Meade, the committee has raised thousands of dollars towards their cause. Most recently they commissioned architects Studio GL to draw artists impressions of the developments proposed by UGNSW from plans available on the government website. Studio GL then created a second set of artists impressions of NPRAG’s alternative proposals for the same sites – a cultural/arts precinct free of any residential development. The drawings were displayed at a December protest, above, about the demolition of Parramatta pool to accommodate the stadium’s expansion, and then at Australia Day celebrations in Parramatta Park. Some of those drawings illustrate this post.

The Australia Day stall was a joint effort of NPRAG and Parramatta Female Factory Friends, who established a formal memorandum of understanding between them in early 2016. Working in partnership with other groups like the National Trust, Parramatta Female Factory Friends, Parramatta Female Factory Precinct: Memory Project and Parramatta Chamber of Commerce has been NPRAG’s practice from the start. Members are keen to learn from those with a history of advocating heritage preservation, while engaging the community in new ways of thinking about their past and planning their future together.

“Click advocacy is now possible through digital activism,” Suzette says, “and community activism is inevitably political.” The state government has been insisting that the only way they can fund the preservation of heritage is by selling most of the surrounding site to developers. NPRAG is determined to demonstrate alternative solutions. An arts and cultural precinct can have a multiplier effect, NPRAG believes, with economic benefits including domestic and international tourism and the physical and mental wellbeing of residents

Everyone wnprag-pfff-australia-day-1orking on the Australia Day stall, left, near Old Government House in Parramatta Park was surprised by the size of the crowd and the numbers who had still never heard of the North Parramatta Heritage Precinct. Two hundred years of colonial history and evidence of thousands of years of Aboriginal custodianship are encompassed by the 30 hectare site. Old hands and recent arrivals from India, China and south east Asian nprag-1630_n_parramatta_fshp_artistimpressionsonly_161115_3-300x212countries were fascinated by the stories and eager for more information.

As Suzette later wrote: “As you can see from the picture (top), NPRAG’s Alternative Vision drawings displayed on easels, brought the crowds to the stall and helped direct hundreds of signatures to the PFFF petition (for National Heritage listing nprag-1630_n_parramatta_fshp_artistimpressionsonly_161115_4-300x212of the convict Parramatta Female Factory) and to NPRAG’s Save our Heritage and Pool petition to the state government. We also welcomed 44 new NPRAG members.” NPRAG now has several hundred members and 3500 active followers on social media. One of the challenges is to convert social media followers into a politically acknowledged advocacy voice.

The upper drawing is an artist’s impression of the state government plan to privatise public land for a suburb. Below, is NPRAG’s vision for the same site surrounding the old cricket pavilion open to the public for cultural, mental and physical health benefits.

Suzette, whose background includes project management in the construction industry, summarises NPRAG’s vision for the future, “Over a decade we could develop – affordably – a hub for creative minds with rehearsal spaces, artist studios, community centres with a world class art gallery and museum of NSW celebrating our migration history together with the first centre of indigenous reconciliation and excellence, surrounded by an interactive-family focused sculpture park among renewed colonial botanical plantings. There would be an outdoor performance space and indoor auditoria, with practice and smaller presentation rooms. There would be a connection with Parramatta Park via a foot bridge to link the government lands and the cultural ribbon along the river. All keeping this green public space accessible for the expanding population of Parramatta to both recreate and create in.”

suzette-meade-0117Passions run high among those who are fighting for a better future for the Fleet Street Heritage Precinct, also known as the North Parramatta Heritage Precinct. It’s not always easy for determination and respectful discussion to go hand in hand and Suzette is acutely conscious that her role is to allow all voices to be heard. She says, “Maybe if UGNSW worked with the community and residents genuinely from the outset better outcomes would have progressed. Why is it up to the community to make sure the right thing is done to our green space and heritage?”

parramatta-ch-c-michael_mekhitarianPresident of Parramatta Chamber of Commerce Michael Mekhitarian believes there is merit in NPRAG’s proposals, though he considers there may be a need for a greater mix of heritage, commercial, arts/cultural and residential in the precinct. He urges UrbanGrowth and NPRAG to sit down together and have a conversation. “We want the best outcome for the people of Parramatta. We need to be able to attract the best and brightest. Think of the residents if nothing else.” NPRAG has certainly tried to do this with UGNSW.

If you can spare 30 minutes, go to this link (http://bit.ly/2hBF94H). Overcoming Challenges in Community Advocacy was Suzette Meade’s speech to the Royal Australian Historical Society Annual Conference in October 2016. It not only outlines NPRAG’s operations and achievements, but offers valuable advice for many community organisations advocating change.

Respond quickly to threats and great opportunities

NPUR - proposed redevelopmentYou have until 5pm, this Sunday, July 24, to make a quick submission to the Parliamentary Enquiry into Crown Land. Better Planning Network, through North Parramatta Residents Action Group (NPRAG) says, “The NSW Government is proposing major changes to the way Crown Land is managed. This includes transferring Crown Land back to local councils and prioritising a business model. This will see the disposal and sell-off of parcels of Crown Land.” Among the lands likely to be affected is the North Parramatta Heritage Precinct, for which UrbanGrowth NSW is currently developing a master plan – NPRAG’s impression of the initial buildings proposed for the site, above.

“In response to community concerns, a Parliamentary Inquiry has been convened to investigate: – the adequacy of community input & consultation regarding the commercial use & disposal of Crown land
– the benefits of active use and management of Crown land
– the most appropriate & effective measures to protect Crown Parramatta Gaol - ABCLand
– the extent of Aboriginal Land Claims over Crown land & opportunities to increase Aboriginal involvement in its management’.

Click proposed changes to find out more and click on this link to make a quick submission, which you can personalise. Parramatta Gaol, ABC photo right, is the subject of a successful land claim by the Deerubbin Aboriginal Land Council.

There are some great opportunities to learn new skills and participate in fascinating explorations. Tracks: Western Sydney is a pop-up program for young writers. On Saturday, August 6, Information and Cultural Exchange (ICE) at Parramatta will host a day of workshops conducted by Express Media in partnership with Westwords – western Felicity CastagnaSydney’s literacy organisation for young people. You can take part in a fiction masterclass with Sarah Ayoub or a non-fiction masterclass with Rebecca Giggs. Young writers can find out what opportunities are available for them in western Sydney and beyond with Michael Campbell, Lily Mei, Sarah Saleh and David Graham. Then find out what happens when you have been selected for publication from Susie Anderson, Michael Mohammed Ahmad, Kylie Fornasier and Felicity Castagna, pictured above. And if that’s not enough, listen to the work of some of western Sydney’s hottest young writers. Costs, bookings and details.

From Penrith Regional Gallery & The Lewers Bequest comes an exceptional opportunity. The gallery is about “to embark on a landmark project in partnership with the Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences and Western Sydney University and needs volunteers to assist with its smooth running. This opportunity will particularly suit people interested in both art and science and is part of the upcoming exhibition Gravity (and Wonder) and its accompanying series of public programs. The exhibition and program examines gravity as a universal force, holding all things in place and in relationship to each other.

Penrith R Gallery - Gravity (and Wonder) Amy“The exhibition will bring together objects, historical drawings and photographs, technical and measuring instruments from the collection of MAAS alongside the work of contemporary Australian and international artists who have sought to engage with gravity and its wondrous elements. In addition to exhibiting existing art, new artworks have been commissioned from Sandra Selig and David Haines and Joyce Hinterding.

“Volunteer Invigilators will be required across the period 3 September – 27 November. Volunteers will be provided with training and induction and will work under the supervision of gallery staff.

“Deadline for applications: 31 July at midnight.
To apply: Please visit our website and read the extra information, then complete the downloadable application form and return it to us by the deadline.”

Haines and Hinterding - Gravity and WonderAs a preliminary to the opening of Gravity (and Wonder) art and science will intersect in a talk to be given at the Powerhouse Museum, Ultimo, on Monday, August 15, between 6 and 7pm, by David Haines and Joyce Hinterding. They are an artistic partnership, whose work is inspired by scientific concepts, while science is the foundation of their research and eventual artistic production. Their work is focused on the unseen and unheard – forces of energy, the environment and hallucinations. Their talk will precede their participation in the opening of the Gravity (and Wonder) exhibition at Penrith Regional Gallery on 3 September. Details and bookings.

A champion of liveable spaces speaks out before NSW crown land enquiry

N Parra - artist's impressionAt last, a note of sanity! As the dust settles following an excoriating federal election campaign and we all try to make sense of the results, some interesting moves have been occurring at state government level. On June 22, there was a NSW parliamentary summit, attended by MPs from across the parliament, community groups and crown land campaigners. They were unanimous in supporting a parliamentary enquiry and called for an immediate moratorium on any Crown and public land being sold or developed until the enquiry reports. The enquiry was established in the NSW Upper House on the following day. The enquiry has comprehensive terms of reference and a timeline to ensure that it reports before a Crown Land Bill is expected to be tabled in Parliament in spring.

1-NPRAG - Jack MundeyAbove is one of the early images published by UrbanGrowth NSW for the government’s proposed sale and development of land in the North Parramatta Heritage Precinct. North Parramattta Residents Action Group, has been leading the fight for community consultation about the future of the site and resistance to excessive development. NPRAG president Suzette Meade was one of those who participated in the parliamentary summit. Left, Suzette is partly hidden from view behind heritage conservation warrior Jack Mundey at last year’s precinct rally. The Upper House enquiry into Crown Lands willl close on July 24. Many submissions are taking shape, but there’s still time and need for more. Click here for information.

On their website, NPRAG states that “it will remain a challenge for the community to ensure that this public land and its national heritage, river connectivity and potential open space and parkland, is allowed to realise its full potential beyond merely satisfying a government mandated housing quota.” Members argue repeatedly that the planned growth of Parramatta and its increase in high density apartment living renders the need for green space ever more important.

Then in yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald, they found unexpected support. Lucy Turnbull, chief commissioner of the Greater Sydney Commission, wrote , “The role of the Greater Sydney Commission in Parramatta is to work with the community, industry and all agencies of the state government to ensure that the principles of great city building are applied to greater Parramatta as it grows.

“These principles include ensuring that good urban design and place making leads to greater liveability. As more and more people live, work and study in and enjoy the Parramatta CBD, access to sunlight and high quality open spaces will be even more important. There are great examples in Sydney of how the right balance can be struck, with developments rising up around public open spaces without overshadowing them. Hyde Park, the Domain and the Royal Botanic Gardens are all protected from overshadowing. Parramatta deserves this too.” This was exactly the argument NPRAG used in its postcard campaign last December.

NPRAG - postcard campaign

 

 

 

 

 

To make a submission to the Crown Lands Enquiry, find guidelines and advice on the NPRAG website. Of course, where there are issues of this kind in your part of the region, or state, adapt the information about Parramatta for your own use.