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
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Campaign grows with urgent calls to make your own submission to save Parramatta’s national heritage

“Save Australia’s heritage now” is the urgent appeal of North Parramatta Residents Action Group. UrbanGrowth NSW plans to subdivide the Fleet Street heritage site in North Parramatta into super lots to sell off 20ha of a total 30 to private residential development with a goal of 3000 units. President Suzette Meade says, “If you don’t object to the first development application currently on exhibition with City of Parramatta you will be allowing this to occur. Once the sub division is approved the site will be sold to multiple developers.” NPRAG is making submission easy for those short of time or inexperienced in planning language. They have developed a template (click here), which you can edit for your own requirements. Hundreds of people have already responded.

Soap opera star of Home and Away, Shane Withington, has joined the campaign to save the site. Read the Parramatta Sun story and watch their video below.

 

Internationally renowned author of Schindler’s List Thomas Keneally and his daughter Meg have already thrown their complete support behind the community campaign.

An open day on the site, at 5 Fleet St, North Parramatta, has been planned by the UrbanGrowth for tomorrow, Saturday, May 27, from 10am to 4pm. The focus will be the heritage restoration being undertaken, but organisations like The National Trust of Australia, Royal Australian Historical Society, Parramatta Female Factories Friends and NPRAG are all submitting objections to the Council.

Take the opportunity to inspect the extraordinary site and bear NPRAG’s advice in mind:

  • There has been no genuine community consultation – listened then ignored
  • No new infrastructure for 10,000+ extra car movements per day
  • No new schools planned for the thousands of new residents
  • Aboriginal archaeological study not completed

Remember the deadline for submissions is June 13.

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.

“Living Traces” offers an international vision for North Parramatta heritage site

1-living-traces-griefThanks to the vision and passionate commitment of artist Bonney Djuric, the current exhibition Living Traces – a Parragirls artist book and print exhibition – is giving us a glimpse of possibilities both poignant and beautiful. The possibilities are implicit in her proposed International Site of Conscience embracing the convict Parramatta Female Factory and the Parramatta Girls Home. Both lie in the Parramatta North Heritage Precinct, a key site of Sydney’s colonial history from 1792 and part of the land of the Burramatta clan of the Darug people for at least 20,000 years.

This core of Australia’s national history is now threatened with subdivision and development by the NSW Government through its agency UrbanGrowth. The girls home is currently under investigation as part of the Royal Commission into Institutional responses to Child Sexual Abuse and former individual male staff members are the subject of criminal investigations.

living-traces-workshop-bonney-djuricBonney, left, and the late Christina Green were the co-founders of Parragirls in 2006. Both had been institutionalised in the Parramatta Girls Home under a punitive welfare model  in the 1970s, though like most of the residents, neither had committed any crime. Both had struggled in adulthood to understand the harshness of their experiences and to find healing from the consequences. Parragirls was founded to assist other former residents to find similar recovery. As part of this process, following a chance meeting with artist Lily Hibberd, Bonney initiated the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct – Memory Project with Lily as creative director in 2012. There was little or no money. The early stages involved bringing to light through photography, history documentation, artworks, multimedia presentations and installations, a record of the abuses and punishments of life in the institution. A theatre production, a symposium conducted in partnership with UTS Shopfront and quiet meetings with former girls returning to face their past were all part of the process. They began to reach a wider public totally unaware of the history.

living-traces-workshop-gypsie-hayesAs Bonney explains in the Living Traces catalogue, “Important to both of us was coming up with a new model 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, footnotes. . . . Slowly we have built community interest in the site, connections to arts, history and the museum sector, and are rekindling its early Indigenous history. Most importantly we’re exploring new ideas on how these sites can be used, and who should be involved in the process.” There are no similar models to guide the process. Aboriginal artist and Parragirl Gypsie Hayes, above, in a Living Traces workshop.

living-traces-workshop-jenny-mcnallyFor those of us who grew up outside Sydney and NSW, it it difficult to comprehend the fear and shame associated with the girls home. Although originally intended to provide safety and education in life skills for disadvantaged girls from the 1880s, instead it became a focus for brutality, moral judgements and the abuse of power, especially by male officers. As Bonney says in a video interview in Living Traces, “we were told we would never amount to anything.” Civic leaders and the media echoed these judgements, and until the home was forcibly closed in 1986, teenage girls were commonly threatened with the girls home if they didn’t behave. It was a mode of control and punishment, including shaved heads and solitary confinement, that had its origins in British naval practice in earlier centuries. Although Bonney and Christina Green (aka Riley) were each treated very differently in the home – Christina’s Aboriginality compounded her punishments – both buried their experiences until painful memory triggers became inescapable. For almost every former resident who survived the ordeal, this was the pattern – profound shame, guilt and burying memories of the past. Parragirl Jenny McNally, above, and her Living Traces collagraph, below.

living-traces-jenny-mcnallyLiving Traces, a Parragirls artist book and print exhibition has been a year long project with funding assistance from Arts NSW. Among the traces of the brutal and demeaning history perpetrated in the 19th century buildings of the Girls Home are names, initials and statements scratched into doors and window frames by girls locked in solitary confinement. So many records have been lost or destroyed by the state welfare authorities, and others not yet found, that sometimes the scratchings are the only evidence that a girl was ever there. Professional artists Gwen Harrison and Sue Anderson conducted 16 workshops with 12 former Parragirls to create delicate multilayered collagraphs incorporating traces of these scratchings and others in which they respond to those marks on their own lives. The results are printed on exquisite German etching paper, displayed individually throughout the exhibition and gathered into collective artist books.

living-traces-bethel-its-time-for-transparencyThe exhibition is laid out in Bethel, left as seen at the launch of Living Traces, the children’s hospital built in 1862 for the adjacent Roman Catholic Orphanage opened in 1844. Both buildings were subsequently part of the Girls Home. A catalogue and information sheet guide visitors through rooms upstairs and downstairs, where sound recordings, videos, and installations create an atmospheric context for the stories being told. Upstairs in particular the sight of stripped back walls and scratchings on doors bear grim witness to the girls’ experiences. With the official opening on Saturday, September 24, performance artist Zsuzsi Soboslay, presented the verbatim story of Jenny McNally’s struggle against shame and hiding her past from her family. As she spoke, she quietly wiped a window clean to reveal the words – It’s time for transparency. Her strength and dignity were almost palpable and her audience was deeply moved.

1-living-traces-its-time-for-transparencyArt is transforming a terrible history into a transcending experience uniquely personal and universally relevant, from which we can all learn and draw inspiration. Lily says, “Living Traces offers rare insight into the continuous history of a justice system that criminalises, incarcerates and punishes vulnerable children to this day.” For Bonney it is “opening up new ways of understanding ourselves as a nation who never questioned the rule of authority when it came to the fate of those who were placed in institutional care.” The goal is a Memory Museum for Women and Children for which they have already amassed a huge archive.

But there is an elephant in the room potentially threatening the future of the project, other than from the NSW Government. Without a unified voice, the government could easily ignore alternative proposals to their plans. In the last two years, government proposals for the site have led to the rise of the North Parramatta Residents Action Group, which has been instrumental in mounting a widespread inclusive campaign to save the 30 hectare heritage precinct. With the National Trust and Parramatta Chamber of Commerce, among others, they envisage a world class cultural, educational and tourist precinct that is economically viable and remains in public ownership. They have tried to engage Bonney and the Memory Project in the process. Last October they conducted a symposium about the future of the precinct drawing on a broad range of expert opinion and continue to garner support and commission alternative concepts to those of UrbanGrowth.

living-traces-bonney-djuricPrevious experience has taught Bonney to be deeply distrustful of heritage organisations, which “domesticate” or sentimentalise colonial history and fail to see the continuing impact on contemporary society. It is only her highly strategic and total commitment which has brought the project this far and won global recognition as the first Australian member of the 200 strong International Coalition of Sites of Conscience. Bonney’s Living Traces collagraph, left.

About the Parramatta Memory Project Lily explains, “The Site of Conscience founding ethos is to bring ‘Memory to Action’ past and present experiences of women and children who have been in state welfare institutions. It is place of recognition for women and children who have been subjected to terrible injustice, cruelty and punishment in welfare and juvenile justice systems. Parramatta Female Factory and Parramatta Girls Home are conjoined as the mother and child of this system from its colonial origins and legacies from the 20th century to the present day.

living-traces-gypsie-hayes“The Memory Museum for Women and Children will make the physical and emotional link between the Female Factory and Parramatta Girls Home and the intergenerational and contemporary issues for all those who have similar experiences. This is a museum of inclusion: a home for otherwise disparate and vulnerable people: Forgotten Australians, Stolen Generations and many others who have been treated unjustly and abandoned by the state and their carers.” International Sites of Conscience generate huge visitor numbers, she says, and strong economic returns. Gypsie Hayes’ Living Traces collagraph, left.

It’s time to talk. In the meantime, UrbanGrowth has just announced –

Sprout

Growing ideas for the Parramatta North heritage precinct

Two days of panel discussions, working sessions, inspirational presentations, site tours and displays to help us grow ideas for the Parramatta North heritage precinct. Thursday and Friday, November 10 and 11. The Chapel, Norma Parker Centre,
1 Fleet Street, North Parramatta NSW 2145.
Sprout
is free to attend. Pre-registration is required, as we have limited space. Register

I regret that I shall be unable to attend, but you can still make a contribution by phoning  Sara Wilson on 0419 815 087 or emailing parramattanorth@urbangrowth.nsw.gov.au

Living Traces continues only from Friday September 30 to next Sunday, October 2, 2 – 6pm, 1 Fleet St, Parramatta North.

Workshop images – Lucy Parakhina; Collagraph images – Lily Hibberd; Other images – Suzette Meade

Sacred music launch highlights Aboriginal spirit of country and inspires hope

1-IMG_4705I missed the opening event of the Sydney Sacred Music Festival, but by chance discovered unexpected beauty and symbolism. Owing to wet weather, The Gathering Ceremony at Marrong, featuring internationally acclaimed Aboriginal musician William Barton, was transferred from Marrong or Prospect Hill, to Pemulwuy Community Centre. I missed the message and arrived instead at the foot of the hill in Daruga Ave, Pemulwuy, at 2pm, last Friday, September 2. With no one in sight, the concert was clearly happening elsewhere. From the road, the view was of carefully landscaped bushland, polished steel and timber stairways, and signage including Burra – the Darug word for food – found in the bush around.

The hill is a central feature of the Cumberland Plains and the region of western Sydney. The sight was a revelation. The last time I had been on the hill was probably more than 20 years ago. The hillside was deeply scarred after years of mining for building and roadmaking materials, and battered old pine trees still formed a windbreak of sorts along the ridge line. At Worlds Collide, the Festival concert on the following night, others confirmed their only consciousness of public discussion about the hill was a pre-Bicentenary proposal in the 1980s for a giant flagpole on the hill – a symbol of white Australian triumphalism. In the 30 years since that time, a quiet revolution had been taking place with many participants, particularly members of then Holroyd Council’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Committee and local resident Jacqui Douglas, a descendant of the Malyankapa language group of western NSW.

1-IMG_4709Jacqui’s research of early documents had led her to question why the third colonial settlement of Portland Place, established at the base of Prospect Hill in 1791 appeared to have been abandoned in favour of Toongabbie, now officially recognised as the third white settlement in Australia. Holroyd Council commissioned historian Michael Flynn to undertake a formal study of Portland Place and the indigenous history of Holroyd. Three months after the establishment of the penal colony at Sydney Cove in 1788, Governor Arthur Phillip set out with a party including Captain Llieutenant Watkin Tench to search for arable land for growing crops. On the fifth day, they arrived at what was soon known as Prospect Hill because of its fine vistas and dominant position in the landscape. Settlement followed but quickly met with Aboriginal resistance. Attacks and counter attacks were occurring elsewhere in the colony. In a chapter called War on the Cumberland Plain, in her award winning book The Colony: A History of Early Sydney, associate professor Grace Karskens details the complexities of relationships that were emerging between Aboriginal groups and white settlers throughout this period. There was no simple racial divide, but a network of sympathies and conflicts between and among Aboriginal and white groups across the plains. Outstanding among the Aboriginal resistance fighters was Bidgigal man, Penmulwuy from the Botany Bay area whose defiant exploits took him to many locations around Sydney. In 1802, despite previous remarkable escapes, Pemulwuy was killed.

1-IMG_4708Grace Karskens writes that in 1805, Governor King reintroduced the strategy that had successfully eliminated Pemulwuy. “A few days later, Aboriginal people of Prospect, Parramatta and the Cowpastures asked (the Reverend) Samuel Marsden to attend a conference ‘with a view to opening the way to reconciliation’. A complex dance of diplomacy and negotiation followed, brokered by Aboriginal women with the assistance of  Prospect settler, Jonathon (also called John) Kennedy, When Marsden arrived at the appointed place, the women told him that the men were in conference and would be calling on him when they were ready. And they did: . . .” Skirmishes in the area died down, though they continued elsewhere, particularly where white settlements had destroyed access to indigenous food sources.

The peace talks were held on May 3, 1805. On Monday, May 4, 2015, the 210th anniversary of the talks, Marrong Reserve was officially launched by the Mayor of Holroyd, Greg Cummings and Darug Elder, Aunty Sandra Lee. The commemorative plaque acknowledged the contribution of resources for the establishment of the reserve from Lend Lease and Boral Resources (NSW) Pty Limited. A Holroyd Council media release stated that “Marrong Reserve provides recreational, cultural and visual amenity to the residents of Pemulwuy and surrounding areas, and is named after the Aboriginal word for Prospect Hill because it follows the ridgeline. . . . The Reserve will be dedicated to Council by land owner, Boral Resources (NSW) Pty Limited and developer, Lend Lease after a maintenance period. The northern section of Marrong Reserve has been completed as Stage 1 with the expectation that Lend Lease will develop the southern portion as Stage 2.”

1-IMG_4704As I walked through the misty rain on Marrong, I heard and saw currawongs, kookaburras, crested pigeons and little finches. The surrounding scrub looked like a metaphor for the symbolic nature of the hill itself. Introduced plants like lantana threatened to overwhelm native shrubs, but other native grasses and trees flourished and hardenbergias were resplendent in purple spring flowers. Clearly there is a lot more planned for the reclamation and maintenance of Marrong/Prospect as a focal point for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal intercultural understanding and respect. Martha Jabour, cultural officer for the new Cumberland Council, which has absorbed much of the former Holroyd and Auburn Councils, writes that “the treatment of Marrong is very much about the work of our ATSI committee. Recent forums and programs have been effective in bringing  additional Aboriginal partners to the process.”

With so much progress in little more than 20 years, it’s encouraging to think that the hotly contested North Parramatta Heritage Precinct might yet emerge as another example of honest Australian story telling, self knowledge, education and cultural tourism. Advocates are heartened by the outstanding 10 year record of achievement of Abbotsford Convent in Melbourne as a model for their future. Click here to see the video highlighted by North Parramatta Resident Action Group president Suzette Meade.

1-img_1706I arrived at the Pemulwuy Community Centre, just as William Barton and his mother Aunty Delmae Barton finished their performance for The Gathering Ceremony. Their audience was clearly uplifted by the experience. Thanks to Martha Jabour for her photo. By good fortune, the artists were present at the following night’s Worlds Collide concert and improvised with musicians in the first piece to the delight of the crowd. Sydney Sacred Music Festival program continues Sydney wide until September 18.

200th anniversary of the Appin massacre offers opportunity to reconsider

dailytele-Capt CookMost people probably saw or heard about the Daily Telegraph front page, March 29, which sent commentators into overdrive. Whitewash said the headline – UNSW rewrites the history books to state Cook “invaded” Australia. Some claimed it was political correctness gone mad. Others stated that the university’s guidelines had been around for 20 years and were just that – guidelines for student essay writing. SBS’s “Backburner” offered a satirical opinion piece under the title Outrage as University Teaches History Correctly. In The Guardian online, Paul Daley wrote It’s not politically correct to say Australia was invaded, it’s history. Paul Daley also wrote a story Lachlan Macquarie was no humanitarian – his own words show he was a terrorist.

Camden professional historian, Dr Ian Willis responded to the second story with a blog post Was Governor Lachlan Macquarie a Terrorist? The colonial frontier was a violent location,” he wrote, “and many people suffered and died. Colonialism wreaked havoc on many cultures around the globe. Was Governor Macquarie any better or worse than any other colonial administrator?” Ian considered the NSW colonial frontier and transportation, the colonial frontier wars in North America and elsewhere and the “Sugar Slaves” of Queensland and provided further related references. Among them was a link to the exhibition With Secrecy and Dispatch at Campbelltown Arts Centre. I found myself responding and then copying the response to the Professional Historians Facebook page.

ABC - Tharawal - Glenda Chalker“By chance I have just heard Ellen Fanning on ABC RN Life Matters, this morning, with Tharawal elder Glenda Chalker, reading and discussing Macquarie’s original documents at the State Library and with two historians, considering this proposition “was he a terrorist”. The issue at Appin (in April 1816 – [not 2016!]) was that the Tharawal people gave no “show of resistance” at all. It was 2 o’clock in the morning and the people were sound asleep, The fact that the military attacked in these circumstances, was quite contrary to British law and risked ending the captain’s career and Macquarie’s had it become known. Reporting was therefore oblique and secretive in style, as I understand it. The fact that Aboriginal bodies were beheaded and hung in high places to deter resistance and the heads sent to Scotland [not London], compares with the much condemned contemporary behaviour of Islamic extremists. Those heads were returned to Australia in 1991 and are currently held in a warehouse in Canberra. Dharawal elder Glenda Chalker, above, with the proclamation document ordering the Appin Massacre. (photo by Tracey Trompf on the Life Matters website)

“Arguments which seem to prevail at present,” I wrote, “are that colonial powers at the time were all behaving in similar ways, so this was no worse than any other. For Aboriginal people, context of the times is irrelevant. They did suffer from invasion and where they could, fought back. Australia’s colonial history is much more complex and nuanced than is frequently portrayed. We can’t change it, but we need to face up to it and recognise the continuing consequences to Aboriginal Australians. In an atmosphere of mutual respect, we have a great deal to learn from each other.”

Cataract DamSecretary of the Professional Historians Association, Dr Stephen Gapps, responded, “It’s certainly a 200th anniversary that not a lot of fuss will be made about. Come to the ceremony on 17th” – with a link to Federal MP Laurie Ferguson’s website. Under the heading 2016 Appin Massacre Memorial Ceremony, is written – “To honour the Dharawal people, the Winga Myamly Reconciliation Group is hosting a memorial to mark the 200th anniversary of the Appin Massacre – Sunday, April 17, 11am, Cataract Dam picnic area. The account given varies somewhat from the Life Matters story, though difficulty, until recently, in getting access to those particular Macquarie documents may well be the cause. Photo – the Cataract Dam as it appears on the website.

Dharawal descendants and supporters have held this annual memorial ceremony now, for 20 years and Ian Willis’s link to the Campbelltown Arts Centre exhibition is closely related. With Secrecy and Despatch has been developed as a response to the 200th anniversary of the Appin Massacre. New works were commissioned from six Aboriginal Australian artists and four First Nation Canadian artists and are shown alongside existing works by prominent Australian Aboriginal artists. Together these works explore themes of colonial brutality, conflict, identity, culture and memory. If you can’t make it to the memorial, a visit to the exhibition would provide time to reflect on history and contemplate the steps required to share the grieving and find a shared way forward as Australians.

Compelled by poor planning, Powerhouse Museum and North Parramatta campaigners join forces

1-NPRAG - SPM - Clock towerShared anger about the determination of the Baird Government to sell off “surplus” real estate has brought together advocates for the Powerhouse Museum to remain in Ultimo and those campaigning for a better vision for the North Parramatta heritage precinct. On Tuesday, March 29, a busload of museum supporters came from the inner city for a tour of the North Parramatta site, escorted by historian and former mental health nurse, Dr Terry Smith, with fellow historian and tour operator Judith Dunn. The event was arranged by North Parramatta Residents Action Group, supported by Parramatta Female Factory Friends.The visitors were stunned by the extraordinary history encompassed by the site, including evidence of 20,000 years of indigenous occupation, Governor Phillip’s 1788 campsite, links to Reverend Samuel Marsden’s farm operated from 1803 to 1840, and the first of the many incarnations, which began with the 1821 opening of the convict Parramatta Female Factory – now part of Cumberland Hospital. Some of the tour group, above, stand under the historic clock on Male Ward 1 (now the Institute of Psychiatry), built in the 1880s from the sandstone of the original Female Factory. Gay Hendriksen of PFF Friends, far left, Suzette Meade of NPRAG, third from left, Jamie Parker MP, fifth from right, and Patricia Johnson of SPM, to his left.

It was clear from discussion over lunch that the state government’s proposed move of the Powerhouse Museum to Parramatta did not originate in western Sydney. In fact for years the region has sought its own independent centre relevant to local, regional and national history, arts and culture. Apart from any other consideration, the cost of relocating the Powerhouse Museum from its present Sydney site to Parramatta would be far greater than the $200 million the government anticipates from the sale of the site. The primary reason for local acceptance of the proposed move to Parramatta is pragmatism. The western Sydney region receives such a small proportion of arts funding that locals are willing to accept something, rather than nothing at all. So much for Premier Mike Baird as Minister for Western Sydney!

1-NPRAG - SPM - Judith DunnThe visit ended with a declaration that both parties, from the east and the west of Sydney, would combine their enthusiasm and commitment to further the goals of both organisations. They would continue to meet in their common interests and acknowledged that there was no division and no elitism between the City of Sydney and the City of Parramatta, “despite government efforts to drive a wedge between them”. While thankful to find their own cause supported, Save the Powerhouse Museum campaigners were equally supportive of a more equitable share of arts funding for western Sydney. Above right, historian Judith Dunn explains the characteristics of a remnant wall of the Parramatta Female Factory. Convict and colonial architect, Frances Greenway had given instructions for a “rusticated” wall, with bevelled edges to the sandstone blocks, cut to shape and individually marked by convict labourers, she said. Trouble was, the bevels allowed enterprising women to climb over the wall and men to climb in. As a result, the top bevels had to be smoothed, as Judith is demonstrating here.

The future of the heritage precinct in Fleet St, North Parramatta has been the focus of many recent meetings. In mid-February, the Parramatta branch of the National Trust, under the leadership of Brian Powyer, revisited Brian’s address to last October’s symposium about creating an alternate vision for the site. The Challenge – Foundations, Enterprise, Destination outlined with careful detail, the steps required for sustainable tourism to the site that would generate substantial financial return, while integrating the needs of tourism, protection of the environment and heritage. Authenticity is a key demand of tourism, he said.

Three days later, members of the UrbanGrowth NSW’s Parramatta North Project team addressed a large gathering at an NPRAG meeting, attended by representatives of many community organisations, including the National Trust. In response to expressions of frustration from their audience, team members agreed there should have been continuing community consultation throughout 2015. UrbanGrowth will resume community information (not consultation) sessions, beginning Saturday, April 2, at Parramatta Town Hall, 10am to 1pm. They will be followed by two more sessions on April 5 and 6, from 6pm to 9pm. The team emphasised that decisions are ultimately made by their political masters and that they are the people to be lobbied. Team leader Tasha Burrell stated firmly that the Minister for the Arts has no interest in the site.

1-NPRAG - SPM - wallsAccompanied by slides, they discussed design thinking, heritage protection, and possible future management. Left, is a photo from the recent tour of a neglected site overlooking the Parramatta River. At the back is the sandstone wall of the Governor Gipps Courtyard, where a former gateway (now sealed off) allowed convict women access to the river. Adjoining the wall from the right is a brick wall, which enclosed the Parramatta Girls Home and which was increased in height with every escape and disturbance. While sympathetic with many community concerns, team members insisted that the project will lose money. Sale of much of the land for high rise development was an important option for financing the work needed and was reconcilable with the heritage and environmental needs of the site, they said. UrbanGrowth will shortly become interim owner of the site.

Later this year, the first development application goes to Parramatta Council. It will cover open space, infrastructure, subdivisions and include the conservation management plan. The Female Factory Precinct will not be included in the first DA, because there is still too much to be resolved. In addition, part is still under investigation as a crime scene. The second development application covering the core heritage precinct, landscape and public domain will be lodged in 2017. Brian Powyer urged the establishment of a formally recognised community consultative committee, clearly distinct from a community reference panel, which UrbanGrowth proposes later this year. It also proposes a heritage conference late in 2016.

A month later, Associate Professor Carol Liston spoke to Parramatta Female Factory Friends about her research into the backgrounds of the 25,000 convict women transported to NSW and Van Diemen’s Land until the mid-1850s. So far, there has been little more than anecdotal evidence, but many more records are now available online. Her fellow researcher is a statistician, who advises that until about 30% of the records have been investigated, it is not possible to generalise about the women. So far, their extensive investigations reveal that, by and large, the women were inventive and professional thieves, rather than prostitutes. They still have a great deal more evidence to sift.

1-Heritage Snapshot North ParraUrbanGrowth is currently reviewing a draft Heritage Snapshot booklet, right, which they circulated for public comment at NPRAG’s February meeting. Feedback means more time is required to check facts and perspectives on the history published. They hope that a final version will be available online by the end of April. It is an immensely interesting summary of 48 pages, providing on overview of Aboriginal history, early colonial and industrial enterprises, and the progressive development of the institutions, including the Female Factory, the Roman Catholic Orphan School, Parramatta Gaol, Parramatta Mental Hospital and the Norma Parker Correctional Centre for women. It includes maps, prints, photos, timelines, diagrams and discussion of cultural landscapes.

Although not intended, it’s difficult to avoid reading Heritage Snapshot as a powerful argument for a delay in any decision making about sale and development of the site, while so much more of its history is researched and wider discussion about its future is undertaken. In March, Bonney Djuric of Parragirls wrote “This month the Memory Project features on the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, New York. We have come a long way since 2006 when we first started and will continue to pursue our vision for the dedication and designation of the former Parramatta Girls Home and the adjacent Cumberland Hospital Female Factory site as a publicly owned cultural heritage destination.”

Powerhouse Museum.jpg - Jeremy PiperIt’s a big step forward and part of a much bigger vision for the site than just a small heritage oasis surrounded by high rise apartments. No wonder Jamie Parker MP summed up the meeting of members of Save the Powerhouse Museum, NPRAG and Parramatta Female Factory Friends by saying the “compelling nature of the issue of shoddy, hopelessly inadequate consultation”, by the state government has brought both groups together in “a unique alliance between the inner city and western Sydney”. They will continue to meet in a campaign for a review of both proposals. In little more than a year, NPRAG’s membership has grown to about 600. Above, is Jeremy Piper’s photo of the Powerhouse Museum, Ultimo.

If you would like to organise a group tour of the North Parramatta Heritage site, contact historian and tour guide, Judith Dunn – judith@pasttimestours.com.