“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 –


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.
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


A time for reflection and optimism

Jeannie and Governor Marie BashirAs we now know, after 1909, you had only to be an Aboriginal girl to be taken from family and incarcerated  in the notorious Parramatta Girls Home. Jeannie Hayes was one of those girls, who also endured the vicious punishments of the former Hay Gaol, or Hay Institute. Here she is, left, at a much happier time years later, enjoying the moment as she wears the hat of then Governor of NSW, Marie Bashir, alongside her, at the Children’s Day, 2014. The event was organised by the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct – Memory Project. and the Governor was there to acknowledge the sufferings of the former girls and to plant a tree in the memorial garden. Thanks to Jeannie’s Facebook postings, we are being brought up to date and given time to reflect on developments about the site.

The first is her news of a Youtube video, Abandon All Hope – A History of Parramatta Girls Home compiled and presented by Parragirls founder Bonney Djuric, and made possible by a small grant from Parramatta City Council. It follows Bonney’s publication of her 2011 book of similar name in which she outlined the history of the girls home in the context of the development of child welfare legislation in New South Wales. They are both part of a broader project to ensure that the history of the home and its inmates will never be forgotten, while the buildings will be preserved and re-used to memorialise the girls’ experience within the colonial Parramatta Female Factory Precinct. The site is part of the North Parramatta Urban Transformation Project, currently under consideration by UrbanGrowth NSW. The transformation project is provoking strong community protest because of the speed at which the government is propelling planning.

Christina - ABCJeannie also posted a reminder of the life of Christina Green, also known as Christina Riley, who died last month. Chris was Bonney Djuric’s co-founder of Parragirls, which provides support and healing to former girls. Like Jeannie, Chris was of Aboriginal descent and a former inmate of the Parramatta Girls Home and Hay Institute. Christina was present when former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd delivered his Apology to Australia’s Indigenous Peoples in Federal Parliament, February 13, 2008. Her photo, above, accompanied an ABC news report by Eleanor Bell in 2009 – Forgotten woman finds peace from lost childhood.

A memorial to girls abused at the Parramatta Girls Home has just been announced by the State Government. Artists and designers will be invited to submit expressions of interest, with the successful applicant receiving $200,000 to develop the memorial in consultation with survivors.

Wagana - Honolulu FestivalMoving from gravity and reflection, Facebook has also carried plenty of good news from Wagana Aboriginal Dancers in the Blue Mountains. With the support of an ever growing number of families and friends they raised the funds to send four dancers to the 22nd annual Honolulu Festival earlier this month. It was clearly a very rewarding and exciting experience, right, sharing culture with other Pacific nations.

Wagana - BM Music FestivalShortly after their return, they took joyous part in last weekend’s Blue Mountains Music Festival. The importance of teaching and sharing culture with the children of their community is vividly illustrated here. It may be a mode of teaching that doesn’t attract government support, but Wagana is working with a natural and ancient tradition clearly enjoyed by the children.


Christina’s legacy reveals the ignorance of Alan Jones’ claim

Christina - St Joseph Hospital“Mum is finally at peace” – with these simple words, Christina Riley’s son marked the end of her long battle with illness, two days ago, at St Joseph’s Hospital, Auburn. Chris was also known as Christina Green. Her life was an extraordinary story of resilience and survival against almost insurmountable odds. Born of Wiradjuri and European parents, Chris was taken from her family at the age of three. There appears to have been no other reason than that she was Aboriginal. With Bonney Djuric, Chris was the co-founder of Parragirls in 2006, women who survived incarceration and abuse as teenagers in the notorious Parramatta Girls Home. In Bonney’s careful documentation of the emergence and evolution of the child welfare system in NSW, her book Abandon All Hope records that by 1909, the only reason needed for committal of Aboriginal girls to state care was “being Aboriginal”.

By the age of nine, after years of rape, torture and abuse at the hands of a foster family and with no memory of her birth family, Chris was taken into state institutional “care”. As she wrote in her recently published book, The Life of Riley, see below with Geoff Lee MP, “when human beings are Christina - Life of Riley launch 0914treated like filth, they lose their hope and their identity.” She was 13 when confronted with a crisis about who she was. At roll call, an officer “presented my first name, then surname, then two other surnames from my past foster parents, and ending with ‘whichever one you are’. Well that moment was a very embarrassing and dramatic 10 minutes of my life. I answered protesting she could use any name she bloody well liked, and walked off leaving everyone at assembly bewildered.”

Her “insubordination” set off a cycle of punishments and detentions at state institutions, including Parramatta Girls home. Eventually this led to three periods at the infamous Hay Institution for “the worst behaved, depraved, delinquent young girls in the state.” Amazingly, Chris survived the treatment meted out to her and with professional help, it took 25 years to write her book. It became the way she could eventually bring herself to look back at her past and try to understand why all this had happened to her. In the meantime, she became a foster carer to many children and mother to a family of her own. Her commitment to the protection of children and her later struggle to acquire an education were inspirational.

1-Christina - with granddaughter Oct 14As she reestablished links with her birth family, and worked with Bonney on the development of the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct: Memory Project, she put forward ideas for a memorial garden, an education and research centre, and recorded a video interview with Lily Hibberd which will have an important place as the proposals come to fruition. The site was an indigenous women’s place long before white colonisation and Chris was also developing a concept for Aboriginal cultural tourism. Increasing illness prevented her from furthering this idea, but she leaves a gift to the Australian community that will be increasingly recognised.

I am grateful that Chris could give the Acknowledgement to Country at the launch of my book in 2013.  Her extraordinary legacy of resilience and survival demonstrates the ignorance and injustice of radio shock jock Alan Jones’ recent tirade that “we need stolen generations”.

The photo above, taken 18 months ago, shows Chris in her favourite role, caring for one of her grandchildren. Rest in peace, Christina Riley.

Opposition strengthens to government plans for North Parramatta Precinct

Parramatta North artist's impression 2Is a decision taken by Parramatta Council last Monday night, December 7, enough to clear the fog of smoke and mirrors created by an announcement by the NSW Minister for Planning, Rob Stokes? On November 20, Mr Stokes announced that his department had approved UrbanGrowth’s revised application to rezone the Parramatta North Heritage Precinct. UrbanGrowth NSW manages state government land holdings and investment in transport infrastructure. The rezoning would provide “around 3,000 new homes and 2,000 new jobs over the life of the project,” he said. There would be some adjustments to proposed new building heights, particularly those adjacent to heritage buildings and the addition of a design excellence clause to ensure future architectural quality of the area.

The artist’s impression above is one of several constantly used to publicise UrbanGrowth’s proposals, showing a romanticised view of the former playing field, which is unlikely to remain publicly accessible. High rise buildings in the background are scarcely visible. North Parramatta Residents Action Group (NPRAG) President Suzette Meade responded, “It’s another case of ‘second best for the west’ – being told we have to self fund our heritage restoration and cultural amenities- when Sydney city gets massive government funding for the Art Gallery, White Bay and Macquarie Street without selling Hyde Park or the Domain for residential apartments.”

According to a Sydney Morning Herald report “Mr Stokes said key archaeological investigations at the site would start immediately, followed by the repair and conservation of heritage buildings. There has been no decision yet on how restored heritage buildings will be used. The sale of the first sites is expected to take place in 2017, and although the land has been rezoned, development applications will still need approval from the NSW Heritage Office and Parramatta Council.”

NPRAG - postcard campaignInitially, the announcement sounded like a genuine reduction from 4,000 to 3,000 new dwellings. Then NPRAG identified the claimed 30% reduction in the rezoning approval is due to 30% of the land (approximately nine hectares) being withheld from the proposal for submission later. Among the National Trust’s concerns is “that the archaeology, historic buildings and landscape of the Cumberland Hospital, Female Factory, Wistaria Gardens, Parramatta Gaol and the former Roman Catholic Orphan School be conserved and protected intact and interpreted to serve as a much needed passive recreation area and historic/arts precinct”. Above is a copy of the recent postcard expressing community opposition to the government’s proposal, hundreds of which were submitted on the last sitting day of parliament by members of NPRAG.

By a clear majority, Parramatta Council voted to call on the government to reverse the decision to re-zone the Parramatta North Heritage Precinct. Councillors voted to “pause any urban renewal process of the site for six months for genuine and transparent consultation with the community, stakeholders and Parramatta City Council about the future of the site. This should include exploration of any alternate visions for the site.” The decision has the support of Parramatta Chamber of Commerce and gives clear support to the position taken by NPRAG.

Community opposition to the rezoning and development of the site is almost universal. The exception is Parragirls – Parramatta Female Factory Precinct, which broke away from the Parramatta Female Factory Friends in 2006, angry and frustrated that their contemporary experience of incarceration in the notorious Parramatta Girls’ Home within the same precinct was not acknowledged. There is demonstrable continuity between the harsh and often abusive management of 19th century female convicts and 20th century Parragirls. “Exposed to Moral Danger” was a frequent charge against both.  Artist and former “Parramatta Girl”, Bonney Djuric, has led the fight for recognition for a decade and won support from a wide range of institutions, including Manning House, Canberra, and UNSW Shopfront.
PFFP - artist team 0114They launched the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct: Memory Project in 2013 – “a social history & contemporary art project bringing together artists, historians, academics & Parragirls to document, record & interpret the history and heritage of the site and the institutional experience.” Above left are key members of the Memory Project team, digital artist Mike Chin, left, Parragirls Jeanie Hayes and Bonney Djuric, Aboriginal artist Leanne Tobin, playwright Alana Valentine and artist and teacher Liz Day.
Parragirls work to heal, educate and memorialise, and have developed the long term goal that the precinct should become Australia’s first Site of Conscience. This year, they have won a project grant from the expanded NSW arts funding program for a collaborative project titled Living Traces: activating and archiving the graffiti traces and memories of Parramatta Girls Home. “Parragirls, former occupants of the home, will be engaged with the production together with leading artists, specialist historians and academics.” Bonney Jeannie with Governorbelieves that the sale and redevelopment of the site is necessary to fund the preservation of the heritage. Others don’t agree. Sites of similar size like Melbourne and Sydney’s Botanic Gardens, and community centres like Melbourne’s Abbotsford Convent, don’t require residential development to attract visitors and provide an important oasis for communities around them. Left, Jeannie Hayes is embraced by then NSW Governor Marie Bashir as they stand in front of Jeannie’s art during the 2013 Children’s Day at the former Parramatta Girls Home.
It seems that the vision espoused by Parragirls already finds support from Parramatta Council and the other community organisations. A heritage, arts and cultural precinct is a common goal for all of them and a symposium conducted by NPRAG, supported by the National Trust, in October, began the process of presenting a series of carefully considered alternate visions for the site. Community opposition to the state government’s proposal grows increasingly powerful and Parramatta Council’s decision is an important milestone. If you pay $5 membership fee before the next meeting of North Parramatta Resided Action Group on December 16, you can attend the meeting, hear how the campaign is developing and play your own part.

Sense of urgency grows for North Parramatta Heritage following election result

Save the Female Factory petitionA sense of urgency has descended on members of North Parramatta Residents Action Group after the return  of sitting Liberal state member Dr Geoff Lee, following Saturday’s state election. They fear he has ignored their request for the reopening of the Parramatta North Urban Renewal  process. The area includes nationally important heritage sites. The Parramatta Female Factory site is world significant and the earliest surviving convict female factory site in Australia, predating all but three of the current World Heritage Convict Sites. Click here to watch a video where historians and Parramatta Female Factory Friends, led by Gay Hendriksen, second from right in the photo above, argue that the only way to ensure the site’s survival is World Heritage Status. You can sign their petition to the Federal Minister for the Environment and share it with others.

North PNPRAG rally protestarramatta Resident Action Group is seeking at least 6 months  further consultation where the consultation is driven by the interests of the site and the community and not by what seems a predetermined agenda. They want transparency and independence that allows for broader expert and community engagement towards the development of a Built Heritage Management Strategy and Master Plan as originally conceived. The 32 hectare Cumberland site, part of a total 146 hectares of historic Parramatta lands in public ownership, includes 200 year old buildings which housed the colonial convict Female Factory, the 1840s Roman Catholic Orphanage, the Parramatta Girls’ Home, Parramatta Lunatic Asylum (now Cumberland Hospital), playing fields, gardens and riverbank walks.

1-IMG_3232At a public rally organised by the action group on February 21, Dr Lee acknowledged that he had been inspired by the site’s historic treasures when escorted on a tour by Gay Hendriksen, shortly after his election to the NSW parliament in 2011. He recognised the opportunities for heritage-driven tourism and publicly spearheaded the consultation process in November 2011. It appeared to promise a sympathetic urban renewal process allowing residential development harmonious with the heritage environment, public access and enjoyment of the site. Pictured above is the current gradual demolition by neglect of the portico of an historic building in the Female Factory complex.

1-Nth Parra RAG FINAL FLYER  - Plans submittedThe action group was mobilised into existence little more than two months ago, when the impact of development proposals for the government owned historic site began to be understood. Public land was to be rezoned and sold off to private developers to build more than 4000 units of up to 30 storeys. New developments would overwhelm the heritage sites and destroy the ambience. This was nothing to do with a harmonious setting for some of Australia’s most important heritage. Left, an image drawn from the proposals and published by NPRAG on its February public rally flyer.

It has since transpired that former Minister for Planning and Environment Pru Goward granted an extended time to respond to the current UrbanGrowth NSW proposal as exhibited before Christmas. No date has been provided for the extension, there is nothing on the DoPE website about this extension, nor has Dr. Lee provided any indication as to how the extension is to be advertised to the general public. Nonetheless, you are encouraged to send submissions by email to information@planning.nsw.gov.au or by post to Department of Planning and Environment GPO Box 39 Sydney NSW 2001, and share this information with others.

PFFP EMD - Bonney escorts visitorOf course, NPRAG is not alone in its concern for the site. Since the 1950s, the National Trust has been advocating the care and conservation of buildings on the Cumberland site. Click here to see the trust’s position paper Vision for North Parramatta. Many individual historians have been researching aspects of the history and the Parramatta Female Factory Friends have been advocating preservation. Another group of former teenaged inmates of the Parramatta Girls’ Home, led by artist Bonney Djuric, has spent more than a decade fighting to record the history of their own traumatising experiences and to heal some of the damage done while in the “care” of the state run institution. Left, facing camera, Bonney Djuric escorts a visitor through Bethel during last year’s exhibition Exposed to Moral Danger. Right, a visitor traces names and comments carvedPFFP EMD - tracing messages by girls held in solitary confinement.

The former girls are a vital living link to the brutal history of the site. The continuity of modes of control, discipline and punishment from the Female Factory days is undeniable – removal of babies from their mothers, physical and sexual abuse, numbingly repetitive domestic activities, hair cropping and solitary confinement for those considered most recalcitrant. The Parramatta Industrial School for Girls, also known as the Girls’ Home, was established in 1887 and continued to operate until 1974. Girls admitted were frequently deemed “exposed to moral danger”. Their crime? Poverty, deprivation, victims of abuse, neglect, runaways and only the occasional criminal. From 1909, being Aboriginal was sufficient reason for girls to be removed from families, so that Aboriginal children made up a disproportionate 7% to 10% of inmates.

Christina - Life of Riley launch 0914Parragirls was established in 2006 by former Parramatta Girls, led by Bonney Djuric and former Aboriginal inmate Christina Riley, to provide a contact register and support network for former occupants of the home and their families. Bonney established a comprehensive website and events were successfully organised. After a fortuitous meeting in 2011 with artist Lily Hibberd, who was already working on a project Benevolent Asylum, Bonney and Lily began to explore and develop the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct: Memory Project. “Important to both of us,” Bonney says, “was coming up with a new mode 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, or footnotes.” The exhibition Exposed to Moral Danger, above, was part of the Memory Project and the launch of Christina’s powerful memoir Life of Riley. Left, Geoff Lee with Christina at her book launch, during the Wistaria Festival, Cumberland Hospital, September 2014. The ultimate goal is for the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct to become Australia’s first National Site of Conscience.

A public forum Protect our Heritage, will be held in St Patrick’s Cathedral Hall, 1 Marist Place, Parramatta, Wednesday, April 8, at 6pm. Federal member for Parramatta, Julie Owens and local residents will discuss the proposed North Parramatta Urban Renewal project and show 3D images of the development proposals. Your participation will be welcome. RSVP by clicking here.

1-Save the Female Factory forum-001

Hands off our assets – history matters in Parramatta. Take a tour

NPUR Our future needs our pastSupport for the public rally in North Parramatta next Saturday, February 21, is growing steadily. Residents have been out letter boxing, talking to the media and contacting political representatives and candidates. Although the recently formed North Parramatta Residents’ Action Group is a non-political community organisation, members are disappointed that so far, neither the Liberal state MP, Dr Geoff Lee, nor any representative of the coalition government has accepted an invitation to attend. Geoff Lee played a prominent role in promoting his government’s plans for North Parramatta Urban Renewal and in opening community consultations. Above, a young resident’s T shirt says it all –  Hands off our assets – history matters in Parramatta. Our future needs our past.

The purpose of the meeting is to request the Minister for Planning, Pru Goward, to place the planning process on hold for at least six months. More time is needed to address the site’s national significance, draw it to public attention and engage many more community members in contributing and responding to plans. The site has been largely hidden from public view for the last 200 years, because it was the site of incarceration and punishment of women and children from the earliest days of the colony, and later a lunatic asylum. Some of the buildings on the site date from the 1820s, with remnants of some by the first government architect, convict Francis Greenway.

NPUR - proposed redevelopmentThere are two main parts to the event in the Lions Club Hall, starting at 1pm, 42A Ross St, North Parramatta. The first is the presentation of information at stations in the hall:

  • Hands off our Assets – Parramatta War Memorial Swimming Pool, loss of public land/parkland
  • Press Pause – Reopen consultation and why
  • The Heritage site and World Heritage Listing relevance
  • Infrastructure/traffic issues/impact on locals
  • A virtual tour of site and proposal, left

The second is a series of speakers beginning with former NSW Premier and minister for the arts, Nathan Rees, and including former “Parramatta girl” and leading advocate for the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct, Bonney Djuric. The media will be present and a sausage sizzle available. Don’t be deterred if it’s raining – just bring an umbrella.

Parramatta Female Factory - c1826 - Augustus EarleOn the following Saturday, February 28, at 3pm, you have the opportunity to tour through the Parramattta Female Factory Precinct with local historian, Judith Dunn OAM. This will be followed by a barbecue and refreshments in Parramatta Park. You need to be aware that it is also a fundraising event for the local branch of the ALP, but if you are interested, phone 0412 687 547, email reedav@optus.net.au, or click here for bookings and more detail. Above, Parramatta Female Factory, circa 1826, by Augustus Earle, as published on the promotional flyer.

Proposed North Parramatta changes could switch off heritage protections

Today, December 19, is the deadline for submissions about proposals for the North Parramatta Urban Renewal site. An urgent email from Bonney Djuric of the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct asks everyone to sign a petition requesting that the deadline be extended, at least until February 27, 2015.

1-PFFP - Silent Systems launchShe writes – “Proposed changes to planning controls pose a very real threat to the historic sites of the CUMBERLAND PRECINCT including the Parramatta convict Female Factory & Penitentiary for 1821 -1848 and the Parramatta Lunatic Asylum (now Cumberland Hospital); the Roman Catholic Orphan School – Australia’s first purpose built orphanage for Catholic children established in 1844 and re-purposed in 1887 as the Parramatta Girls Home and later as the Norma Parker Periodic Detention Centre for Females (1980-2010); Parramatta Gaol operating from 1842 until decommissioned in 2011.

“Changes to planning controls will allow the NSW Government to declare Parramatta North a site of State Significance effectively nullifying heritage and environmental protections enshrined in State Legislation. With these protections ‘switched off’ this would pave the way for excessive and unsympathetic development with rezoning for mixed use, commercial and residential development.”

Click here to sign the petition circulating through change.org.

In the photo above, Dr Geoff Lee, state MP for Parramatta, left, with Bonny Djuric and Professor Paul Ashton of UTS.