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.


Western Sydney Frontier – does this blog have a future?

1-IMG_4548Have you ever read posts on this blog and thought how they could be further developed? Feedback has suggested there could be more critical depth to the story telling and discussion encouraged of ideas and creative proposals. A continuously updated “what’s on” section, space for reviews of exhibitions, performances, events, books etc, and listing of opportunities – workshops, auditions, employment? Feature items by invited contributors?

Well, now is your chance. By the end of this year I will have reached the age of 75 and would like to pull back from my current engagement. Having a range of contributors would greatly increase the value of the blog, but would require clearly developed policy, shared management and editorial responsibility and more sophisticated technology. A multi-platform website may be one answer and/or a collaborative blogging platform. Clearly, this needs skilled advice. If Western Sydney Frontier is now superseded by other blogs and websites, I am happy to let it wind down and just deliver occasional posts myself.

NPRAG rally T shirtIn the meantime, it’s worth considering some facts. Two subjects which have attracted the largest response are those around Aboriginal experience (see Appin Massacre 200th anniversary commemoration, photo above) and national heritage issues particularly the convict Parramatta Female Factory Precinct in North Parramatta, left, and the former Parramatta Girls Home.

What has been the response since the launch of Western Sydney Frontier in February 2014? WordPress statistics seem to be a bit contradictory, e.g. in recording Facebook links, but the broad figures seem consistent. There are only about 100 followers – people usually “follow” in response to a particular story, whereas the broad reach of the blog across the region and across art forms is usually too broad for most readers – in its present form, anyway. At the time of writing there have been 12,000 visitors in two and a half years and 18,500 views. Best total views in one day – 263, Feb 11, 2016 – Confront the racist crap and create real change – though WordPress later credited those figures to a different story. The vast majority of visits come from within Australia, but views are recorded from a multitude of different countries. 144 posts have been published and 103 comments recorded in response – the reply facility on this particular blog design (Twenty Eleven theme) is disappointingly obscure, so that conversations that begin, rarely have the chance to develop.

What is the anecdotal feedback? Feedback is mostly verbal and generally enthusiastic, though infrequent. Those who are the subjects of stories, usually express great appreciation and share the stories through Facebook, Twitter etc. There are plenty of others who share the links through social media, too. As you know, there is such a plethora of online information and comment, it can be hard to register in the public mind.

If you would like to reply with comments or suggestions – preferably about what you would do, not what I should do, please click on the Leave a reply link at the bottom of the post, click on the Join In page under the blog’s header, or message me or comment under the link on the Passion Purpose Meaning Facebook page. Many thanks.

william+barton+sacred+musicIn the meantime, some of the best developments occurring across the region are represented in the opening events of the 2016 Sydney Sacred Music Festival. Director Richard Petkovic has worked in partnership with Cumberland Council’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Consultative Committee. “Come and see Sydney in a 360 degree panoramic view and be part of The Gathering Ceremony, on Friday, September 2, at 2pm.” he says. “Featuring internationally acclaimed artist, William Barton, above, The Gathering Ceremony will bring together the local Aboriginal community to relaunch Marrong (Prospect Hill) as a significant place of culture for Aboriginal people. A place of spirit, a place of the Crow (Pemulwuy’s totem).”

On the following night, at 7pm, Sydney Sacred Music Festival launches Worlds Collide – Eight Storeys High, Seven Cultures, One Amazing New Sound – A live multimedia performance of contemporary world and electronic dance music on Wentworth Street Carpark in Parramatta’s CBD. Here is a short video promo of the music element

Richard says, “The roofworlds+collide+sacred+music+festival top will be transformed into an artistic wonderland, featuring art installations by Khaled Sabsabi, Marian Abboud and Ghasan Saaid, video projections, interactive dance workshops and the world premiere of the Arts NSW funded, Worlds Collide ensemble. Worlds Collide brings together the best world musicians in Sydney and fuses the South Asian Underground beats of Coco Varma’s Sitar Funk, the acoustic world fusion of the Shohrat Tursun Trio; Latin music legend Victor Valdes; soaring vocals of Blue Mary’s Maria Mitar and the hip hop rhymes of Mt Druitt’s Esky the Emcee, all under the direction of music producer and composer Richard Petkovic (Cultural Arts Collective).

Worlds Collide will invite the audience to move their bodies, from meditative drones and sacred African chants to full on dance beats with soaring vocals and hip hop rhymes, this performance is designed to take the listener on a journey into the new sound of multicultural Australia.” Program details and bookings.

Despite the setbacks, Parramatta heritage is on a winning streak

NPRAG members Brett Evans and Inara MolinariThe chance that North Parramatta heritage might be rescued from rampant development sponsored by the NSW Government is increasing by the minute. Federal Minister for the Environment Greg Hunt has just announced a two year assessment of the Parramatta Female Factory precinct for National Heritage listing, click here. The campaign to collect 10,000 signatures on a petition to force a debate about the future of North Parramatta in the NSW Parliament is within striking distance of its goal. NPRAG members, Brett Evans and Inara Molinari, right, are collecting signatures today at Parramatta Farmers Market.

• You can sign the petition here
• Scan a copy of your completed petition to NPRAG at
• Post the original copy (required by Parliament) to the address listed on the petition ASAP

After many years of campaigning by disparate groups, the threat posed by the NSW Government to the nation’s heritage has mobilised all these forces to activate a national Parramatta Female Factory - c1826 - Augustus Earleand coordinated campaign. It is still gathering momentum. First there was the arrant nonsense of “community consultation” launched in November 2013 by the government’s development arm UrbanGrowth NSW. In only six months the consultations apparently moved from a blank slate to an outline plan for 4,000 new apartments on 31 hectares of land. The only option for those being “consulted” was where to place the proposed new buildings – some up to 30 storeys high. There seemed little relationship to the community’s stated priorities during “consultations” of heritage protection, adaptive reuse for commemorative and creative purposes, and environmental sustainability. Above, Augustus Earle’s depiction of the Parramatta Female Factory c1826.

Then there was the release of the draft master plan on December 19, 2014, just before Christmas, with only three weeks in which to respond. This absurdity only fueled community anger at the impossibility of analysing thousands of pages of proposals. A few dedicated souls did. The only response initially to alarm at the lack of any heritage conservation masterplan seemed to be “Trust me, I’m a politician – of course we will protect the heritage, after we have raised the funds from selling the land.” It didn’t go down well. Use this blog’s search facility (top right hand corner above the blog title), “Parramatta Female Factory”, if you want more information about actions to date.

1-IMG_4086You don’t have to look any further than another part of the Parramatta local government area for an excellent model of what can happen when a major heritage site is treated respectfully. On the Parramatta campus of the University of Western Sydney, historic buildings are conserved and thoughtful designs allow for adaptation and effective re-use. Right, the Female Orphan School, opened in 1813, and was designed by Governor Macquarie’s wife Elizabeth, with convict architect Francis Greenway. The pair also worked on designs for the Parramatta Female Factory and St John’s Church, Parramatta.

1-IMG_4085Restoration of the orphan school took more than a decade and reopened in 2013 as the Whitllam Institute and art galleries. Left is the interior of the entrance hall, where a modern staircase follows the outline of much earlier stairs and exposed original wall surfaces reveal something of its previous usage. The Female Orphan School is not to be confused with the Roman Catholic Orphan School in the North Parramatta precinct, which opened in 1844. Church authorities were concerned that children, especially of Irish convict women, were not receiving the church education deemed desirable through the Protestant run Female Orphan School.

1-IMG_4059There are many neglected buildings in the North Parramatta heritage precinct, which were designed by NSW Government architect Walter Liberty Vernon, including a former laundry, right, hospital wards and admission centre. By contrast, Vernon buildings on the university campus, have been carefully restored. They represented the philosophic change in psychiatric care, when they were part of Rydalmere Hospital for the Insane, 1888 to 1985,

1-IMG_4076The Vernon Buildings now house the university’s School of Business, left, and a heritage marker notifies the Vernon Building Heritage Walk, with informative graphics and background notes. There are many other similar markers throughout the grounds. The former boiler house and steam laundry were destroyed by fire in the years between vacating the hospital and the establishment of the university campus in 1995. But they are the foundation of a contemporary Boiler House Restaurant and Cafe, below, and remnants of the boiler mechanism provide dramatic sculptures in the grounds.

1-IMG_4079The university offers many opportunities for the general public, as well as students and staff, to visit the site and familiarise themselves with its history or participate in events. You can find a self-guided Parramatta Campus Heritage Walk by clicking here and further information by exploring the website. The Boiler House restaurant and cafe overlooked the colorful stalls of Student Clubs Week, right, which ended yesterday.

It is just under 18 months since this blog was first published. Last week it passed the milestone of more than 10,000 views. Most have been from Australia, but it has attracted views from many different countries around the world.

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, or click here for bookings and more detail. Above, Parramatta Female Factory, circa 1826, by Augustus Earle, as published on the promotional flyer.

Get your own copy of George Basha’s CONVICT

1979493_10152047342291395_1452095453_n[1]George Basha has announced that his film CONVICT will be releasing on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital on April 9th at all JB-HI FI and SANITY stores. Convict met with such success on its release in January at Riverside Theatres, Parramatta, that the season was extended twice.

As independent film makers and actors, this is George’s second venture with co-director David Field.

If you saw Convict and loved it, this is your chance to have a copy of your own. If you missed it in the theatre, this is your chance to to see the local talent it embraced and their brilliant use of Parramatta Gaol as a setting.

CONVICT packs a powerful punch

Congratulations to George Basha and David Field, co-directors and lead actors, on their latest film Convict. Written and developed with passion and sincerity, Convict  has an underlying message that is clearly antiviolence. It also appeals for understanding of the traumas and dilemmas faced by an Australian born soldier fighting an enemy in a country akin to his family’s homeland. I admired The Combination and now Convict made primarily in the old Parramatta Gaol and which I saw January 22. With a strong cast Convict is high energy and makes fantastic use of the gaol’s grim setting. It has, however, a cartoonish quality in its repetitive violent imagery and script. George knows his audience and they responded enthusiastically. Riverside has twice extended the season, but with a more nuanced approach, George deserves to reach a wider audience.



Thanks to Professional Historians Association Blog editor, here is the latest post about the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct: Memory Project and its connections to the current Royal Commission. The PHA blog also provides links to related sites.

On 31 January, Bonney Djuric posted on Facebook “See ABC 7.30 Report NSW, tonight Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse Parramatta Girls Home”. For over a decade, the former “Parramatta Girl” Bonney has been leading a movement to research and understand the impact of poverty and the child welfare system, as well as to work for system reform and healing for those whose lives were damaged during their time in the institution. This includes the preservation of the Parramatta Girls Home and the adjacent colonial Female Factory site and its dedication as a living memorial to the Forgotten Australians and others marginalised by society.

Bonney’s argument is that Australia’s convict legacy had an influence on its welfare system. The decades of transportation shaped ideas and beliefs about females who could be charged and committed to institutions for being ‘Exposed to Moral Danger’; a charge which did not apply to males. Not even two per cent of the inmates at Parramatta Girls Home, which operated from 1887 to 1986, had been charged with a criminal offence.

In 2007, Bonney contacted UTS Shopfront, the University of Technology Sydney’s gateway to the community. She wanted help in compiling a history of the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct. Since then, Parragirls and Shopfront have worked on several projects. Their fourth is the PFFP Memory Project: trace, place, identity, which aims to preserve the precinct’s history and turn it into an internationally recognised Site of Conscience.

With support from Arts NSW, the PFFP Memory Project is presenting a Children’s Day on site on 9 March 2014. And in May Riverside Theatre will present Parramatta Girls by Alana Valentine. The play tells of the courage, hardship and inequality the Parramatta girls experienced.

The photo (by Mike Chin) shows The Memory Project’s core team: artist, Mike Chin, former Parramatta Girls – Jeannie (Gypsie) Hayes and Bonnie Djuric, indigenous artist and teacher Leanne Tobin, playwright Alana Valentine and artist and teacher Liz Day.