“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


Angry residents to march on Sunday in protest at state government plans

NPRAG - march posterAngry residents and supporters will march on Sunday, June 5, to protest the NSW Government’s plans to demolish Parramatta Pool and develop the North Parramatta Heritage Precinct. Not only have these plans proceeded with minimal or no consultation (as with the pool), the government now controls the development approval role of Parramatta and other councils. In the process of amalgamating local governments, the state government has placed the new enlarged councils in the hands of government appointed administrators. There will be no local government elections until September 2017, so in the meantime, the NSW Government can ensure approval of its plans by councils. So much for democracy, while the fox looks after the hen house! Local schools, churches and community organisations are all supporting this event.

1-NPRAG - Jack MundeyOrganisers say “We will assemble in the carpark in front of the Pirtek Stadium at the lights of Victoria Road and O’Connell Street for a briefing before starting our walk with our banners.  We are really pleased to announce that Western Sydney Samba will be showing their community support by supplying us with cool beats to keep us marching. We will be escorted by safety marshalls waving our banners and chanting to save Parramatta’s community pool and green space from private development.  We will walk along O’Connell Street, and after Parramatta Leagues Club turn down Fennel Street, along Fleet Street to arrive at the Cumberland Oval in the Cumberland Hospital Precinct.” Jack Mundey, above, one of the union leaders who led the Green Bans of the 1970s, at last year’s community rally where extension of Green Bans over the entire Cumberland Hospital site was announced.

“For those that won’t be able to participate in the march please join us at the Oval at midday where the community will meet for some short inspirational speeches from community leaders. Afterwards you can help support First North Rocks Scouts who are fundraising for vital repairs for their hall and cooking on the BBQ to sell us a lovely sausage sizzle on the grounds. Bring your family, Bring your neighbours,  Bring your friends!

Parramatta North artist's impression 2Since the first “community consultations” conducted by UrbanGrowth NSW in November 2013 about the future of the North Parramatta Heritage Precinct, a tide of community concern has been growing. Initially, the “community” was represented by very few people and the options they could consider were strictly limited. The site was little known and largely hidden from public view in Fleet St, North Parramatta. Above, is an artist’s impression of the redeveloped sports field in the precinct.

The precinct is the site of some of Australia’s most important Aboriginal and colonial history, including the convict Parramatta Female Factory from the 1820s and the 1840s Roman Catholic Orphanage – subsequently the notorious Parramatta Girls Home. Many of the buildings on the site are currently in use by Cumberland Hospital, which is gradually transferring its mental health services to other locations. The 1840s Parramatta Gaol adjoins the site, but is not part of current considerations.

The state member for Parramatta, Dr Geoff Lee MP, says that NSW Government needs to sell most of the 30 hectares of land in the North Parramatta Heritage Precinct to fund the conservation of its heritage buildings. Sale of the first super lots will begin in 2017. Although adjustments have since been made, apartment blocks of 20 and 30 storeys high are still among proposals by UrbanGrowth for residential development.

Old Government House, ParramattaIf these proceed, one of the first consequences could be the loss of World Heritage status for Old Government House. On a recent Heritage Week walk with Brian Powyer, vice president of the National Trust NSW, Brian pointed to the northern view from just behind the house, which encompasses the North Parramatta site. Currently, it is a soft vista of grassy parklands, trees and the flow of Parramatta River. One of the conditions for maintaining World Heritage listing is that there should be no intrusion of multi-storey buildings into that view. Brian explained that it was only when Parramatta Council insisted that the multi-storey towers currently being constructed on the old DJ’s site be moved one metre back from the riverbank, to the east, that the status was granted in 2010.

Parramatta Council’s 2005 Arts Facilities and Cultural Places Framework was developed as a 10 year plan for the future provision of arts facilities and associated projects across the City of Parramatta. The first major venue was to be in Civic Place, the second was to use The Old King’s School and the third to be a mixed use site in the North Parramatta Heritage Precinct. Little has been heard of stage one. After years of lobbying by the local and regional arts community, The Old King’s School has been taken over by the NSW Department of Education. After 20 years of discussion initiated by the Carr Labor Government about arts facilities on the North Parramatta site, a community meeting in February this year was told by UrbanGrowth representatives that the Minister for the Arts was not interested in the site.

1-NPRAG - symposium panelNorth Parramatta Residents Action Group has been strenuously lobbying for a delay in planning, while the community draws up alternative proposals. With the support of the National Trust, Parramatta Chamber of Commerce and many other community organisations, they conducted a very successful symposium last year, above left, which heard from a broad range of experts. Brian Powyer continues to receive widespread support for his proposal that a formally recognised community consultative committee should be appointed to the North Parramatta Project. UrbanGrowth points out that they work under the instruction of their political masters. Advocacy for change must be directed at them. That’s what Sunday is about.

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.

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.

Parramatta Council is also concerned about a lack of heritage planning

N Parra - artist's impressionSince publishing this post yesterday, ABC Radio News has amended the report that was the origin of the post. At its meeting on Monday, July 13, Parramatta City Council was asked to support several motions about the North Parramatta Heritage Precinct. The motions were defeated by the casting vote of Lord Mayor Scott Lloyd. According to those present discussion of the motions revealed that the council was as concerned as many residents about the lack of any heritage plan in the state government’s proposal. The State Planning Minister, not Parramatta Council, will have the final say on the proposal as it is a state-significant development.

Parramatta Council made a submission to the Planning Department in February. The submission said it was not clear how heritage buildings would be restored as part of the overall development. It also raised concerns over inadequate transport modelling and the lack of detail about possible affordable housing on the site. An item in the Sydney Morning Herald, July 15, outlines the issues facing Parramatta of heritage conservation versus urban development.

A tide of protest has been rising against the government’s plans as groups like the North Parramatta Residents Action Group (NPRAG) have spread the word locally and nationally about the impact of the proposals. One of the most informed objectors, the National Trust, wasn’t even aware that the matter would be considered by the council last night.

1-IMG_3716Above is a romanticised view of UrbanGrowth NSW’s proposals for the site, which will intrude on existing heritage buildings and turn much of the open space into private enclaves. There are fears that in their haste to make money from developers and to accelerate the growth of “Australia’s next great city”, the council and the state government have overlooked the fundamentals of what makes a city livable and their own statements about the heritage importance of Parramatta’s historical sites. Click here for the council’s statement and here for the state government’s.

Fresh from a recent visit to New York, above is the first view from my window on the 27th floor revealing a diminutive old church spire amid more modern skyscrapers. My first thought was, “is that what we want for Parramatta?” Two 1-IMG_3787days later I found myself looking at the origin of the spire, left – the Church of St Francis of Assisi in West 31 St – a charming building almost completely overwhelmed by its surroundings.

Parramatta Council’s decision has attracted widespread media attention today. ABC Radio 702 – NPRAG committee member, Jason Burcher was interviewed for Linda Mottram’s morning program with updates in the news bulletins. Watch tonight as NPRAG President, Suzette Meade’s is interviewed – Channel 7 News at 6.00pm, and ABC 2 News at 7.00pm.

North Parramatta Residents Action Group’s membership is growing fast. Click here for a membership form and support their fight for better planning and care of Australia’s national heritage.