‘You are the problem’ railed Michael Pascoe in a recent op-ed about the current imposition of heritage listings by local government authorities.
It prompted me to think about a piece I wrote in 2010 about the loss of Edwardian farming heritage on the urban-rural interface on Sydney’s edge. In that I expressed dismay at the loss of early 20th craftsmanship that was seen by decision makers as redundant and out of date. To be replaced by ubiquitous uninteresting modern boxes.
It is interesting that those who think outside the box can take a simple Edwardian cottage, with flair and patience, turn it into a modern family without devaluing the original craftsmanship that built it.
There is a distinct lack appreciation amongst many contemporaries of simple robust country farm cottages that, with imagination and patience, can be up-dated with contemporary fit-outs that suit the needs of the current homeowner.
Despite Pascoe’s outcries others have a different take on the story.
In 2010 Jonathon Chancellor noted (‘Fight to save Tilba underlines heritage neglect’, SMH 22/3/10) that many councils had ‘neglectful heritage lists’.
Even more damming, ‘heritage listing at the local level does not provide much protection at all’, wrote Graeme Aplin, from Macquarie University, in Australian Quarterly (May-June 2009).
‘What we have witnessed over the last five years is the systematic dismantling of heritage protection’, stated Sylvia Hale, Greens spokesperson on planning (‘Heritage at risk’, National Trust Magazine, Feb-Apr 2010).
In 2010 Camden Council approved the demolition (Camden Council, 23/3/10) of a simple 1890 Federation farm cottage known as Carinya at Harrington Park. The owner, Nepean Pastoral Company, sought to develop a 97 residential lot subdivision on the farm site.
The Harrington Park housing estate is now fully occupied by newly arrived families from the burbs who are probably completely unaware of the history of Carinya. They come with the own hopes, just as the Cross and Paxton families, who lived in Carinya cottage, did in an earlier generation.
The story of Carinya cottage fits within the Australian Historic Themes identified by the Australian Government (Australian Heritage Commission 2001). These are common national standards for identification and conservation of heritage places. Yet this did not save it from the demolisher’s hammer.
Australian’s have a genuine interest in their past and the story of their ‘historic’ homes. Witness ABCTV’s ‘Who’s Been Sleeping in My House’ and the efforts of what Adam Ford calls housetorians. He is able to ‘unlock the mysteries of the past’ and tell a good yarn about houses across Australia.
One homeowner Dorothy felt that Ford’s investigations increased her sense of attachment to place and her home. She stated
‘I feel like it has been a place that has nurtured and cared for a lot of people over the years. It’s cosseted us and cared for us’.
Dorothy’s husband Mark felt a sense of responsibility to the future occupants of the house. He stated
‘The house will be here long after I’ve gone and I’m just privileged enough to be living here for a period of time.’
These homeowners have a creative appreciation of the worth of the story embedded in their homes. They understand that they are participants in an unfolding history, by providing a new layer in the story.
For Pascoe this is part of the ‘creeping heritage disease [that] is making its way up through the decades’. This is an unfortunate view of the world, but not uncommon is a world driven by post-modernist individualism. A world where communities have lost their soul and inclusiveness. The dollar reigns supreme and does little to nurture the landscape.
In 2010 the developers of the Carinya sub-division were selling a dream. For some the dream is realised for others the new estates create a bland homogenised suburban streetscape with little charm or character.
The Carinya sub-division was part Sydney’s urbanization that, like an octopus, devours all in its path. Including ethical standards, community identity, sense of place and apparently local heritage and history.
The destruction of a simple charming 19th century farming cottages was unnecessary. Old and new can blend and add to the vibrancy and interest of emerging urban landscapes.
This is clearly illustrated in current fuss over the Camden Town Centre Strategy where there have been noisy disagreements between the Camden Community Alliance, Camden Chamber of Commerce and Camden Council. The complete lack of imagination and creativity in the council’s plans for the historic town centre have created a loud back-lash from resident and business owners alike.
The council seems to be blind to the possibilities that a creative use of history and heritage has in the urban landscape for tourism, business and the wider community. The pleadings of the Chamber of Commerce for a ‘prosperous’ business sector have fallen on deaf ears at council. Likewise the pleadings of the community for positive and deep engagement in the urban planning process in one of Sydney’s most sensitive and historic town centres.
Heritage values and good urban planning are not mutually exclusive as some commentators obviously think. But they do require patience, creativity, flair and community engagement from all stakeholders.
For the story of Yamba Cottage at Kirkham read the Kirkham article at the Dictionary of Sydney
Read more about the Town Centre Strategy decked car park proposal.
Read more about new subdivisions on the rural-urban fringe.
Read more about Camden’s Edwardian Cottages