By members of the Heritage subcommittee, Bulletin 7/2023, September
Subcommittee members in 2022-23 were Lydia Bushell, Margaret Cody, Lyn Collingwood, Brian Fuller, Rodney Hammett, Allan Hogan, Ted McKeown, Jude Paul and Margaret Sankey. The Heritage Subcommittee meets on the first Monday of the month from 7pm-9pm and any member of the Society who shares a passion for the history, enhancement and preservation of Glebe and Forest Lodge’s proud past is most welcome to join.
The primary interests of the Subcommittee include the impact and application of State and local regulatory controls regarding the heritage of our suburb, research, documentation of the history of Glebe and Forest Lodge and informing and supporting our community in the appreciation of this.
Review of the NSW Heritage Act 1977 – Heritage Act revisited
This time last year, Brian Fuller reported on the NSW government’s review of the Heritage Act 1977. Even by NSW government standards, this review appears to have been spectacularly unproductive.
According to the Department of Planning and Environment website, the government is still ‘considering’ how to implement the findings of the Legislative Council’s Standing Committee on Social Issues published in October 2021 – nearly two years ago. Of course, there has been an election and a change of government in the meantime; but still …
Meanwhile, the 26 reforms recommended by the Standing Committee to ‘improve the operation and system of the Act more widely, to be more responsive to the needs of heritage owners and to deliver important heritage conservation outcomes’ appear to be languishing in the Minister’s in-tray.
On 24 July this year, the Sydney Morning Herald published an editorial criticising the Department of Planning and Environment and the Heritage Council as ‘weak and largely asleep on the job’, based on a damning report by the NSW Auditor-General.
The highest level of heritage protection in NSW is a listing on the State Heritage Register. Any such listing recognises that a place or object has significance for all of NSW. The listing is made under the Act by the Minister for Planning and Environment at the recommendation of the Heritage Council. So far, so good. And the Act goes on to provide several requirements if the owner wishes to make any alteration or change to an item listed on the State Heritage Register.
But what if the owner of such an item does nothing to conserve it? Who is responsible for maintaining or conserving a property listed on the State Heritage Register? Division 5 of the current Act addresses the problem of ‘demolition by neglect’ by referring to minimum standards of maintenance and repair, the offence of not maintaining and repairing in accordance with these minimum standards and allows orders to be given to owners of State Heritage listed properties to remedy this failure. However, these provisions are rarely used and on the whole neither the Minister nor the Heritage Council seems to be unduly fussed about a listed property or object being demolished by neglect – even if the property or object concerned is owned by the government itself.
There are three listed properties and structures in and around Glebe that are of particular concern to the Glebe Society. Two of them are government-owned – Glebe Island Bridge and the Glebe and Wentworth Park Railway Viaduct. The third, the Bidura House Group, is no longer in government hands, having been sold to a private developer. To view the comprehensive entries, including statements of significance and recommendations for conservation, for all three of these items, see:
- Glebe Island Bridge: https://www.hms.heritage.nsw.gov.au/App/Item/Viewitem?itemid=5051118
- The Viaduct: https://www.hms.heritage.nsw.gov.au/App/Item/Viewitem?itemid=5045444
- Bidura: https://www.hms.heritage.nsw.gov.au/App/Item/Viewitem?itemid=5063601
To date, our representations in relation to these items have fallen on deaf (or impotent) ears.
Glebe Island Bridge
The bridge is clearly in a parlous state. The Glebe Society has advocated for many years that it should be restored and reopened exclusively (and safely) for use by cyclists and pedestrians, a use recommended by the Heritage Council itself. This would provide an off-road link to cycle routes already in place with direct access to the city. Yet the bridge appears to be derelict. We are told it would now be very expensive to restore it, and that is no doubt true, but we are also told that it would cost at least as much to demolish it. The planning for Bays West includes the objective of restoring the bridge as an active transport connection to Pyrmont but provides no timeline for when this might occur. (Meanwhile, the government is proceeding with costly plans to permanently superimpose a cycleway on a relatively narrow but major Glebe arterial vehicular thoroughfare.)
Glebe and Wentworth Park Railway Viaduct
The viaduct is also owned by the government but utilised by Transdev Australasia as part of the Central to Dulwich Hill light rail system. Transdev acknowledges that it is responsible for the maintenance of the viaduct but seems to think that its obligation only extends to maintaining it in a safe condition for trams.
The Society has pointed out to Transdev that the brickwork on the heritage-listed viaduct has been significantly damaged by weeds growing between the bricks and forcing them out of alignment. The solution to this problem is to remove the weeds, remove and replace the damaged bricks, and repoint the mortar. The only response to us was an undertaking to remove the weeds as part of ‘routine maintenance’, which it has so far failed to do. The message that the work required is considerably more than that seems to have been lost in translation.
And now it seems to be impossible to contact Transdev about anything other than the operation of its transport services. If you now try to respond to one of its emails, all you get is an error message.
We have pointed out to the Heritage Council that the original Blacket house is clearly falling into disrepair. There are slipped slates on the roof which is causing water damage, some of the shutters are falling off and the front fence and garden are a disgrace. The property is vacant.
Despite its powers, and indeed obligations, to ensure that a property listed on the State Heritage Register is conserved and maintained, a staff member of the Heritage Office advised the Heritage Subcommittee that it would not intervene at Bidura while there was an undetermined Development Application. The process with the Bidura DA is unusually complex and has been undetermined for eight years! In the meanwhile, this important building deteriorates.
So, all in all, we would have to agree with the Sydney Morning Herald and the Auditor-General that the Department of Planning and Environment and the Heritage Council are ‘weak and largely asleep on the job’. (See the separate article in this month’s Bulletin).
Development Applications (DAs) cover a very broad spectrum of proposed changes to a building/site, ranging from plans for minor alterations to plans to increase the variety and density of residential housing options.
Much of Glebe/Forest Lodge is classified as a Heritage Conservation Area. The City of Sydney’s Heritage Development Control Plan (DCP 2012) outlines the requirements for proposed changes and includes a comprehensive list of scenarios for additions/extensions, building materials, retail shopfronts and facades, infill development, development of laneways and so on.
The Heritage Subcommittee’s interest in DAs is based on the City of Sydney’s Heritage Planning controls. In 2022-2023, there were 147 DAs advertised for our suburb. Rodney Hammett provides the Subcommittee with feedback regarding an application’s apparent compliance with these controls, including the credibility of the Heritage Impact Statement when this is a prerequisite for the DA. Where elements of an application appear to be non-compliant, this is referred to the Planning Convenor and the Management Committee for advice.
Glebe’s multi-layered residential, commercial and industrial history is still clearly visible in many parts of the suburb. Our suburb is characterised by small low-rise blocks and has long sustained a relatively dense, socially and economically diverse permanent population as well as a transient population of students and tourists.
Subcommittee members believe plans to increase housing density are welcome in our suburb, provided they comply with City of Sydney’s development requirements and demonstrate due attention to good design, livability, context and impact. Not a Yes (YIMBY) or a No (NIMBY) debate, but QIMBY – Quality in my Backyard.
Our keenest researchers are Lyn Collingwood and Rodney Hammett. Both continue to bring us stories of Glebe’s people and places. Rodney’s particular interest is former ownership and owners, and he would like to establish a database to make this research easily and logically accessible. (Any members interested in joining Rodney in this research can contact him at email@example.com.)
Lyn (‘Who lived/worked in your street’) continues to bring our past to life, often with relevance to a current issue. The history of 181 St Johns Road was in response to a DA to demolish the cottage built in 1869 (not in the 1900s as stated in the Heritage Impact Statement with the DA). Two stories focused on the past commerce of Glebe Point Road: 375 (Glebe Liquor) and 373 (Glebe Point Pharmacy), a chemist shop since 1928. Jude Paul’s story comparing the businesses on Glebe Point Road in 1922 to the present day highlighted the variety and high occupancy rate of shops 100 years ago compared to the much less interesting state in 2022. Lyn’s biography of Brian Dewhurst, a distinguished foreign correspondent with United Press International, was sparked by the current derelict condition of the journalist’s former home in Westmoreland Street. Her article on the history of the Sze Yup Temple was in recognition of the long association between members of the Chinese community and Glebe. Lyn also provides the monthly mystery photo.
Inquiries to the Society’s heritage@ and history@ email addresses are diverse and unpredictable. However, both Lyn and Rodney spend many hours researching and answering these where possible or suggesting a further source.
A question often asked for which we have no definitive answer, is the birthplace of Edmund Barton whose baptismal record is simply ‘The Glebe’. Several enquiries have come from descendants of people born at the Buxton Maternity Hospital, 22 Wigram Road, and subsequently adopted. We have information about the history of the building and its use but not its patients. A question we could not answer was what was screening at the Valhalla on the night a viewer dated her future husband. Checking a local newspaper such as The Glebe and Inner Western Weekly was all we could suggest.
Two people sought information about the Sydney Textile Museum functioning in the 1980s. We replied that the probable address was 172 St Johns Road and put the correspondents in touch with each other.
Many enquiries are from people researching their family history and some of these become the inspiration for stories from our own researchers. One such story arose from a woman who had a medal awarded to her great-grandmother Netta Corbin for being dux of Brisbane House, Glebe Point, in 1897, but the enquirer knew nothing more. Rodney found Brisbane House at 365 Glebe Point Road; a house then owned by the Harpur family. The house served as the Harpur family’s residence and between 1887-1918, a kindergarten and a girls’ boarding school run by two Harpur sisters. (The school was praised for combining sound teaching with strict moral training.) At the time the medal was awarded, the Corbin family lived next door at 363 Glebe Point Road, a house that stands to this day.
Some enquiries take our researchers down rabbit holes. It’s too hard to explain how an enquiry to our website about a relative christened at Christ Church St Laurence in 1856 led to a story about card playing youths being arrested for creating an annoyance in Hegarty Street on a Sunday in 1910, but it did (Bulletin 10/2022).
The diverse tales of famous and infamous former Glebe residents prepared in association with the Society’s nominations for a Blue Plaque have appeared in the Bulletin throughout the year thanks to Ian Stephenson and Lyn: feminist Bessie Guthrie, activist Lucy Eatock, clairvoyant Matilda Steer, abortionist Etta Mace, journalist Dorothy Drain, Glebe Society founders Bernard and Kate Smith, cartoonist Les Tanner, cricketer and soldier Tibby Cotter, explorer Douglas Mawson and counterfeiter Edward Windemeyer.
When we reported last year our nomination for Charles Perkins had been successful, we were unaware that he had also been nominated by the University of Sydney. Disappointingly, his plaque was fixed to the Charles Perkins Centre at the University, not his Forest Lodge address recommended by The Society. The plaque says (somewhat redundantly, given it is attached to the well-signed Charles Perkins Centre building which is in the equally well-signed Charles Perkins precinct): ‘Dr Charles Perkins commemorated here’. We liked our version better. It said ‘Charles Perkins, 1936-2000, the first Indigenous Australian university graduate, instigator of the 1965 Freedom ride, opponent of the White Australia Policy and leading advocate for the Yes vote in the 1967 referendum, lived here while studying at the University of Sydney’.
However, our nomination for Tibby Cotter was successful and a plaque has now been installed at his family home at 266 Glebe Point Road. The selection process is on-going and we’re still hopeful of other successes.
The blue plaque for Tibby Cotter on the gatepost at Monteith. (Image: Jude Paul)