Shortly before Christmas I had a phone call from Bill O’Connor, the Principal of Forest Lodge Public School, taking issue with a few of the points made by Liz Simpson-Booker in her article in Bulletin No. 10 of 2014 page 7 ‘From the Terraces – Unsightly!’. This was of some concern to me, since we have always enjoyed a very close and harmonious relationship with “Flodge”. So I followed this up as soon as possible with Liz and subsequently discussed my findings with Bill.

The issues raised by Bill were three in number:

  • We had erroneously referred to the Department of Education and Communities by its former name of the Department of Education and Training.
  • We had said that the School had itself “arranged for some stabilisation work to be carried out on the beautiful sandstone retaining wall on the corner of Ross St and Charles St”, whereas the work was initiated by the Department without reference to the School.
  • We had said that no heritage expert’s advice was sought, although there had been an engineer’s report. Bill said (and I accept this absolutely) that there were in fact three heritage experts who advised on the work.
Close-up of stabilisation work at Forest Lodge School (image: Martin Lawrence)
Close-up of stabilisation work at Forest Lodge School (image: Martin Lawrence)

Taking these matters in turn.

The name of the Department

Guilty as charged! However, we are in good company, since the City Council still refers to the Department by its former name. It is so hard to keep up with the bureaucratic niceties in New South Wales. My favourite example is of the Department of Attorney General and Justice changing its name to the Department of Justice and Attorney General. Think of the forests that died when all that letterhead was pulped!

Who done it?

We did get that wrong, but we were relying on the School’s own website, which said that “we” (by which we assumed was meant the School) had arranged for the work to be done. I accept that in context, “we” was meant to refer to the Department.

The three heritage experts

The City Council, in its reply to our enquiry, clearly implied that there had been no heritage input, although the Council was not even aware that the work had been done until we contacted them about it. In its letter to us, the Council states that:

Given that the work has been carried out already, the City has reminded the Department of Education and Training [sic] of the heritage requirements that need to be considered prior to carrying out work of this nature in the future.

All I can say is that either the three “heritage experts” were asleep at the wheel, or that as far as the Department is concerned, engineering trumps heritage every time.

The description “crass” is entirely appropriate, and we still believe that “the repair totally disrespects the history, the material and the setting” of the retaining wall.

There is some hope for the future, not too distant we hope. In its letter to us dated 3 November 2014, the Council sums up by saying:

The Engineer’s report details that a further assessment of the retaining wall will need to be carried out in the future. The City has provided the following recommendations to the Department of Education [sic] on this matter to consider prior to carrying out any further works in the future.

  1. Any future assessment of the retaining wall recommended in the Engineer’s Report, it would be recommended by the City that the assessment be carried out with the assistance of a suitably qualified and experienced heritage practitioner, who is to give input in the process, ensure appropriate heritage outcomes and to prepare a heritage impact statement.
  2. The recent works be reassessed with a view to coming up with solutions that will have less of a visual impact on the sandstone walling than that which has recently been carried out at the corner of Ross St and Charles St.
  3. If the works proposed arising from the assessment are likely to have more than a minimal heritage impact, as determined in the heritage impact statement, they will not be exempt under the Infrastructure State Environmental Planning Policy and a Development Application will be required.
  4. In other words, do it again, do it properly, and tell us before you do so.

Let’s hope these recommendations are adopted in the very near future.