Regular readers of this column may have gathered that the writer (being the descendant of an early Sydney stonemason) has a special affection for Glebe’s many handsome sandstone retaining walls. One of our defining walls may soon be under threat.

WestConnex is currently looking at options for the route of the M4-M5 Link which will take traffic from the Rozelle interchange to St Peters. Geotechnical analysis, community feedback and other considerations will influence their firmed up recommendations, expected later this year.

One option being considered is to provide a “contained portal” allowing tunnel traffic to exit to the city at Arundel St. Arundel St is the original orientation of the early road from Sydney to Parramatta. Instead of bullock-teams slowly hauling laden drays and carts to the west, Arundel St is now a relatively quiet area which carries high pedestrian traffic moving to and from the University footbridge and the busy bus stop.

The realignment of Parramatta Road created a cutting defined on one side by Sydney University and on the other by the monumental sandstone retaining wall. The result has created just about the only aesthetically tranquil section of an otherwise charmless traffic conduit. The linear features of the wall, the repetition of the building blocks and the warmth of the sandstone are in marked contrast to the clutter and attention-seeking signage of other parts of Parramatta Rd.

The retaining wall on Parramatta Rd, under threat from WestConnex (image: V. Simpson-Young)
The retaining wall on Parramatta Rd, under threat from WestConnex (image: V. Simpson-Young)

On its south side, Arundel St is fringed by mature trees and the sandstone retaining wall with its palisade and arris-rail fences extending from near Ross St to Derwent St. This structure is heritage-listed for its group and landmark values, townscape and cultural significance, technical significance and integrity values. The north side of Arundel St announces its Victorian era origins with a series of handsome villas and terraces, set back from the speed and fumes of Parramatta Rd.

Prior to the Sydney Olympics, the Glebe Society began lobbying for the conservation of the retaining wall and palisade fence on Parramatta Rd. This painstaking remedial work was a significant cost undertaking for Council and hence completed in a number of stages. It is heart-breaking to think that the community’s pride in this heritage structure and the cost and effort involved in its conservation, may all have gone for naught …

WestConnex is aware (1) that this retaining wall is heritage listed and (2) that this is a Conservation Area (which has rarity value for the survival of early pre-1860s residential development close to the city). Despite this, if this option proceeds, WestConnex engineers envisage that during the enabling portal works, the retaining wall would be taken apart, stone by stone, and subsequently reassembled, after the portal works are complete. It is not clear how little or how much of the wall will be subject to this process and/or whether in fact complete reinstatement can be achieved.

There are many other concerning aspects to this proposed option, which is still under active consideration. However, its heritage implications are serious (particularly given the rampant disregard WestConnex has shown for Haberfield heritage). The proposed option is unsympathetic and entirely at odds with Glebe’s history, heritage, village life, culture and streetscapes. It is an affront which delivers nothing but detriment to Glebe.