Tucked in between Westmead Hospital, Parramatta Park, and Parramatta Gaol lie some hidden gems that are at risk of being lost forever.
As NSW continues to be sold out to the interests of developers, there appears to be a level of urgency regarding building residential high-rise buildings in Sydney’s West that defies belief.
I am certainly not opposed to development, and I understand the need for housing, however any development needs to be done in a responsible manner.
Currently the NSW Government and Urban Growth are in the process of making a decision on a multi-billion development in the North Parramatta region. This development involves the selling off of public land and buildings currently occupied by NSW Health and will see residential apartment block leaving state heritage buildings in their shadow and completely dwarf them.
Anyone with any interest or appreciation of our countries history should be more than just upset at this proposal, they should be openly hostile.
However it is worse than just that, these buildings represent what is arguably the most important buildings in terms of women’s history in this country.
The buildings I refer to make up what is the Parramatta Female Factory, The Parramatta Girls Home, and the Lunatic Asylum.
I don’t want to delve too much into the history of these buildings as that would turn into a novel, however to say these are of significant national historical importance is an understatement. Below are links to brief descriptions I have put together on a small selection of the buildings for those who are interested. There are also often guided tours of the area available as well as detailed websites for both the Female Factory and the Parra Girls Home.
To put things into context the Cascades Female Factory in Port Arthur is a World Heritage site. The Cascades site opened as a female factory in 1834 and is now a ruin. By contrast the Parramatta Female Factory had its foundation stone laid in 1818 by none other than Governor Macquarie and commenced as a female factory in 1821, and far from being a ruin the site is actually made up of a number of historic buildings designed by famous historic architects. All of these buildings are intact, although a couple require some restoration work, and all of them are more than worth protecting.
The clock tower that makes up part of the magnificent Ward 1 Building seen in the image above has a rather magnificent crown-jewel. Its clock is one of five that was by King George IV in 1822, and was made by famous clock makers Thwaites and Reed, the same clockmakers who made the elaborate clock in the Queen Victoria Building.
So what is the issue with Parramatta then?
The problem with this precinct is that it is hidden. It lies between a hospital, an old gaol, a Leagues Club and has the river cutting it off from Parramatta Park. For this reason it has been a bit of a case of “out of sight, out of mind”. Much of the site is currently being used by NSW Health as a mental health facility while other buildings are being used for administration purposes.
However the area is gaining some exposure now as it is coming under threat.
There is an outcry from the public in the area that is starting to gather momentum thanks to a dedicated resident’s action group. However there is only so much that can be done locally with and with limited resources.
It is vital that the message is spread as this is not just Parramatta’s Heritage we are talking about, this is an integral part of Australia’s history, and as mentioned perhaps the most important women’s historical site in the country.
The whole country needs to be active on this issue. Below is a copy of the submission to the Dept Of Planning made by The National Trust on the development.
It does not take a rocket scientist to see the potential for the precinct to become a tourism precinct bringing huge dollars into the local economy as well as employment opportunities, after all Parramatta is the geographical centre of Sydney.
There is already the prospect of Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum being relocated to the area, and if a land swap deal could be done with Featherdale or Castle Hill Koala Park then suddenly there is a huge potential for a region that already has Government House, Old Parramatta Gaol, and Wisteria Gardens. Instead of the tourist buses driving around Parramatta as they head for the Blue Mountains they may actually stop, and who knows maybe even stay overnight if the arts district that was promised in 2010 could be also added to the tourist’s agenda.
For those who are wondering how this got past the community unnoticed. The State Government in NSW threw this out for what the attempted to pass off as “community consultation” last year. What this meant was that a document thousands of pages in length and with highly detailed and technical information that had taken a team of experts over a year to put together was dumped on the public who were given a month to digest the information and respond. To make things even more ridiculous the document was dumped on the public one week before Xmas.
The community consultation process that was conducted in this case was less woeful. It was seemingly intentionally kept from the public by its timing, many of those seeking to attend focus groups on the matter were rejected. Added to all of that is a completely ineffectual Liberal local member in Dr Geoff Lee. Despite assuring the public at a public forum he would make representations to the Minister seeking to “Press Pause” on the project to allow time for genuine community consultation. The public forum was one he had said he wouldn’t attend, but showed up after being told a couple of hundred people had rocked up despite rain, as did the Liberal Mayor Of Parramatta Scott Lloyd who seems content to see his community pawned off to developers and foreign owners.
Both have so far had the same complete disregard for community efforts to protect the famous Roxy Theatre.
Geoff Lee never made the representation he assured his constituents he would. Instead only after discovering that flyers were being handed out at pre-poll for the NSW election did he come out with a letter that stated that he had ensured an extension of time for public submissions on the proposed development. Despite the claims of Lee the Department Of Planning had not extended the deadline and it remains open to submissions today. This was just yet another attempt by Lee to deceive his constituents once again and get him through the election unscathed. Below is a video of Geoff Lee assuring the public he would approach the Minister.
Once again, Geoff Lee failed his community.
The NSW government is seeking to make the precinct a “State Significant Site”. This has the direct opposite meaning to what it implies. What it in fact means is that the state government has the final say on the site and no other considerations would be taken into account other than the government’s short term financial concerns.
Once again under a Coalition this appears to be yet another case of what one person has described to me as “Second best for the West”.
Parramatta Council has been in the control of the Liberals now for a few years, and it is not surprising to note that the image on the email signatures of many employees has changed as per the picture below as an apparent reflection of the council blatantly selling out to developers and it’s utter disregard of indigenous or historic concerns.
In NSW this is becoming an alarming trend of putting developers desires ahead of genuine community concerns, and with that in mind I have started a History B4 Hi Rise Facebook Group which I hope will connect with other similar issues all over the country, as well as a Twitter account @historyB4hirise so we can present a united front, so if you have a similar issue, please contact me via the page.
We do not want our history being ridden over roughshod by the short-term interests of developers.
So what can you do?
There are several things you can do to join the fight to save this vital part of our history.
First and foremost, spread the word far and wide that we want our history preserved for future generations.
Secondly, anybody can put forward a submission to the NSW Dept Of Planning on this development proposal no matter where you live, these can be done via the below address, if you’re not sure you can contact the residents action group through this link and they will assist.
Attn: Anna Johnston, Senior Planner
Department of Planning & Environment
GPO Box 39
Sydney NSW 2001
Attn: Anna Johnston, Senior Planner – North Parramatta State Significant Site
Thirdly if you would like to donate to the fighting fund of the group that is fighting to save our history the bank account details are below.
BSB: 633 000
One Federal Member who has been doing her utmost to help save this piece of history is Julie Owens MP, who has a petition that can be signed online and has organised public forums, below is a video of a speech she made in parliament in March on the matter.
Lastly, I know of a certain member of Federal parliament that is desperately in need of a good news story. He is the current Minister for Women and if you think that saving possibly Australia’s most significant historical site for women may be something he should take an interest in he can be emailed via this link his name is Tony.
Whatever you can do to spread the word would be fantastic, future generations need us to take a stand.