By Shirley Fitzgerald
They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. The current DA in place for the former Anglican Church property in Huskisson required that a photographic survey of the church and hall be submitted to Council and that the photographic survey shall be prepared in accordance with the guidelines Archival Recording of Heritage Items Using Film or Digital Capture published by the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (DA 18/2102 consent condition 8).
That’s clear, isn’t it? Film these buildings in accordance with the guidelines.
Alas, this article can’t show you any of these photos taken by Mr. Steve Bartlett who is working hand in hand with the Anglican Church Property Trust to ruin this beautiful property in Huskisson. So you will have to be content with the thousand words.
When the Huskisson Heritage Association (HHA) asked for a set of the images and offered to distribute copies to other interested groups such as the Nowra Historical Society for their historical collections, Council officers told the Association that they could not be provided. They could not be supplied to the public library, as the guidelines suggested, and they could only be viewed, under supervision, at the Council offices. Photos were taken, but the Shoalhaven City Council will not make them public, and when a couple of our members did finally get to see them once Covid restrictions were relaxed, it was easy to see why both the developer Steve Bartlett and the Council did not want to make these photographs public.
Researcher for the HHA, Margot Curtis, spent hours at the Council offices, carefully studying the photographs. She has produced a report documenting their shortcomings, image by image. Her assessment is that ‘the photographs submitted by Steve Bartlett are a joke. The style used is more akin to home “happy snaps”, rather than a detailed heritage photographic record. Some were taken on a mobile phone and they are now stored like a school project. None of the materials used nor the quality of the photographs conform to the requirements demanded of Condition 8 in the DA. Many important details are simply not recorded at all. For instance, who would think of photographing a stained-glass window from the outside of the building, and not from the inside where the sunlight can illuminate the details and colours of the glass?”
Her report states that ‘this building is described as ‘Carpenter Gothic’ employing pointed arched windows, steep gables and less common buttressing. These picturesque details are not featured in this photographic record…The external dormer vents in the roof have been photographed indistinctly from the ground and at a distance. The Church bell in its own little tower and topped by a unique finial, is only photographed from the ground, at a distance and is partly obscured by tree branches. These unique architectural features should have been photographed in close-up to show the method of construction and materials used and context with the rest of the building.’
The Blacket Church remains and the photographic record can yet be remedied. On the other hand, demolition of the old hall, without making a good photographic record is a tragedy. Contained within this building was the remains of the original Huskisson church, built c. 1890s. No images were taken to explain its construction methods – a blow to every ‘woodie’ out there with a passion for old building methods. There was no recording of the hall in the context of where it once stood, and the record of the interior of the building was barely discernable because of the clutter of kindergarten furniture and equipment. The Heritage guidelines are specific about removing extraneous stuff that impedes understanding of the building. Of course they are. Why on earth would anyone need to be told this?
When the HHA suggested that the condition of the DA did not seem to have been carried out, it was told that the words ‘shall be prepared in accordance with the guidelines’ really only meant that the guidelines were, well, just guidelines. ‘Shall be prepared in accordance with’ apparently does not mean ‘in accordance with’ at all. It just means that any old thing is okay. The HAA asks "are all DA conditions now to be considered merely as guidelines?"
The Heritage Office requirements are very clear concerning what is to be photographed, standards of photography, qualities of archival paper to be used and methods for storage. The reality of what we got for recording these buildings is very different.
So does this really matter? At one level, it could be seen as trivial. A good photographic record will not bring back the old church hall. It was Huskisson’s oldest building. The bad photographic record is a lost opportunity. This just reinforces to the community that this is how this development goes: with shonky and arrogant approaches to the rules. The Anglican Church and the hopeful developer are usually very careful at covering off on the legal aspects of anything that is done on the property, but to the ordinary mind, when a requirement becomes a mere guideline, how can this be?
Huskisson Heritage Association has lodged a request with the NSW Ombudsman to investigate the role of the Shoalhaven City Council in approving this photographic record. The HHA engaged legal support in making this submission to the Ombudsman only after the SCC failed to properly engage with the Association’s complaints of alleged breaches of consent.
And another thing: Council further claimed that the photos were not really needed because the buildings are not heritage listed. This is frivolous and quite irrelevant to the requirements of the DA.
Of course, everyone knows why the property -church, surrounds, graves – are not heritage listed – but that’s another story. Anywhere else but in the Shoalhaven, this block would be celebrated and valued for the essential part of Huskisson’s heritage that it undoubtedly is.
And that’s a thousand words.
Feature image: A sign showing the historic Huskisson Church under big shady trees versus a fancy apartment block the developer wants to build on the site. Artwork by Akira Kamada