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Demolition By Neglect

March 31, 2022

By Shirley Fitzgerald

The lovely little Cyril Blacket Church in Huskisson has been left to fall into ruin. The community is angry.

The current campaign to get the former church property in Huskisson heritage listed has been going on for well over three years. Before that, there were other attempts to get it listed, going way back to 2007. We believe that its significance is in the little church building, the old growth trees and the unmarked graves that are spread across the land and the adjoining block owned by the Jerrinja Local Aboriginal Land Council.

Already back in 2007 Helen Rutley and Maureen Webb questioned the last minute removal of the  Cyril Blacket designed church at Huskisson from the Shoalhaven Heritage LEP
Already back in 2007 Helen Rutley and Maureen Webb questioned the last minute removal of the Cyril Blacket designed church at Huskisson from the Shoalhaven Heritage LEP. Photo supplied

In September 2018 Steve Bartlett proposed to demolish the church building. He changed his tune following widespread outcry. He said he would keep it, but on a different place on the block. He said then that he had ‘listened to the community’. Well he is not listening now.

When he and his developer mates were buying the property, he told the community that, unlike the Anglican church, at least he could afford to look after it. Well, he’s not looking after it now.

The gutters have not been cleaned in years, and during the bushfires, pleas to get this done were ignored. Offers of volunteers to do it were rejected by the developer. The roof is looking the worse for wear. Recently a weatherboard has fallen off the building, and more will follow. The atrocious wet weather we have been experiencing will have made things worse, and moisture will be entering the structure. Many written requests to Mr. Bartlett from concerned citizens about fixing the weatherboards have gone unacknowledged.

Huskisson Church is falling apart and gutters have not been cleaned in years due to neglect by new owners
Owners neglecting maintenance of Husky Church, the gutters have not been cleaned in years. Photo supplied

Mr. Bartlett will tell you the place is not heritage listed. Sorry, this does not cut it with all the people who take one look at it and see a heritage building on a beautiful site. It is a small jewel of a building and whenever visitors talk to the locals who turn up to protest at the site on Saturday mornings, they are shocked to find out the story. When they hear about the graves people are gob smacked at the apparent ongoing intentions to excavate into this land to develop it.

Back in August 2018, the Shoalhaven Council’s Strategic Planner, Gordon Clark, wrote that “because it is not listed does not mean that the heritage significance of the Church group will not require closer consideration or raise issues/concerns as part of any future rezoning.”

To date, the land has not been rezoned from SP2 -special purposes, religious. It needs rezoning, to something appropriate, but that is not for a huge hotel and commercial buildings. Issues and concerns have multiplied as research has shown the importance of the site and ground penetrating radar survey has indicated that there are likely to be over 50 graves on the site, with a possible upper limit of over seventy.

Let’s give credit where it is due. The grass is occasionally mown, and the church windows are boarded up for protection. But this only adds to the sadly rundown appearance of the building and the block, surrounded by an ugly construction fence while no construction is apparent or approved. It is a real shame. A shame for Huskisson and a shame on the owners.

Huskisson Church is falling apart, a broken window has been boarded up, gutters have not been cleaned in years due to neglect by new owners
The broken window has been boarded up and grass has been mowed, it looks a bit neater but neglect still shows everywhere. Photo supplied

In April 2019, with a couple of the more backward councillors absent, the Shoalhaven City Council voted to begin the process to heritage list the property. At the next meeting, with a full cohort of councillors present, this was rescinded. Now the makeup of the elected council has changed we are hopeful that the property will be listed. But this will not stop the demolition by neglect.

Heritage listing has an impact on what can be done on the land, but there is no legislation to prevent owners deliberately encouraging deterioration of their property. This property has been assessed by the Director of Conservation at the National Trust for its architectural sophistication and significance in relation to other vernacular church buildings in the region. He praised its:

Gothic pointed windows and doors, leadlight glazing and roof framing which cleverly references the traditional cathedrals of Europe (a high A-frame timber roof truss which uses solid braces at the spring-line, lightweight steel bottom chords and external buttresses to manage the sideways thrusts). It is a sophisticated, yet unprepossessing design by a significant architect with immense experience in this specific genre and demonstrates that, sometimes, it takes great skill to make something look simple. Huskisson (and the Shoalhaven district) should be proud to have such a building.
The original architectural drawings of Huskisson Church prepared by Cyril Blacket in 1930
The original architectural drawings of Huskisson Church prepared by Cyril Blacket in 1930

Why does someone who owns the Husky Hotel and other businesses in the area allow himself to become so unpopular? Surely the developers’ ‘deep pockets’ would not notice a little TLC to this heritage building. A place we should all be proud to have in our local landscape. You work it out.

Dr Shirley Fitzgerald is the president of the Huskisson Heritage Association. www.huskissonheritage.com.au and Fb @savehuskychurch

Feature image: Husky Church is being neglected, the external cladding of weatherboards is damaged and is falling apart. Photo supplied

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    3 comments on “Demolition By Neglect”

    1. I really liked this article of yours. I would like to say my heartfelt thanks to you for sharing this article. Demolition is a very careful job. Because it affects not only the demolition area but also the surrounding area. It is also a very risky job. Which can be done efficiently only by professionals.

    2. Look, the demolition by neglect policy is a common tool used all over Australia by many, including developers and governments generally to foster destruction of our heritage for monetary purposes.
      In the Shoalhaven I can think of two buildings that have had the policy applied to them. They maybe simple, and many people may think insignificant, but to me they are not. The old sailing club on the Shoalhaven River burnt down a few years ago after being left derelict for a while. When it looks bad, people loose respect for its heritage and don't care if it gets destroyed. Look at Mitchies Jetty at Merimbula. Old and a little dilapidated, but its a great spot used by many for their morning coffee and a place to chill out. Nowra is so short-sighted on these things.
      The other is Graham House just off the Highway at Nowra. No-one has seen it for years but this 1860's Victorian Georgian style with Victorian Regency influences sits there unused and unloved. While heritage listed, this will probably save it from demolition, but why let it sit there and rot? Its been idle since 2001 I believe.

    3. When my mother died my grandfather carpeted the church, there is a plaque in the foyer. My grandfather used to own the old guest house across the road from the pub. It was the old Avoca guest house.

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