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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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