By Shirley Fitzgerald
A lot of people think the battle to preserve this iconic block of land is done and dusted, but it isn’t. The land has not been rezoned to allow for commercial development, and when the Shoalhaven City Council sent the rezoning proposal to the State government for green lighting, it was told to go back to the drawing board and do a lot more work to establish their case. The church and the developer try to tell people that the land has been sold, but it is still owned by the church. Contracts have been exchanged but we all know that this is not the end of a land transaction. And so we keep going.
Here are a couple of updates.
WHEN IS A RECORD NOT A RECORD?
There is a live DA concerning the former Anglican Holy Trinity Church site in Huskisson permitting the demolition of the hall that occurred in late 2019 and future movement of the Blacket church. One of the conditions of this DA is that there must be an archival photographic record of the buildings in accordance with the guidelines for "Archival Recording of Heritage Items” published by the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage. These guidelines are very detailed as to the kind of camera, film, archival paper, storage requirements and so on. Often this type of record is carried out by expert heritage people who understand the requirements. Our hopeful developer took the photographs himself, some with his phone. They have been written on the back of the non-conforming paper with a felt pen that could eventually bleed through and they’ve been stored in plastic sleeves that will sweat and destroy the quality, such as it is, of the images.
More distressing is the fact that the images themselves provide a poor record. In some cases obvious and important features were not photographed at all. There is even a photograph of a stained glass window taken from outside the building. Stained glass needs the sun to be shining through it to reveal its details – i.e. from inside.
The slap-dash images are just plain irresponsible and irredeemable in the case of the old hall that has already been demolished and sent to landfill. We all know, and the developer knows that this building contained within its shell the remains of the original Union Church, up until the time of demolition the oldest building in Huskisson. And yet not one photograph was provided to assist in explanation of this building process, either at the time the building was standing, or at the time of demolition when presumably internal structural details were revealed.
It took the Huskisson Heritage Association several months to get access to see (but not copy) these photographs. Partly this was due to Covid 19 restrictions, but partly because the SCC supported the developer’s claim to copyright which means viewing can be denied. What is the point of archival photographs if they are not available on the public record? Further, the guidelines published by the Heritage Office recommend that a set of photos be placed in the Council’s library. They have not been.
The HHA believes that this blatant non-compliance of this consent condition of the DA may have rendered the works already carried out on the site illegal. The Council’s legal advisors are currently looking at this. We are very aware that the elected Council bends over backwards to accommodate this developer and we are bemused to find that he is prepared to make their life difficult through this kind of slapdash behaviour.
CONTACT HISTORY IS EVERYONE’S HISTORY
On a different matter, the Federal government has gazetted an application of the Jerrinja Local Aboriginal Land Council for ‘long term preservation and protection of a significant Aboriginal area’ -the Holy Trinity site. Contact details for submissions to the consultant preparing the report can be found in this link. LINK HERE
The community campaign to keep this iconic place – land, church, tree canopy – from destruction and over-development has been on- going since September 2018. As everyone discovered more about the place, the importance of the site to local Indigenous people came into strong relief. Several of their ancestors are buried there, and the role of the Anglican church as a ‘missionary organization has strong links to local Indigenous history, both positive and negative.
This application is not a land claim, and it is not a claim for only the Jerrinja, but for recognition of the significance of the old church site for all Aboriginal people in the district. The important idea contained in this gazettal is in the section ‘Claimed nature of particular significance’. It is being argued that the importance of the land is ‘because (rather than in spite) of this being a Christian burial in a church ground.’ This is not about traditional land uses; it is about Aboriginal – European contact history.
This may feel like unchartered territory for many of us, but through the campaign to keep the Holy Trinity site in Huskisson the great importance of arguments about shared cultural values have emerged. This block evokes strong emotions in all of us. David Williams the consultant who will be providing a report on this application to the Federal Minister Sussan Ley, has indicated that he is interested in receiving submissions from anyone, not only Indigenous people.
The closing date for submissions has been extended until August 12, 2020 Contact details for submissions are in the Gazette
If you think this land should be preserved, if you think the Shoalhaven Council needs to develop some understanding of the importance of heritage to community wellbeing, if you think that a big hotel on this site is a terrible idea, and that something like an interpretive cultural centre that showcased both Indigenous and whitey culture is a possibility, then support the community struggle for respect for this land, and for the Indigenous people whose ancestors are buried there. This land is as a cultural contact site, to all of us, Indigenous and non-Indigenous.