OPINION | Let’s save what little we have left

WE'VE ALREADY LOST TOO MUCH: On Saturday I grabbed this snap of Andrew Allen launching his book on Campbelltown’s lost heritage buildings – Macarthur deserves to be known for its quality, not just its quantity.
WE'VE ALREADY LOST TOO MUCH: On Saturday I grabbed this snap of Andrew Allen launching his book on Campbelltown’s lost heritage buildings – Macarthur deserves to be known for its quality, not just its quantity.

It’s about time!

Historic St John’s Church, on the hilltop in Camden, has finally been added to the state's heritage register.

That’s the whole precinct, important given that it is land next to the church that some people want to sell.

Many of us think that is wrong – St John’s needs an eyesore cluster of modern buildings next to it, as much as Gregory Hills needs (yet another) building that looks like a grey/brown box.

So, the issue has become a heated debating point since last year. Indeed, the church’s new heritage listing is a wonderful grass roots victory for the local community groups and heritage experts who have fought so hard to protect that precinct.

Dr Ian Willis, Camden’s always-eloquent historian, has called the recent protests “participatory democracy at its finest”. I agree.

But Camden state MP, Chris Patterson, has made a point of saying that parts of the community treated the St John’s parishioners “unfairly”. I only half agree.

I saw some unfair comments made on BOTH sides, not just one. This newspaper was told we shouldn’t be covering the issue at all, and our young reporter was called a "disgrace" by a parishioner. Charming.

But that was the minority. At the big community meeting at the church held last year to debate the topic, I left feeling rather inspired by my fellow human beings. Not only due to the civil courtesy shown by most pro-sale folk, but also the educated and caring community passion shown by most anti-sale side. Camden at its finest.

But back to the heritage listing … governments rarely do something because it’s correct, they usually have to be shamed or forced into it.

So it was interesting to note the heritage announcement came just days after the Sydney Morning Herald slammed the government for dragging its heels for months re the Camden church site.

Yet this same government had rushed through a listing for Penrith’s Hadley Park – the ancestral home of radio shock-jock, Ray Hadley.

“It’s ludicrous,” said Clive Lucas, a well-known heritage architect. “Maybe Alan Jones [also] has a country house somewhere that needs listing.” Ouch.

I don't have a problem with (quality) new stuff, as long as it respects (quality) old stuff.

The St John’s story is being repeated again and again across Macarthur as our heritage is swept aside in the rush to build new stuff. I don't have a problem with (quality) new stuff, as long as it respects (quality) old stuff. 

On Saturday, Campbelltown & Airds Historical Society – another fierce advocate for our heritage – launched a new book: More Than Bricks And Mortar: Remembering Campbelltown’s Lost Buildings. It is a pictorial history by Andrew Allen, one of the best local studies librarians in NSW and Campbelltown is lucky to have him.

(Go to campbelltown-library.blogspot.com to see the excellent “The History Buff” blog done by Andrew and other library staff.)

Andrew’s book, available at the library, Quondong, and the historical society, is a roller coaster of emotions.

You’ll see one historic gem after another, lost to Campbelltown in the march of so-called progress.

At least one building not set to vanish is the Fisher’s Ghost Restaurant site. The affection people have for our heritage was evident in the incredibly warm public response to our news last week that Campbelltown Catholic Club had purchased the ruin, and hopes to restore it.

Heritage buildings show us not just what we were, but also what we can be.