Heritage conservation is a global issue. One of our members spotted a recent Sydney Morning Herald opinion column on old, heritage sandstone buildings on Sydney’s Bridge Street. The author, Elizabeth Farrelly, fumes on news that the Government proposes to sell them to a global hotel chain and reflects on the place of heritage in our modern societies and on the importance of an efficient, enforced regulatory framework. Below are excerpts, worth reading, of this poignant article. Sydney, Sarawak, some common issues?

“[…] Sydney is being massively remade. […] Great swathes of inner city land up for grabs, factories, warehouses and terraces everywhere falling to Urban Growth’s Bays Precinct motto, “make new, think new, fund new, build new, live new”.

It’s exciting, all this, but the obsessive old-fashioned new-talk makes me suspicious. It’s like some 1950s re-run. And don’t be fooled into thinking its all pretty shoes and dresses. The greatest error of the 20th century was to “make new” by obliterating old, locking itself into a soulless, synchronous present. […]

Buildings are about belief.  […] They landmark not just our city but our narrative, implying a confidence in our fledgling public institutions that contemporary buildings cannot begin to match.

Bridge Street may not be the Rue de Rivoli, but these buildings can never be repeated or, once sold, reacquired. Truly, they are our icons.

I know. We don’t use the word heritage any more. Like feminism, like environmentalism, like refugee compassion, heritage hasn’t just fallen off the agenda. It has been kicked, whimpering, under the table and out into the gutter.

[…] Civilisation is the collective recognition that there are things as important, or more important, than material profit. Buildings that enrich and delight us beyond the merely necessary reify this belief. […] Of course, civilisation has always been fragile. Relax your guard, nod off at your post, and whammo! There’s another gaping gash in the fabric. But sometimes the forces of darkness seem especially aligned at every level and shine blackly through. […]

The Bridge Street sandstones are ours. They are beautiful, rare, redolent with public symbolism and almost entirely unguarded by heritage law that can only be described as pathetic.

[…] the other compelling argument against the sale of these buildings is the sad, sad state of our regulatory framework.

The Commonwealth heritage law is worse than pathetic. […] Now a building can be listed from streetscape to door-handles and still fall without a squeak. […]

New is great, but vital futures grow from revered pasts. Our buildings are our story and our self-belief. We’ve kept Bridge Street this far. I’m hoping, unlike Troy, we see the enemy within before it’s too late. Beware visitors bearing gifts.”

Link to full article : Sandstone sell-off betrays public legacy – Elizabeth Farrelly, Sydney Morning Herald, December 4, 2014

Elizabeth Farrelly specialises in architecture and more particularly heritage protection.

One of the buildings in question : Department of Lands (1880-1893), Sydney

One of the threatened buildings : Department of lands (1880-1893), Sydney