CFMMEU places green ban on Parramatta Museum historic sites

Willow Grove.

The Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMMEU) NSW has placed a Green Ban on the demolition of the Willow Grove and St George’s Terrace buildings in Parramatta. The buildings have been earmarked for destruction by the NSW Coalition government as part of their plans for the new Powerhouse Parramatta Museum.

CFMMEU NSW secretary Darren Greenfield said: “These Green Bans mean no work can be done to destroy these historically significant sites. If the [Gladys] Berejiklian government wants work on the museum to proceed they need to sit down with the local community, listen to what they say and come up with a plan that preserves these buildings.

“As shown by the recent success of the Green Ban on the Bondi Beach Pavilion, the CFMMEU won’t stand by while local communities are ignored and important heritage sites are destroyed.”

The North Parramatta Residents Action Group, has campaigned for years to save the two heritage buildings, supported by the National Trust of Australia (NSW) and the Historic Houses Association.

Built in the 1870s as a residential home, Willow Grove is one of the few remaining examples of a Victorian Italianate Villa left in Parramatta. Many generations of people in the Parramatta community were born there in the first half of last century when it served for more than three decades as a maternity hospital.

Spokesperson for North Parramatta Residents Action Group Suzette Meade said: “For four years the community has tried to reason with Premier Berejiklian. Over this time we’ve offered solutions, but they have been ignored. We will not stand by and watch as more local heritage is destroyed.

“The Berejiklian government bulldozed Parramatta’s War Memorial Pool, then it was the historic Royal Oak Hotel — a hotel older than Perth. This hotel was knocked down in the dead of night.

“Premier Berejiklian should be under no illusion; if the destruction of Willow Grove or St Georges Terrace’s commences, people will be prepared to put their bodies in front of machinery.”

This is the first Green Ban since the recent passing of Jack Mundey, who inspired a generation of unionists and community activists to fight for our shared built, cultural, and environmental heritage.

Meade said: “Jack's recent passing has reminded all of us that to simply be passive will only accelerate the destruction of Australia's heritage and our activities honour Jack Mundey’s legacy.”

It is not the first time the CFMMEU has taken action against uncontrolled development in Parramatta. The union threw its weight behind the fight against major development of the Female Factory and the Parramatta Girls’ Home in 2015.

Meade greeted the CFMMEU’s Green Ban on Willow Grove and St George’s Terrace as a “tremendous win”.

“Parramatta deserves a genuine museum and continued cultural funding from the state government — but not at the expense of more of Australia’s heritage being destroyed,” she said.

“Premier Berejiklian should be under no illusion if the destruction of Willow Grove or St George’s Terrace commences people will be prepared to put their bodies in front of machinery.”

Meanwhile, a rally of about 100 people outside the existing Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo, inner Sydney, called for the NSW government to reverse its decision to demolish and re-develop the site, on the alleged grounds of moving the museum to Parramatta.

The museum is now being closed, with its priceless collection facing an uncertain future. Supporters of maintaining the Ultimo Powerhouse Museum argue that a new museum can be built in Parramatta, using some of the 90% of the existing museum's collection that now sits in storage, without any need to destroy the Ultimo facility.

Experts have pointed out that an alternative plan incorporating the buildings under threat of demolition can be designed. Alternatively, other sites may be available nearby for a Western Suburbs Powerhouse Museum, without any requirement to knock down any more historic buildings in Parramatta. The campaigns to maintain the Ultimo museum, and to develop another, more suitable project in the west are complementary, not opposed to one another.

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