The long fight to Save Callan Park continues

July 1, 2021
Iron Cove beach at Callan Park. Photo: Carole Allen on Friends of Callan Park / Facebook

The fight to save Callan Park, the 61-hectare harbourside parkland often described as the “jewel of the Inner West”, has taken a new twist. The state government plans to split it up and hand the lion’s share over to a new agency dominated by people from the big end of town.

Callan Park is located on the traditional lands of Gadigal and Wangal people of the Eora Nation. It is nestled in the Inner West suburbs Lilyfield and Rozelle on harbourside Callan Point. The Point contains significant shell middens and rock shelters formerly inhabited and used by Indigenous communities.

Last December, the NSW Minister for Planning, Industry and Environment Rob Stokes designated two-thirds of Callan Park management to the Centennial Park and Moore Park Trust. Thirty-eight hectares of Callan Park’s 61 hectares is now under the control of the Trust which answers to a new super agency, the Greater Sydney Parklands (GSP).

Friends of Callan Park (FOCP) spokesperson Hall Greenland told Green Left that there had been no consultation with FOCP over the changes.

The gazetting of 38 hectares of Callan Park to the Trust was spelt out in the  Department of Planning, Industry and Environment’s May White Paper - Parklands for the People: A proposed legislative framework for Greater Sydney Parklands.

“The White Paper offers a community consultative committee for Callan Park, but lists its first duty as ‘to advise … on revenue generation,” Greenland said.

“Surely it’s the responsibility of governments to fund major parks as they do hospitals, courts and schools. This sounds like the old neoliberal mantra about ‘parks paying for themselves’.”

Long struggle

The colonial settler government recognised Callan Park’s beauty early in the Frontier Wars. In 1839, colonialist Crown Magistrate and Police Minister John Ryan Brenan paid for land on Callan Point.

It reacquired the land and built an asylum, Kirkbride, for patients in 1873. From 1885 until 1994, the Kirkbride complex was run as a state mental health hospital. Callan Park also hosted the former Rozelle Psychiatric Hospital. This closed in 2008.

Callan Park contains more than 130 buildings and structures. Apart from Kirkbride, it houses the architecturally significant Garryowen House, Broughton House, Spanish Memorial, Bonnyview and Convalescent Cottages. The regal Gregorian manor, Garryowen House, is the home of NSW Writers Centre. Bonnyview and the Cottages are empty.

A Tasmania University campus is also located in Callan Park, as is the NSW Ambulance service, drug and alcohol rehabilitation and mental care facilities.

In 1996, Sydney University College of the Arts (SCA) moved into Kirkbride. The university moved SCA out last September, after a protracted battle to stay. While the government looked for new occupants for Kirkbride and the Convalescent Cottages last June, as of this month, still no-one inhabits Kirkbride.

Sell-off by neglect

Successive state governments have allowed the majority of the Park’s 130 buildings to sink into disrepair.

Proving the point that neglect leads to privatisation, in 2002, Labor under Premier Bob Carr tried to sell off 20% of the Park to private developers.

FOCP led a determined campaign that defeated that proposal: 2000 people marched through Rozelle and 600 met in a local Town Hall to register their opposition.

Then, Callan Park was in the state seat of Port Jackson, held by Labor MP Sandra Nori. Under pressure from the campaign, Nori moved the Callan Park Protection Act 2002 which preserves “the public ownership of Callan Park; to protect its current features and restrict its future use; and for other purposes”.

To motivate greater use of the park, in 2011 Leichhardt Council put forward its Callan Park Master Plan, the Callan Park Conservation Management Plan and the Callan Park Plan of Management.

In 2015, Leichhardt Council endorsed a proposal for an expansive refugee hub at Callan Park. Governments did not act on the proposal, however, the Inner West Council in 2017 opened a Refugee Welcome Centre in a building in the Park.

Funding win

Last year, almost a decade after the Council released its Callan Park Master Plan, the NSW government released its Landscape Structure Plan (LSP) and offered $10 million to enhance Callan Park. 

The Gladys Berejiklian government promised the LSP would “align with the Callan Park Special Provisions Act 2002”.

Then, in January, NSW Health announced the funding to upgrade Kirkbride had increased to $14 million. The funding announcement was the product of a long campaign by the community fighting to protect the park.

FOCP said the extra money would be used to complete the Bay Run along the Callan Park foreshore, end car traffic on the foreshore, shift foreshore parking to Wharf Road, demolish the post-war veterans’ wards and landscape that area, and renovate the building overlooking the Waterfront Oval into a facility for sporting clubs and community groups.

Greater Sydney Parklands led by developers

The NSW government announced last July that its new GSP agency would oversee Centennial Parklands (including Moore Park and Queens Park), Western Sydney Parklands, Parramatta Park, Callan Park and Fernhill Estate.

Its board is led by developers, as investigative journalist Wendy Bacon said in “Clues to the missing trust in Greater Sydney Parklands”.

“The dominant influences on the Board are corporate law, property and private business. Of the 7 directors, 6 have property development experience."

Former corporate lawyer and board Chair Michael Rose pushed for the unpopular amalgamation of councils in 2016, Bacon said. Another board member, Ceinwen Kirk-Lennox, “worked with leading property developer Lendlease for 26 years”.

Greenland said that what the White Paper says about how the GSP would fund parks is “worrying”.

“When it is not confused and contradictory, it boasts that the government has given the GSP $108 million. This is peanuts compared to the nearly $2 billion (or 20 times more) it is spending on two new stadiums.”

Markela Panegyres, a former Sydney College of the Arts student who fought against the college being ousted from Kirkbride, said without community groups, such as FOCP, campaigning to preserve public spaces, more would have been lost.

“These are the only groups closely scrutinising the government’s neoliberal privatisation plans,” Panegyres told Green Left.

“Local government should also be raising the alarm; it should be rallying support for to ensure that Callan Park stays in public hands and is not sold off in bits to developers,”  Panegyres concluded.

[Sign FOCP’s online petition calling for a new Callan Park & Broughton Hall Trust to manage the whole of Callan Park as provided for in the Callan Park (Special Provisions) Act 2002. Follow the FOCP website for updates.]

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