Dear friends of HSTY3902,
I am writing my first blog post as part diary entry, part promotional piece, on my work with North Parramatta Residents Action Group (‘NPRAG’). I met with Suzette Meade, President of NPRAG, on Tuesday. Although we have been in contact over the phone and via email for the past couple of months, this was the first time we have met in person. Suzette showed me the grounds of the Parramatta Female Factory site and its surrounds, located at 5 Fleet Street in Parramatta. I was truly taken by the beauty and quiet majesty of the buildings, which although incredibly old (dating back to the early 1800s) remain in mostly good condition. Walking through the old buildings you can still see (and touch) the intricate markings left by individual convicts on the sandstone blocks which form the structures—apparently common practice which identifies which convict cut which stone and was thus entitled to wages for it. This site contains some of the oldest buildings in Australia’s history, and perhaps even more than the few which remain in the Sydney CBD today. It was a remarkable experience to walk through such an old and historically significant site, and particularly poignant that this was my first visit in the 21 years I have lived just a 10-minute drive away.
What is even more poignant is the fact that this wonderful experience—of walking through two-hundred-year-old cottages, of touching convict-carved sandstone, of smelling the sweet perfume of overhanging wisteria vines and of witnessing a colony of endangered bat species make themselves at home in the trees above—could come to an end all to soon. Suzette has been at the vanguard of NPRAG’s protests against current proposals, put forward by developer UrbanGrowth NSW, to develop the site into a residential precinct consisting of between 4000—6000 apartments. When I had spoken to Suzette earlier and had learned of the proposal, my understanding was that it threatened the site because the apartments would sit near the current site, across the road, imposing not just a twenty-plus-storey shadow but various other infrastructural strains that come with housing thousands of new residents. But when I walked through the site and Suzette showed me a sky-view artist’s impression of exactly where the new apartments would sit, and pointed out the proposed plots as we stood amongst the buildings, I was shocked to realise that the proposal includes the placement of apartment blocks within the site itself—some right next to the original convict structures. It is hard to understand why anyone would think it a good idea to place modern apartment blocks in amongst such a quiet and beautiful historical site, and the sprawling green grounds that surround it, but this is precisely what Suzette and NPRAG have been campaigning against since January this year.
But enough lament. It was wonderful to meet Suzette and see her passion and determination to fight this proposal, as well as to nut out exactly how I can help NPRAG in the historical work I do for them over the next few weeks. A lot of my work will be focused on the upcoming symposium that NPRAG is organising as a day for the public, organisations, members of parliament, and other interested groups to have an open discussion about the proposal and how it will compromise a site of so much national historical importance.
Suzette is keen to get more university students and members of the educations sector on board with this discussion, and would like to extend an invitation to you, the class of HSTY3902 (as well as any other interested academics from the university) to attend the symposium. It will be held on Monday 12th October, which does fall on our class day however will run from 9am—4.30pm so might allow those who are interested to come for even just a couple of hours in the morning. Tickets for the general public are $20 each but Suzette has generously given us a discount code to receive 50% off on the price (so it’ll just be $10 a ticket = bargain!). Just enter HISTORYMATTERS at the registration to receive this. The symposium will be held at the Parramatta Leagues Club. To buy tickets and view more details about the symposium visit: https://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/fleet-street-heritage-precinct-symposium-tickets-18493278895
I know Parramatta is not really near uni but I do encourage you to come along if you’ve got the morning off and are able to make the trip. It’s a short walk from the Leagues Club to the site, where you can have a look at the buildings for yourself and really appreciate how special it is that so much history lies in a relatively little-known and under-appreciated location.