Thursday, January 31, 2008

Letter to the Hon Peter Garrett iconic heritage headland decision needed

The Honourable Peter Garrett, Minister for the Environment,

Heritage and the Arts

House of Representatives

Parliament House Canberra ACT 2600

An opportunity to preserve the iconic Nobby’s Headland from adverse development for the enjoyment of future generations of Australians

Dear Minister Garrett, congratulations on your appointment to head this important ministry which is focussed on protecting Australia’s environmental and cultural heritage values. I am sure that you are aware of the proposal to re-develop the Nobby’s Headland at the mouth of the Hunter River, Newcastle. The Nobbys Headland is an enduring and ubiquitous icon in Newcastle and the Lower Hunter Region, relentlessly appearing in logos, letterheads, tee-shirts, and advertisements. Nobbys is the signature landmark of Newcastle - a part of our psyche.

Before you make your determination concerning the Nobby’s re-development proposal, please consider the following issues, summarised as:

· Disturbance to aboriginal heritage site: Excavation and construction of new facilities will disturb the ‘kangaroo spirit’ that resides in the headland known to the Awabakal as Whybaygamba. Awabakal oral tradition has it that the kangaroo shakes his tail when disturbed, thus accounting for the recurring pattern of earthquakes in Newcastle.

· Social Exclusion: While the proponent claims his proposal will open up the headland to all, he boasts of a ‘chefs hat’ restaurant and ‘five-star’ accommodation. Hours of access will be limited. The general public will have to walk to the site unless there are overnight guests or restaurant patrons. Over 30 vehicles a day will traverse Macquarie Pier (1818), a State Heritage item enjoyed by thousands as a public pedestrian promenade. Access to Nobbys can be made viable without the need to construct a restaurant and exclusive accommodation.

· Loss of open space: Buildings already account for 66% of an already crowded site not much larger than a generous suburban housing block. Open space is essential to appreciate the isolated context of the Nobby’s lighthouse and the vistas to be had from the headland.

· Loss of heritage curtilage: The proposed 50-seat glass and steel restaurant will lie within 30cm of the seaward side of the Nobby’s Lighthouse (1857) – the oldest operating lighthouse on the eastern seaboard. The awning of the restaurant overlaps the lighthouse gallery, while the restaurant closely envelopes the lighthouse on its important seaward side. The ability to appreciate the heritage context of this squat historic lighthouse (in Commonwealth ownership) is severely compromised – whether viewed in close proximity on the headland or from important publicly accessible viewpoints such as the Southern Breakwater.

· Loss of heritage values: The close and enveloping nature of the new development combined with its siting on the seaward side of the Nobby’s lighthouse, effectively ‘decapitates’ the lighthouse lantern from its base. From many angles, the lighthouse base will be obscured by the restaurant. Unobstructed visibility is the prime siting rationale for lighthouses. Nobbys lighthouse needs to stand alone to be appreciated as a heritage item. Further, the group of buildings and the open space on Nobbys should be considered as a cultural landscape – as a single unit. The proposed restaurant and enlarged cottages have the visual effect of creating a fused mass with the lighthouse.

· Alternatives to ensure access: Supporters of the re-development argue that it is necessary to ensure access for all, and to generate funding for the maintenance of historic structures. The only heritage-listed building on the headland is the operating lighthouse in Commonwealth ownership. The existing 1940s cottages on site can be adaptively re-used as cafes, souvenir shops, an interpretive centre and public toilets, generating income that Newcastle Port Corporation can utilise to maintain these structures and employ a ranger. Re-use of the cottages would not compromise the heritage value of Nobbys. I have previously toured Nobbys as part of organised tours – little needs to be done to make it publicly accessible other than opening the entrance gate, and adding a short section of safety fencing.

This is an excellent opportunity for the new Federal Government to establish its heritage and environmental credentials by not approving the proposed Nobbys redevelopment on the basis that national heritage values are compromised under the EPBC Act. Non-approval would complement the generous funding made by the previous government toward the restoration of the nearby nationally significant, Fort Scratchley, another key component of the proposed Coal River Heritage Park..

Yours sincerely,

Mark Metrikas

Grad Dip Heritage Studies, UNE

B701/24 Bolton Street


1 comment:

David said...

Thanks Mark. you've said it all. I will also express my perspective to Minister Peter Garrett - and it will be the same as yours.