Renovating in the downtime: Historic sites funded

In Attractions, Australian Cultural Exports, Australian Domestic Tourism, Community, Government, Media and Communications, Momentum, New South Wales

Sydney Harbour’s historic sites are being funded for renovation, but tension exists over which government – state or federal – should manage them long-term.

Follow the story from articles published on the 17th and 18th June 2020 below.

The Tourism News, 29 Sep 2020

Sydney Harbour historical sites to receive $40m injection of federal cash

From, 29th September 2020

The Morrison government plans to spend another $40.6 million to help fund urgent repair work on historic sites around Sydney Harbour and open more of them to regular visits by the public.

The funding for the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust, to be announced in next week’s federal budget, comes on top of $23 million recently earmarked to safeguard and restore the trust’s hundreds of military, industrial and Indigenous sites.

Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley visits the North Fort within the North Head Sanctuary on Monday.
Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley visits the North Fort within the North Head Sanctuary on Monday. CREDIT:JAMES BRICKWOOD

“The budget will not only ensure the iconic sites are preserved, it will deliver a vital lifeline to trades, specialty contractors and local businesses through direct and indirect employment, delivering hundreds of new jobs over the coming years,” federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley said.

“These sites are part of our history and our legacy … we want to be able to showcase these sites,” Ms Ley told the Herald during a visit to North Head on Monday, adding some of the sites required immediate repairs.

The four-year funding follows the release in June of an independent review of the trust, which was set up in 2001 to rehabilitate important defence sites around Sydney Harbour.

The NSW government has been critical of the level of co-ordination, with Planning Minister Rob Stokes calling for more federal spending to halt the deterioration of the structures.


North Head Sanctuary, with its World War II-era gun emplacements and barracks, was among the sites singled out for urgent attention.

Of the 94 buildings at North Head owned by the trust – about a quarter of all the trust’s buildings – half remain partly or entirely unrestored, the review found. The new funds will help restore and conserve the site’s gun emplacements, observations posts and tunnels.

Built in the 1930s, the site’s guns fired only once in anger, to send a warning across the bows of a Polish freighter that had sailed through the heads without authorisation.

Until now, the public has only been able to visit the maze of tunnels and chambers on volunteer-led tours held weekly during summer. COVID-19 restrictions have prevented recent open days, local staff said.

The tunnels in the North Fort contain a series of chambers including replicas of the shells the guns would have fired during World War II - had the need arisen.
The tunnels in the North Fort contain a series of chambers including replicas of the shells the guns would have fired during World War II – had the need arisen.CREDIT:JAMES BRICKWOOD

Other sites to benefit will be Cockatoo Island, where the large cranes will have urgent repairs and safety work done. The island’s industrial precinct will also get upgrades to its Turbine Hall.

The decontamination of 10 Terminal at Middle Head will also be stepped up, as will upgrades to Woolwich Dock, among other sites.

President of the Headland Preservation Group Jill L’Estrange welcomed the extra support, including $4 million for 10 Terminal.

“10 Terminal is a site of major historical and military significance and it desperately requires restoration and adaptive re-use to become a world-class Indigenous, military and environmental interpretation centre,” she said.

Grace Karskens, a history professor at the University of NSW and author of The Colony: A history of early Sydney, said it was important that restoration work didn’t only retell the “men’s history” of guns and war. The area around North Head in particular was closely associated with Indigenous women when the Europeans arrived in Sydney Harbour in 1788.

“The women amazed the British sailors” with their canoeing skills, juggling children and even fires while out fishing on the harbour, Professor Karskens said. “Where are all the women’s sites?” she said. “It is so male-dominated and so white.”

Planning Minister Stokes said the federal funds would complement the $40 million the state government planned to spend on North Head this year alone.

“Sydney should be perceived as a city in a park, rather than a series of isolated and separately managed parks in a city,” he said. “We can best protect these assets by ensuring that the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Trust sites are considered in the context of the whole harbour.”

“The sites are used for largely the same purpose – public access, public recreation and conservation – and should be managed holistically,” he said.

‘Backward step’: NSW government slams Commonwealth over Harbour review

From 18th June 2020

A federal-state stoush has erupted over the future of some of Sydney Harbour’s historic landmarks, with the Berejiklian government claiming it had been largely shut out from a review of the former defence sites.

NSW Planning Minister Rob Stokes said the independent report on the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust released on Thursday amounted to “a backward step”, particularly its recommendation that the Trust’s assets – including Cockatoo Island and North Head Sanctuary – remain in its control beyond its legislated end in 2033.

Cockatoo Island contains World Heritage-listed colonial buildings and a former naval shipyard.CREDIT:RHETT WYMAN

The review was a “cover-up of the lack of ambition” for the preservation and promotion of the seven former defence sites by the Morrison government, Mr Stokes said.

The review stated it would be “premature” to transfer control of the sites to the NSW government, saying that only the Harbour Trust “has the functions or powers to manage Trust land and has the requisite public confidence to take on the role”.

A federal-state tiff over the historic properties, which also include Sub Base Platypus and the Macquarie Lightstation, could hinder the need for close cooperation to develop the Harbour as a top tourist destination.

The report, for instance, identified the pressing need for $47 million to be spent over the next four years to repair crumbling buildings, including falling windows at the School of Artillery at North Head Sanctuary and to restore or partially demolish cranes on Cockatoo Island that present “risks to safety and heritage values”.

“It is clear that in the absence of additional funding the Harbour Trust will need to take some hard decisions, including on whether Cockatoo Island can continue to receive visitors in the future,” the review said.

Mr Stokes said the state was “more than willing to step up” with funds but “we were rebuffed”. Having separate jurisdictions over different historic Harbour sites only added to “costs, duplication and confusion”.

‘There should be a single vision and a single narrative for the Harbour,” he said. “This is so important for the future of the city and the future of the country.”

The minister added he had only “found out by accident” of the review’s release on Thursday night after a staff member had seen the Herald‘s report go up.

Mr Stokes said he’d sought closer engagement with the Morrison government and the Trust but was “stone-walled on every step of the way”, including “a promised meeting” with federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley “that never materialised”.

Deteriorating infrastructure means that without large injections of money Cockatoo Island (in the background) may no longer be able to receive visitors, an independent review found.
Deteriorating infrastructure means that without large injections of money Cockatoo Island (in the background) may no longer be able to receive visitors, an independent review found.CREDIT:NICK MOIR

Separately, the report’s recommendations – “broadly” supported by Minister Ley – including the granting of longer leases offered encouragement to private investors such as financial Danny Goldberg, who had previously proposed developing Cockatoo Island in its entirely into an “art island”.

“We are disappointed [at some of the recommendations which rule out, for instance, a whole-of-island lease] but accept that the reviewers have considered the views of all stakeholders,” Mr Goldberg said.

“The recommendation of lease terms up to 35 years is probably something we can work with,” Mr Goldberg said. “[It] would not necessarily be a deal-breaker if a substantial portion [of the island] was able to be leased, and there were negotiated safeguards and clear understandings around what else the island was being used for.”

For her part, Ms Ley defended the Commonwealth’s continued control of the Harbour sites, saying “people don’t want NSW to have control of these assets”.

“All I heard when I walked around North Head Sanctuary was ‘don’t let the state government control this area,” she said.

Ms Ley said the government was “unlocking” $9 million sitting in the Trust’s accounts following the sale of Markham Close properties. Further funding would have to go through the “normal budget processes”, she said.

Fellow federal Liberal MP Trent Zimmerman, who helped draft the Trust’s original plans during the Howard government years, said the public had more confidence in the federal government than the state ones to manage the Harbour’s sites.

People know where the boundary of state control is because “that’s where the weeds start”, he said, adding that Circular Quay was “the most dramatic example” of poor state government management”.

The Trust had become “a dynamic and groundbreaking organisation”, Mr Zimmerman said.

Joseph Carrozzi, the chair of the Trust, said he was “very pleased” that the review had recommended sites remain in the custody of the Trust.

“To be frank, I’ve been disappointed over the past four years at the level of engagement with the state on the work that we’re doing and the sites that we have,” Mr Carrozzi said, adding Canberra wanted the Trust to have a “strong collaborative partnership” with the state.

Jill L’Estrange, president of the Headland Preservation Group, welcomed the review’s recommendations particularly that landmarks must “be protected and should not fall victim to commercial ventures that are not sympathetic to the environmental and heritage values of the land”.

“We remain concerned about the long-term funding of the sites, which may require $200 – $300 million over the next decade,” Ms L’Estrange said.”The issue of long-term leasing is still a major concern,” he said. “In our view, a lease of 35 years, which can be further extended, is dangerously close to privatisation of public land.”

Harbour Trust review recommends against leasing off Cockatoo Island

From the, 27th June 2020

An independent review into the Sydney Harbour Foundation Trust has recommended against long-term plans to transfer the control of historic sites into private hands.

The review, to be released on Thursday, effectively rules out proposals – such as one from art collectors Tony Berg and Danny Goldberg to invest as much as $100 million to convert all of Cockatoo Island into an “art island”.

Cockatoo Island is one of the sites that belong to the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust.
Cockatoo Island is one of the sites that belong to the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust.

The review, led by Carolyn McNally and Erin Flaherty, is the first since the trust was set up in 2001 to restore former defence sites. These include the Macquarie Lightstation in Vaucluse and Neutral Bay’s Sub Base Platypus.

The report recommends against leasing entire sites such as Cockatoo Island, and calls instead for the creation of a special master plan for the world heritage-listed site with convict-era structures dating back to 1839 and a former shipbuilding dock.

Details provided to the Herald show the reviewers also recommended against 50-year leases and also emphasised the need to keep assets in public hands.

Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley, who announced the review last October, was “broadly” in support of the key recommendations – subject to further work as outlined in the report.

“This is a landmark review into some of the most significant heritage sites in the country encompassing Indigenous, convict and military history,” Minister Ley said, adding it would send “a strong message against leasing entire sites such as Cockatoo Island. It is a recommendation I support.”

“Leasing is already a part of the Trust but the concept of 50-year leases is not recommended,” Ms Ley said. “Sites like Cockatoo are important and the report recommends a new master plan be developed to ensure the public can continue to experience its wonderful heritage value .”

Cockatoo Island.
Cockatoo Island.CREDIT:NICK MOIR

The revelation earlier this year that Mr Berg, a former chief executive of Macquarie Bank, and fellow financier Mr Goldberg had proposed taking over Cockatoo Island stirred opposition from groups such as the Headland Preservation Group that warned against further commercialisation of the harbour’s historic sites.

Group president Jill L’Estrange said her organisation continued to have concerns that may or may not be eased when the review is formally released and the government’s final decisions are made.

These worries include the need to rule out any long-term leases that would result in the “alienation of public land for a private use”; the requirement to conserve and also interpret the environmental and heritage values of Trust land; and greater community consultation and transparency.

“The minister’s recommendation [against leasing off Cockatoo Island] is a victory for conservation of public assets rather than an insidious push for privatisation by stealth,” Ms L’Estrange said.

Cockatoo Island played host to convicts and shipbuilding before morphing into an arts precinct.
Cockatoo Island played host to convicts and shipbuilding before morphing into an arts precinct. CREDIT:JANIE BARRETT

Cockatoo, also known by its Indigenous name of Wareamah, was to mimic other “art island” drawcards such as Naoshima in Japan, according to the proposal. The catches included the need for a federal government injection of as much as $200 million to recomplete the rehabilitation of the island, formerly a naval dockyard, the Herald reported in February.

The Trust’s members reviewed a preliminary version of what was dubbed the “Cockatoo Island Foundation” submission, and rejected it as “not in line with the objects of our legislation and plans”, a spokeswoman said.

The terms of reference for the review underscored the precarious financial position of the Trust as a whole.

“When established, it was contemplated that the Trust would become self-funding from revenue generated from its sites,” it said.

While the sites were attracting more than 1.8 million visits each year – before the coronavirus pandemic – and had developed a “sound business” deriving “substantial commercial revenue”, the ongoing regulatory restrictions constrained the Trust’s ability to develop “a sustainable operational model”, the government said last October.

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