Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Saving history

When I moved to Ashfield almost 10 years ago, there were a few things that made the location extra special.
Firstly, the flat I had moved into was in a building that looked like an original picture plate from an Austen novel - an ancient crepe myrtle drapes over one end of the front yard whilst abundant lavender bushes line the pathway to the front door. In the morning the sun hits the Victorian lacework on the front porch, projecting the intricate patterns across the wall.

The stunning lavender path and the top of the house - back when it was painted pink

When I was first peeking through the windows of my flat-to-be - hardly able to contain my glee - one of the residents came outside, introduced themselves and told me about the history of the building. It was the original Rectory that was built in 1880 to house the family of the Rector of St John's - the church across the road from the house. In the 1920s the Rectory building had been relocated onsite (another stunning pieces of architectural history in itself) and this original building had been converted into flats. I was captivated with her descriptions of how lovely it was to walk through the churchyard every day on her way to the train station, and walked that way myself on my way back home.
Under one of the Acorn trees, looking at the oldest surviving building in Ashfield, circa 1840

You see that lovely little piece of green land to the left of the Church? That's where they want to build, cutting down all the trees to do so.

To this day I still walk through this original 1840s churchyard on my own 1 kilometre journey to the train station every morning. In Winter tiny snowdrop flowers emerge from between the graves and every Spring is heralded by the heady perfume of wild freesias bursting from every corner. There is a shady walkway lined with Palms, gnarly Acorn trees and some truly beautiful fir trees. Majestic eucalypts on the boundary of the property are home to Kookaburras, Rosellas and Cockatoos. Walking home through this in the last light of the day is magical and I feel able to slow down and breathe out. 

Just a few of the wildlife nestled in the branches

The beautiful trees at sunset and in full sun

It might sound slightly morbid, but I've always loved graveyards. In hundreds of years their intention never changes - they are exactly as they were and there is something truly evocative about that.
The original gravesite, thankfully not affected by the current development application. Photo: Copyright John Cowper

Recently the church has put plans to council to develop the remaining green spaces of the site. An obtrusive new Ministry Centre will completely obscure the view of the original heritage listed building from the street. And with a recent proposed change of zoning from Special Uses to Residential, the Church's plans for building flats in a far corner seem a whole less far-fetched. I have since spent many sleepless nights drafting and re-writing a 10 page submission to council opposing these plans.

A concerned neighbour who lives on the adjacent property has written a truncated version of her own submission to council so that concerned folk who want to express their concern can do so.
You can download the letter here:
If you care about this issue, sign and send this letter by 5pm May 17th to:

General Manager, Ashfield Council
Post: PO Box 1145, Ashfield NSW 1800 DX 21221
Fax: 9716 1911

Ashfield is the second most densely populated municipality in New South Wales and sadly we also have the lowest ratio if parkland to people in the state. To remove this historical piece of parkland from the public is deeply upsetting. And one I hope we have the power to stop.


p.s. this original Heritage Walk brochure for the area is really fun

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