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Future is bleak for blacksmiths at ATP

Approval of the Redfern Waterloo Authority’s re-development in the Australian Technology Park and North Eveleigh will provide 1,260 new homes for the South Sydney area, but already it has forced some of the existing residents out of their places of business writes Nicholas McCallum in the South Sydney Herald of August 2008.
Future is bleak for blacksmiths at ATP

Photo Ali Blogg: The magic of a blacksmith

The historic blacksmith’s shop at the ATP, Wrought Artworks, is feeling the force of gentrification. It’s out with the very old and in with the new, as the technologies of yesteryear make way for those of the digital age.

Over $460 million of investment in the area will provide new sites for the Seven Network, Pacific Magazines and other research facilities. However the world’s largest collection of steampowered smithing equipment and the fully operational shop may be forced out of the ATP, possibly breaching the heritage arrangements of the RWA Planning Policy.

A campaign has been launched to save the self-funded Wrought Artworks which is hailed by the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC for maintaining its collection and keeping alive the skills of a dying trade. Their work is highly sought after for restorations of some of Sydney’s Victorian heritage iron works, including the Queen Elizabeth II gates at the Opera House and the Dawes Point balusters that line Sydney Harbour. In 2002 the National Trust awarded the blacksmiths with a commendation for the reproduction of a gate and railings at Centennial Park Reservoir.

Early discussions of the sites redevelopment with the then Planning Minister Craig Knowles suggested that the blacksmith’s shop would remain operational in its two half-bays within the park, and leases maintained. Even after the construction of a $600,000 wall to dampen the noise produced from the functioning museum, Wrought Artworks’ future looks bleak in light of comments by RWA CEO Robert Domm. “All prior agreements are history,” the CEO said.

The proprietors and caretakers of the facilities, Guido Gouverneur and Wendie McCaffley, have built-up their business and maintained the Victorian blacksmithing equipment. They are now considered top of their shrinking field in greater Sydney. Currently they employ three young people from the next generation of blacksmiths and run Australia’s only trade course in blacksmithing through Ultimo TAFE. In 2001 Mr Gouverneur was awarded Citizen of the Year for his efforts in conservation and maintaining the collection at the site.

Ms McCaffley expressed her dismay at the RWA’s desire to have the shop removed. It is her belief that the eviction notice was only issued because it was the easiest option in the Authority’s future plans for the site.

“[The blacksmith shop] is a tangible link to the site’s past,” she said. “And it’s a concession of the site’s heritage that it remain operational.”

However, RWA CEO Robert Domm maintains that the workshop is operating at the site without paying any rent, or having any legal lease of bays one and two at the ATP. He stated that several attempts to resolve the issue had not been successful and that legal advice was being sought. “The ATP needs to resolve these issues and has accordingly instructed its solicitors to commence legal action so that they may be appropriately resolved,” Mr Domm said.

There is a contradiction in the efforts of the RWA to have the blacksmiths removed as it goes against its Employment Enterprise Plan, designed to create work in the Redfern/Waterloo area. If the workshop is closed, then four apprentices currently employed at Wrought Artworks will be forced out of work.

A letter from the Conservation Director of the National Trust, Graham Quint, to the Department of Planning declared the historical significance of the blacksmith shop and how important it was that it be retained in its current location. “It is difficult to imagine any more appropriate operation in this historic workshop,” the letter stated.

Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore has also expressed her concern over the impending eviction of the blacksmiths.

She wrote to Planning Minister Frank Sartor in June requesting his intervention to find an alternative arrangement that would see the workshop maintained at its current location.

Mrs McCaffley is hopeful that the RWA will not be able to force them out but concedes that the entire saga stems from an opinion that maintaining the workshop will be too much effort for the Authority.

“I don’t think they’ll get us out,” she said. “We’re the last man standing.”

If Wrought Artworks is evicted from its current location, then its upcoming open day to be held on Sunday August 17 could be the last. To see unique machines of the Victorian era, head to bays one and two of the Eveleigh Locomotive Workshop south, Australian Technology Park.

Source: South Sydney Herald August 2008