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Under the Hammer

Is the state's valuable heritage being put under the hammer by a State Government more interested in forging relationships with developers? Asks Quentin Dempster on ABC’s Stateline NSW on 8th August 2008. The report from Reporter Nick Grimm is in the broadcast transcript below.

QUENTIN DEMPSTER, PRESENTER: Is the state's valuable heritage being put under the hammer by a State Government more interested in forging relationships with developers? That's the question some are asking in light of yet another case where the Iemma Government is being accused of pursing an anti-heritage, pro-development agenda.

Over the past few weeks, Stateline has been following the plight of Australia's last surviving lighthouse ship, the MV Cape Don, which is facing an uncertain future because the NSW Government is trying to evict it from the berth where volunteers have been restoring the vessel for the past five years. And by the way, today we were told that NSW Maritime is in discussion with the volunteers in an attempt to secure the vessel's future.

Well, tonight we're bringing you a different story, but one with remarkable similarities to the Cape Don's. This one involves the heritage blacksmith who for the past couple of decades has been plying his ancient trade at the old railway workshops at Redfern. For most of that time, he's used and maintained the historic collection of tools and equipment at the workshops with the Government's blessing, but now, like the Cape Don, he's also been issued with an eviction notice.

Nick Grimm has the story.

NICK GRIMM, REPORTER: It's just a couple of kilometres from the heart of Sydney, but come here and you might as well be 100 years away.

GUIDO GOUVERNEUR, BLACKSMITH: There's just so much history tied up in the actual building and there's, you know - even the trusses.

This is, really, the great pinnacle of English engineering in a colonial situation. And you can sort of see the bolts, the rivets, the castings, forgings being used in unison to make, you know, this outstanding, sort of long-lasting contribution to our technology.

NICK GRIMM: The blacksmith's workshop at Redfern looks pretty much just as it did when railway maintenance workers last put down their tools and left here 20 years ago.

WENDIE MCCAFFLEY, WROUGHT ARTWORKS: This is the oldest, largest collection of blacksmithing, steam-powered blacksmithing equipment remaining in the world.

NICK GRIMM: In fact, it's a collection so unique that the renowned Smithsonian Institute in the United States has classed it as the most significant technological site of its kind anywhere in the world. That it's been preserved so well is thanks in large part to blacksmith Guido Gouverneur, his partner Wendie McCaffley, and the rest of the people who make up the small family blacksmithing business known as wrought artworks. For close on 18 years, they've been the ones who've kept the fires burning, kept the machinery oiled and their bearings turning.

WENDIE MCCAFFLEY: In 1991, State Rail accepted a proposal from us to conduct our blacksmithing business from the pretty much abandoned bays here at Eveleigh. The agreement was that an exchange for running wrought artworks and using the facility and the equipment and the tools, we would make secure, stop vandalism, maintain the equipment and appeal to the heritage community.

GUIDO GOUVERNEUR (archive footage, 7.30 Report, 1993): This is the crowning achievement of the Industrial Revolution.

NICK GRIMM: Back in 1993, Stateline's predecessor, the then NSW edition of the 7.30 report, first caught up with a younger Guido Gouverneur. The third generation blacksmith explained then why he'd shouldered the responsibility to help preserve and maintain a functioning workshop.

GUIDO GOUVERNEUR (archive footage, 7.30 Report, 1993): There's nothing else like this left. They've all gone. There's no other workshops. There's no kind of industrial equipment that you can go and look at. This is it.

NICK GRIMM: In fact, to the heritage-minded, Wrought Artworks is widely regarded as a textbook example of how irreplaceable public heritage can be preserved and maintained, while also remaining functional and useful - so much more than a museum exhibit.

GRAHAM QUINT, NATIONAL TRUST: This area under the original development consent was set aside. The equipment was meant to be maintained and restored. There was a very large government grant that apparently has never been spent. Agreed as the perfect conservatoire in this place.

NICK GRIMM: And certainly in the time that Wrought Artworks has operated from the old railway workshop, the business has left its mark all over Sydney.

GRAHAM QUINT: We've done quite a lot of restoration in Sydney on the iron monuments of Sydney. The Queen Elizabeth II gates was one of our first major heritage restoration projects. We did the Dawes Point balustrade stage 2 program. The restoration of 165 metres of 1912 balustrading that was significantly corroded and in poor repair.

NICK GRIMM: But in the years that Wrought Artworks has occupied the workshop, the business' rent-free status gradually became a bigger bugbear for the building's managers. The Redfern-Waterloo Authority is the statutory body that administers the so-called Australian Technology Park that incorporates the workshop. It recently accused Guido Gouverneur of carrying out illegal building modifications.

GUIDO GOUVERNEUR: What you've got here is quite a subsided floor. There's a lot of irregularities in it. It's an OH&S issue. They gave me a stop work notice after we'd done this that I couldn't proceed with the next stage, which was in here. Ah, and that's where we're at.

NICK GRIMM: Soon after, Wrought Artworks received its eviction notice.

WENDIE MCCAFFLEY: And, this is what we're fighting against, because they have acted unconscionably, and as if they haven't looked into the past or the history or the reason or the value of us being here.

NICK GRIMM: The boss of the Redfern-Waterloo Authority is Robert Domm, a former chief of staff to Planning Minister Frank Sartor in his days as Lord Mayor of Sydney. Mr Domm declined to be interviewed for this story, but he did provide Stateline with the reasons for the eviction in writing.

ROBERT DOMM, CEO, REDFERN WATERLOO AUTHORITY: This commercial issue is being misrepresented as a heritage issue. The truth is that the private business has not paid any rent for 18 years and has had free use during this time of the ATP's heritage machinery and equipment. This is not a tenable situation.

NICK GRIMM: So, Guido Gouverneur, let me grill you here for a moment. Are you just sponging off the public purse?


NICK GRIMM: Why not?

GUIDO GOUVERNEUR: We're training young apprentices. We're actually utilising the equipment and demonstrating it to the public as part of the DA consent conditions that allows the ATP to operate.

NICK GRIMM: But you've been here rent free for close on 18 years.

GUIDO GOUVERNEUR: That's not true. We originally payed rental to State Rail under a peppercorn rental agreement and we had a lease that we signed to Australian Technology Park to pay rent, which they refused to countersign. And since then, no one's asked for rent.

NICK GRIMM: The National Trust believes that it's the Redfern Waterloo Authority that owes a massive debt to Guido Gouverneur, because, without him, it would have to pay someone else to maintain the heritage equipment and teach a new generation in how to use it.

GRAHAM QUINT: Really, they should be paying Guido for doing that, rather than trying to hit him with some sort of commercial rent.

NICK GRIMM: Basically, you believe that it's the State Government and the people of NSW who are the ones getting the sweet deal out of having Guido Gouverneur and his business here.

GRAHAM QUINT: Yes. The people of NSW are benefiting in so many ways from this operation as it is now, and it's just crazy to think of it as some sort of commercial return operation.

NICK GRIMM: If it all sounds a bit familiar, it's probably because to a very significant degree, it is. Stateline has been following the case of the Maritime Heritage listed lighthouse ship, the MV Cape Don, which was given until next Thursday to vacate its berth. And just like Wrought Artworks, the Cape Don has been kept for years on a vague and informal tenancy arrangement by its landlord, NSW Maritime. The ship is currently berthed next to the old coal loader wharf on Sydney's north shore, a site rumoured to be set for redevelopment as a luxury super yacht marina.

Are you seeing a pattern emerging at all, Graham Quint?

GRAHAM QUINT: It's very sad that the Government doesn't see the benefits of having very skilled people working in these places and again and again just want to evict them with very little notice, very little understanding of the importance of their contribution.

NICK GRIMM: The old Eveleigh railyards will also be ringing to the sounds of redevelopment soon, when work begins on implementing the State Government's plans for the old carriage workshops, now known as the north Eveleigh Precinct. The Australian Technology Park, meanwhile, will soon gain a new tenant in the form of the Seven television network. All the changes have Guido Gouvernour and his supporters nervous about what the future holds for the site's heritage.

There's a fair bit of media stuff happening. We haven't done any radio.

NICK GRIMM: A protest meeting and public open day at the workshop is being planned for Sunday, August 17th. Meanwhile, Stateline this week had better luck at encouraging the man in charge of the Australian Technology Park to specify what he wants. He wrote to Stateline with this offer.

ROBERT DOMM (voiceover): "We fully intend to maintain a blacksmithing operation for the benefit of the public in this space. The ATP is only requesting Wrought Artworks enter into the standard licence agreement. It should also pay a reasonable contribution towards the running of the place."

NICK GRIMM: That reasonable contribution, Robert Domm explains, would be half the commercial rent on the floorspace occupied by the blacksmith, roughly $1,000 a week. Guido Gouvernour hasn't received that offer as yet; nor does he know if it comes with strings attached. But despite Robert Domm's stated commitment to preserving a viable blacksmith's workshop, the National Trust fears that without Guido Gouvernour, it would be doomed to fail.

GRAHAM QUINT: We suspect that without him, gradually, we'll see changes made and this building turned over to some other use.