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Michael Clarke letter to SMH of 10th August 2008

The following letter was written to the SMH but unpublished. Michael Clarke was involved in 2006 as the Chairman of the Engineering Heritage Committee in correspondence with the Minister over arrangements for Heritage preservation at the Eveleigh Locomotive Workshop.

Eveleigh railway workshops

The heritage vandalism and insensitivity of the NSW Labor Government knows no bounds, and nowhere is this so evident than at the former Eveleigh railway workshops.
When the locomotive workshops were being re-developed around 1997, they were identified as

‘the last surviving high quality railway workshop dating from the steam era surviving in Australia and possibly in the world’.

As such the collection of heavy machinery for the manufacture and maintenance of steam locomotives, together with the workshop buildings and their social history, had high heritage value. They thus presented a unique opportunity for display and demonstration of not only machinery from a bygone era, but of work methods and working conditions, primitive by today's standards.

Most importantly the Conservation Management Plan stated that ‘The cultural significance of the place is linked to the relationship of the machinery, building fabric and setting as a whole’. Consequently, its policies included retention of bays 1 to 4 for the display and interpretation of the machinery, which it said, should be kept in its original place.

Despite this the initial re-development compromised many of the heritage values; it alienated bays 3 and 4 and crowded the machinery into little more than two bays of the workshops. This made it impossible to adequately display and interpret the equipment and the working conditions of its erstwhile operators. It drastically changed the historic location of many items and the important working relationships between machines, and it destroyed an important aspect of their significance. It made a mockery of the conservation management process.

Apart from compromising most of the heritage value of the workshops, opportunities were also lost, such as the creation of a working museum of world significance, with high potential for training, education, skills maintenance and tourism.

Those concerned at the profit-driven approach gained a little comfort from the retention of bays 1 and 2 and of the blacksmith Guido Gouverneur, who has brought delight and an understanding of a disappearing trade to thousands of schoolchildren and grown-ups as well. Gouverneur kept the site alive and was substantially instrumental in keeping the greedy eyes of the owning authority at bay.

Now that the Redfern-Waterloo Authority wants to evict him, one can only be suspicious of their motives given the attitude of its predecessors; it just cannot be trusted! What is certain is that making more income out of the site at the expense of an activity highly valued by the community is contrary to the community’s wishes.

What is angering many thinking Australians is the NSW government’s assumption that when it identifies a space that could be developed, profit is the over-riding determinate; that the quality of our lives and of our culture and heritage, and the spiritual nourishment they provide, can be ignored or trampled on.

Sydney is fast becoming a soulless society because of the vandalism, avarice and insensitivity of our State government.

Michael Clarke
10 August 2008