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Getting Shunted

QUENTIN DEMPSTER, PRESENTER: Getting shunted: our investigation into the eviction of a heritage blacksmith operating at Sydney's old Redfern railway yards has had a happy ending. It now appears that the future of the historic workshops has been secured. But the blacksmith's threatened eviction has become a rallying point for those who want to save more of the valuable railway heritage at Redfern. Nick Grimm reports on ABC’s NSW Stateline of 19th September 2008.

NICK GRIMM, REPORTER: Traditional trade union tunes might stir the blood, but there's nothing like a deadline to really focus people's minds. Certainly, that was the result when the Redfern-Waterloo Authority sent an eviction order to the blacksmith who, for the past 18 years, has been hitting hammer against anvil at the historic Eveleigh railway workshops. Hundreds turned up for a protest meeting-cum-open-day at the blacksmith's workshop.
PROTESTER: This broad public meeting of NSW citizens calls for the immediate withdrawal of the notice to quit.
NICK GRIMM: But while the threat to its future was what brought them together, it also brought to a head concerns about the way the State Government has been managing the rest of the area's heritage.
PROTESTER II: All of a sudden, we discovered it was a car park. You're standing on a car park. That's the sort of attitude that they've got to this heritage site.
PROTESTER III: And what we're here today is to say that we don't want our culture to disappear either.
NICK GRIMM: Soon after that day, with minds newly focused, the Redfern-Waterloo Authority and blacksmith Quido Gouverneur agreed to a lease which will see him continue running his family business from the workshop.
QUIDO GOUVERNEUR, BLACKSMITH: Fair few obligations on our part of things to do and also we actually managed to extract from RWA that they would fix the floor, which was the starting point of all the contention.
NICK GRIMM: Now with more solid ground beneath his feet, the blacksmith is putting heat on his landlords to lift their game where the rest of Eveleigh's heritage is concerned.
QUIDO GOUVERNEUR: Well that's why we're here today: we thought it was important that people realised that the Eveleigh site is not just a blacksmithing shop, there's a whole lot more. What we're seeing is a lot of demolition by neglect. There hasn't been a consistent policy of conservation and repairs. We've got beautiful machines like this that have been allowed to sort of, you know, just moulder in isolation.
NICK GRIMM: It isn't hard to find the evidence of neglect strewn around the old railyards. However, a massive transformation is in store for an area that's prime real estate just a stone's throw from Sydney's CBD. As this animation shows, a vibrant mix of cultural, business and residential development is being touted for the area north of Sydney's main east-west rail artery, redubbed by the State Government as the North Eveleigh Precinct. On the other side of the tracks, work is already well under way on what will become a new production headquarters for the Seven Television Network.
GRAHAM QUINT, NATIONAL TRUST: This entire site is on the state heritage register. It should be protected. Instances of the collection just disappearing, being taken to other places; that should not be happening.
NICK GRIMM: If you want to get a glimpse of some of that heritage still in situ at Eveleigh, you need look no further than the building known as the large erecting shop; if, that is, you can get inside. It's not open to the public. Some have called this vast 19th Century workshop an industrial cathedral, but in recent years, rolling stock lovingly restored here by volunteers has been shunted else where by RailCorp.
QUIDO GOUVERNEUR: Well, I think you've got a breakdown of the collection. You've got some items that have been looked after a lot better than others, some things have, you know, disappeared, some items, you know, there's no real strategy - and I think that's the significant part.
NICK GRIMM: There's probably no starker example of what's kept under wraps at Redfern than this. Under a grey blanket in the large erecting shop is what's said to be the Queen's Car, the royal railway carriage once used by the Windsor clan during their visits to Australia. No one, not even Stateline, is allowed to look at what's under the blanket. It's a publicly-owned heritage asset that the public can't see.
BRIAN DUNNETT, RAIL HISTORIAN: Behind us here is one of the State cars. In this particular case, I'm told it's the Queen's car. There's other cars like the commissioner's car and the governor's car.
NICK GRIMM: This is what we're talking about is under this blanket.
BRIAN DUNNETT: This is what we're talking, under this blanket. And this represents, I think, part of the issue that's involved in this whole heritage bit as far as the site's concerned.
NICK GRIMM: It's little wonder then that those determined to see that heritage preserved are nervous about suggestions it will be turned into commercial office space.
BRIAN DUNNETT: This will feature a 10 storey building in here.
NICK GRIMM: The large erecting shop is still owned by RailCorp, but its told Stateline that the building is earmarked to be transferred to the Redfern-Waterloo Authority. Both organisations assured us they have no plans for the demolition of the building and they're happy for it to stay as it is in the short-term. However, they're less definite on their long-term plans.
QUIDO GOUVERNEUR: No-one knows what's happening and even if they did, it's not the right sort of thing that is happening.
GRAHAM QUINT: The State Government appear to be just treating this site as any other redevelopment site. They seem to be totally ignoring the history of the site.
NICK GRIMM: Part of the reason people feel like they've been getting railroaded at Redfern is because until recently all tracks led to the one man who had the final word on everything. As the Minister for Redfern-Waterloo, Frank Sartor was more like Thomas the Tank Engine's top hat wearing Fat Controller, in charge if everything that moved in or out of the old railyards. But Frank Sartor had a lot of other hats too. He wore the Minister for Planning's hard hat, so he was eager to see the cranes and excavators hard at work. He sported the beret of Minister for the Arts, along with its focus on all things aesthetic. And then there was the ostrich feathered plumage atop his headwear as the minister responsible for the state's heritage.
PROTESTER: Given the potential conflict in the matter between Frank Sartor's roles as Minister for Planning, Minister for Redfern-Waterloo, including the Australian Technology Park, and minister responsible for the NSW Heritage Office, this meeting calls for immediate talks between the Premier of NSW and representatives of organisations concerned about heritage protection at Eveleigh.
NICK GRIMM: But just like Napoleon had his Waterloo, Frank Sartor had his Redfern-Waterloo when new Premier Nathan Rees dumped him from the frontbench.
LORRAINE WEARNE, PARRAMATTA CITY COUNCIL: Now I find that incongruous how you can be the Minister for Planning promoting increased development, but still be the person who is responsible for protecting the existing built environment.
NICK GRIMM: Parramatta City Councillor Lorraine Wearne has no particular stake in what's happening at Redfern, but she was fascinated to learn that the Seven Television Network was soon to become a major tenant there. The announcement of that deal came shortly before Frank Sartor used his controversial planning powers to override Parramatta Council's redevelopment guidelines for Seven's old site at Epping, which the network and its partners intend to redevelop as valuable residential property.
LORRAINE WEARNE: And, there we go: by August we suddenly had an approval here for all those apartments and it's just at the same time, or a month later, than they had actually agreed to move from this site into the Redfern-Waterloo site. When it became obvious that Council was not enamoured of building eight storey blocks of units on this site, they basically informed us, "That's alright, the Minister'll approve it." And so, off they went. We never saw them again at that point in time and guess what? Two weeks later, the Minister did approve it.
NICK GRIMM: Two weeks ago, Stateline contacted Frank Sartor's then ministerial office to ask whether he'd been persuaded to hand the TV broadcaster a redevelopment windfall in return for its help bankrolling the so-called revitalisation of Redfern. Unfortunately, the Fat Controller had lots all his hats and his ministerial head before we could get a response. Stateline then unsuccessfully sought an interview with the new Planning Minister and new Minister for Redfern-Waterloo, Kristina Keneally. It was only this afternoon that Frank Sartor contacted Stateline to emphatically deny that there had been any connection between the two decisions involving the Seven Network. He told us that:
FRANK SARTOR, FORMER STATE MINISTER (voiceover): There was never personal conflict of interest for the Minister because I stood nothing to gain. But there was a potential policy conflict because in the eyes of Channel Seven, they might have seen the two decisions as related. This was resolved because two separate organisations, the Redfern Waterloo Authority and the Department of Planning, independently negotiated these matters to their individual satisfaction.
LORRAINE WEARNE: The site was always going to be valuable because it's a large site, it was appropriate that it had medium density development, but it's certainly a lot more valuable with 650 minimum apartments on it.
NICK GRIMM: Back at Redfern, meanwhile, there are calls for union green bans, an urgent listing on the national heritage register and a little bit of visionary thinking.
So, a lack of vision on the part of the State Government, Graham Quint?
GRAHAM QUINT: That's, I think, what we desperately need at the moment: the vision to ensure this history is not lost forever.