Log in

Forgot your password?

Paint Shop Precinct Heritage Interpretation -

These notes on the Heritage Interpretation for the Paint Shop Sub Precinct have been prepared by Roger Jowett from the RTBU Retired Members Association. They have been prepared to promote debate and discussion about the Heritage in an area which is often neglected. It might provide some ideas for areas you might want to cover in your own submission.

The first obstacle is the sheer volume of material. Five heritage  documents to analyse plus a truckload of other documents to  respond to in the space of 4 weeks is obviously far too short a time period. The consultation period  should be extended by a month. .

The second standout general comment is the lack of consultation of any description with parties interested in moveable heritage collections and non-aboriginal intangible cultural heritage(living culture/workers stories.) Consultation has a number of aspects including the parties to be consulted( the who, when  where and what) and the participation on governing structures by community and non-government organisations. The Government has yet to adopt a position concerning governance structures even though being prodded for over 15 months.   For example, the ATP Conservation Management Plan included full community participation from beginning to end. The Overarching Conservation Management Plan for the entire Eveleigh Railway Workshop Precinct has no community input. It was based on a 2017 document which has been the subject of a quick and dirty update with a slim appendix.

The community is rightfully cynical about consultation, many regarding it as a tick a and flick exercise. The document Study Requirements for the Paint Shop precinct has a Section 15- Consultation. It  refers to “” undertake an appropriate and justified level of consultation.” What does this mean . It must be fleshed out in detail. The Considerations section of the Consultation document refers to what consultation considerations should be included: it does not include heritage interpretation and does not include a  provision for on ongoing consultation for the non-aboriginal community. Both of these serious shortcomings must be remedied.

The Study Requirements document has a section 5 -Heritage. It is divided into two sections an Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Study which is grounded in extensive consultation and is a well-researched and comprehensive document. This is not the case with the Non Aboriginal Heritage Study for the Paint Shop Precint. No consultation has taken place. The Study Requirements limit this area of heritage to existing research and reports.

For heritage interpretation the Paint Shop sub precinct presents a number of challenges.

Firstly, the precinct has a number of discrete functional areas, a number of which are not functionally related to Carriageworks e.g Scientific Services Laboratory and Telecommunications Workshops. Obviously the paint shop was functionally dependent on the Carriageworks and was connected in a number of ways e.g paint shop annex for lifting carriages, the traverser for moving carriages between the workshops, the fan of rail tracks etc. The overwhelming heritage interpretation in the past has concentrated on the Eveleigh Locomotive Workshops and Eveleigh Carriage Works. The Paint shop sub precinct because of the functional differences for a number of its components has received very little attention. The Study Requirements should be amended to allow research to be undertaken in the areas referred to. Greater emphasis needs to be given to the relationship between the Paint shop and Carriageworks.

The State wide responsibilities of the CMEs Office in coordinating all mechanical branch functions of the NSW rail system needs to be a topic for heritage interpretation. ‘The Study Requirements for non-aboriginal heritage are both contradictory and lacking in detail. On the one hand the study is directed at the Paint Shop Precinct and then in another paragraph it refers to a heritage assessment of the features surrounding the study area without giving any examples.

The Study Requirements  for the Heritage Interpretation Strategy(HIS) includes precinct based key themes, social values , interpretative measures and locations as part of the broader State Heritage Eveleigh Railway Workshops site. As no stakeholder consultation has occurred the HIS should not proceed until it has taken place.  A workshop of heritage stakeholders was held as part of the Heritage Interpretation Strategy for the redevelopment of the Eveleigh Locomotive Workshops. It produced a list of 30 topics  for consideration . This should be a starting point for the non-aboriginal heritage study for the Paint Shop precinct.

The HIS has a renewal vision which indicates the “ Renewal will draw on the past by adaptively reusing heritage buildings .. the sub precinct will evolve as a local place contributing to a global context.” No mention is made of the industrial heritage.  It mirrors the Redfern North Eveleigh Strategic Vison document of Feb 2022 which had 23 references to adaptively reusing heritage listed buildings( noting they attract a price premium) and one fleeting reference to industrial heritage interpretation.

We need to remind ourselves that we already have a globally recognised Eveleigh Railway Precinct what contains the best example of 19th century Victorian railway heritage buildings in the world. Government neglect over decades has placed this in peril as commercial and retail considerations become preeminent. Having innovation and technology sector become a key ingredient in the precinct shouldn’t be seen as creating a binary equation of Tech Central versus a globally recognised heritage precint. They can with vision ,planning and community involvement coexist and prosper together. Unfortunately the implications of the NSW Governments vision for the precinct will sound the death knell for the ERW precinct as it haemorrhages due to death of by a  thousand cuts. The Overarching CMP update and appendix does little to triage yet alone revitalise the potential of the ERW precinct. These documents must be revised based on community consultation.

The HIS in addressing key themes loosely uses a list of state historical themes which are then reinterpreted by the consultant. The key themes, interpretative measures and locations suggested need to be put on hold until thorough consultation has occurred. For example, the strategy notes “the Paint Shop precinct holds social significance to railway employees, past and present , as the home of training for apprentices ,tradesmen and engineers in the with the latest technology… many social activities were organised by the Eveleigh Workers for themselves and others outside the workshops. Numerous union activities and major industrial strikes occurred at the workshops and played a role in various labour movements, the repercussions of which had a major influence on blue collar workers across. Australia….. there is significant research potential.” This observation begins to address the role of unions but many other issues need to be considered including: the role of migrant workers, women workers who had a section of the Paint Shop to undertake upholstering of carriages, the role of unions in establishing English classes for migrant workers on the job, the OHS hazards faced by workers in the paint shop, significant union figures, the role of shop committees which created an Australia wide first when established at Eveleigh in 1926 and continued to exercise considerable power for many decades.

A key component of heritage interpretation concerns movable heritage. The valuable collection contained in the Paint Shop sub precinct is in the words of various reports“ has a rare collection of heavy machinery." The term machinery and equipment covers a wide range of items ,each specific to performing a tasks or a range of tasks needed to keep the railway system in operation.

As part of its statutory obligations the rail owner TAHE, under S170 of the Heritage Act has a Heritage and Conservation Register Survey which provides an  assessment of the machinery collection in the paint Shop precinct. A condition of sale should be a requirement that any new owner to be covered by the S170 requirement. This was part of the covenant covering the sale of the ATP /ELW to Mirvac in 2016.

As a minimum there needs to be an inventory created and assessment of all moveable heritage items within the precint if this has not been already done. The current condition of the collection should be assessed and where necessary repairs and remediation take place. When interpretation occurs, the role of the machines and equipment in the production process needs to be explained; the skills needed by workers to operate them etc.  Wherever possible complete assemblages of items should  be considered. Many questions remain to be asked. E.g what will happen to the Traverser and where will it be located? Great attention is given to the Fan of Rail Tracks outside the paint shop. The Association argues that there should be an operational rail track connected to the main line to allow steam locomotives and special carriages e.g the Royal and Governor Generals Carriage to be exhibited in the reused paint shop during heritage week etc.

The HIS by way of example refers  to an item of tram rolling stock which is the only interpretative item at the Tramshed retail complex in Glebe. There is no context given for the item, where it fitted in Sydney’s then tram system, the workers who operated and maintained it etc. It stands out like the proverbial shag on a rock. This style of heritage interpretation must be avoided at all costs.

The HIS makes a number of general broad  brush suggestions about heritage interpretation. For example, a one line suggestion is that a museum be located in the CMEs building. Given the importance of the mechanical branch in the NSW rail system and in the development of railways in NSW this is at first glance a positive suggestion. Whether it should be in the CMEs building or in the Paint Shop is a debate for another day. However the reuse of the CMEs building , one of Sydney’s finest examples of Victorian architecture has been hived off from the redevelopment of the Paint Sub precint and is currently the subject of tendering for commercial use. This raises a multitude of questions about the attitudes of incoming commercial enterprises to the development of a museum, how will it be operated , will it be part of Sydney’s Living Museums complex etc.

Roger Jowett, RTBU Retired Members Association.