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Heritage triumphs in Redfern battle

IT IS A quiet street, edged by trees and terraces. But for the past two years it has been the site of a bitter battle between residents and developers over a planned block of flats reports Alicia Wood in the Sydney Morning Herald of 5 February 2012.

The campaign to stop what Barry Humphries has called the ''rape and pillage'' of Pitt Street in Redfern came to a lull last month.

The Land and Environment Court ruled that, as it stands, the apartments cannot be built, so offensive would they be to the surrounding terraces.

Taking a stand ... Donna-May Bolinger and her son Benton, 11, with neighbours David Williams and Sarah Mendelson, inside their home on leaf Pitt Street. The house was owned by one of Redfern's early mayors.

Taking a stand … Donna-May Bolinger and her son Benton,11, with neighbours David Williams and Sarah Mandelson, inside their home on leafy Pitt Street. The house was owned by one of Redfern's early mayors. Photo: Marco Del Grande

In a letter to The Sydney Morning Herald, Mr Humphries called the street ''the most important and original residential strip in Redfern'' and said the apartment block would be a ''monstrous desecration'' of the street's heritage.

Donna-May Bolinger is one of the many residents who object to the development. She lives in the home of one of Redfern's early mayors, Cornelius Gorton. The house borders on the glaring white warehouse and car park that was to be excavated and turned into 40 units.

''The issue is history,'' Ms Bolinger said. ''You can't replicate that for any value.''

Character worth saving. Pitt Street, Redfern.

Character worth saving. Pitt Street, Redfern.

About 20 people assembled in her kitchen before the decision was handed down. One of them was Jack Mundey, the environmental activist who successfully led the Builders Labourers Federation in the green bans of the 1970s to stop the over-development of Sydney suburbs like The Rocks and Hunters Hill.

''I think that the whole Redfern society needs a co-ordinated plan for the area,'' Mr Mundey said.

Many of these residents say that heritage areas in Sydney are disappearing incrementally.

''The way to approach heritage is as an overall aspect, not in bits and pieces,'' Ms Bolinger said.

Further down the road lives Peter White in the house where Australia's first Prime Minister, Edmund Barton, lived from 1878 to 1884.

According to the records of the National Library of Australia, it is also the house in which Barton's father died.

''The fact is, this is one of the last remaining heritage suburbs surrounding the CBD and I would hate to see it destroyed,'' Mr White said.

The court, and the City of Sydney, agreed.

Commissioner Sue Morris of the Land and Environment Court decided the development should be consistent with the streetscape.

''The heritage significance of the existing building is not just about its size and bulk it is also how it is read from the public domain,'' Commissioner Morris said.

For now at least, it will continue to be read as rows of terraces whose occupants will not cede to development.

Visit the link below to view the video - Actor, activist and residents fight for Redfern.Residents, Jack Mundey and Barry Humphries fight to preserve the heritage value of Pitt Street, Redfern.