OPINION | Time to make up for past wrongs

Campbelltown's Kendall’s flour mill in its 1840s heyday, as painted by Sandy Inglis. The attached millhouse, in which James Bocking ran a bakery/store, later became the restaurant building. (Courtesy Campbelltown Catholic Club).

Campbelltown's Kendall’s flour mill in its 1840s heyday, as painted by Sandy Inglis. The attached millhouse, in which James Bocking ran a bakery/store, later became the restaurant building. (Courtesy Campbelltown Catholic Club).

“Knock it down, and sell the land. Someone will buy it for sure. It's become an eyesore!”

That was one online comment last week, in response to calls to save Campbelltown’s derelict Fisher’s Ghost Restaurant building. Happily, it was swamped by many more caring comments.

Like many of you, I find it hard to accept that “progress” means knocking down old quality to replace it with a glass and metal McTower.

But the knock-it-downers are not a new species. 

Did you know that in 1958 there was a big campaign to demolish the row of four magnificent Georgian houses in Queen Street? A dilapidated eyesore, some said at the time. “The sooner we put a bulldozer through those buildings the better it would be,” one councillor insisted, slamming people “who wish to live in the past”.

Luckily for us, Dr Ivor Thomas and Clive Tregear led a defence, arguing that the buildings should instead be restored to give a “class and dignity” to any future growth centre. “Campbelltown will and must go ahead – but it should not be done with blitzkrieg methods.”

Well, how many of you can honestly say that Queen Street would look better with a 1950s block of flats on that site rather than the four Georgian houses that Campbelltown is now famous for?

The truth is, Queen Street has been very badly treated – from the tatty $2 shops, to the 1980s trend of bulldozing our heritage inns (from The Good Intent to Lacks’ Hotel) in the name of, um, progress.

The historically-important Fisher’s Ghost Restaurant site is where the industrial revolution came to Campbelltown in the 1840s – a steam-powered grist mill to replace the windmills that otherwise dotted Campbelltown’s wheat-covered hills.

The main part of the mill came down in the 1920s, but the millhouse was renovated as Milby Maternity Hospital, where generations of locals were born, before it became a restaurant in the 1970s.

Queen Street needs its history and quality, but we constantly get screwed. There is no better example than the 21-storey tower proposed to overshadow (literally) the four Georgian gems, plus the historic CBC Bank and old Post Office buildings.

This is a disgrace, but it won't be decided by our local council. Instead, the state government – which promised to hand power back to councils (ho, ho) – will have a panel of its own appointees make the call. God help us.

The fact is, almost every one of our problems over the years have been created by state governments (both Liberal and Labor): from pulling up the Camden rail link in 1963, to dumping Housing Commission ghettos on us in the 1970s, to breaking a promise to protect the Hurlstone green space in 2016. And putting endless housing estates out here but no jobs or adequate infrastructure. You know the drill.

Its stuff-ups have also cost local ratepayers dearly.

The Premier should restore the Fisher’s Ghost Restaurant site and then hand it as a gift to the people of Campbelltown, as an apology.

Well….I have an idea. Might these six decades of shoddy treatment by state governments be a solution to the Fisher’s Ghost Restaurant issue?

Just as Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologised to the Stolen Generation on behalf of all previous governments, perhaps Premier Gladys Berejiklian can apologise to Campbelltown on behalf of all the state governments.

Buying and restoring the Fisher’s Ghost Restaurant site and then handing it as a gift to the people of Campbelltown, as a symbolic apology, might be a good start.

If Premier Berejiklian denies the state government has treated us badly, I can provide plenty of historic evidence showing otherwise.

If Ms Berejiklian says she can’t afford the millions it will take to buy and restore Fisher’s Ghost Restaurant, can I remind her of the hundreds of millions saved by ripping off Campbelltown over the years.

The most recent example was the fact that local ratepayers were slugged half a million dollars because of her own government's failure to implement its own laws. Campbelltown Council had to suffer a by-election (which could have been avoided had the government approved its own "countback" of votes policy). Ratepayers were not only slugged $500,000 for the government's mistake, but those who didn’t vote are being fined – that $1.42 million in fines going to the state government, of course.

Pleas by Campbelltown MP Greg Warren for that money to be refunded to Campbelltown have all fallen on deaf ears.

Ms Berejiklian, I would suggest to you that that $1.42 million fleeced from the people of Campbelltown, due to your own government’s stuff-up, would help restore the Fisher’s Ghost Restaurant building itself. All you have to do is buy the land it sits on –  perhaps with the profits you plan to make from selling Hurlstone to developers?

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