Our say | Good on council for buying Georgian gems

SENTIMENTAL SITE: A 1930s shot of the old homes, with (at left) one of our great civic heroes, Clive Tregear, and (at right) a 1988 photo of the prettiest girl in Campbelltown with a spotty young reporter punching way above his weight.
SENTIMENTAL SITE: A 1930s shot of the old homes, with (at left) one of our great civic heroes, Clive Tregear, and (at right) a 1988 photo of the prettiest girl in Campbelltown with a spotty young reporter punching way above his weight.

You would have heard the good news – Campbelltown Council is the purchaser of two of the famous Georgian homes on Queen Street.

Phew.

I think we were all a bit worried as to who would buy them on the open market.

That heritage row, perhaps the finest in Australia, is one of our great assets – yet it’s a full-time job trying to convince state government panels not to approve high-rise overshadowing it. Grrrr.

So, it’s sorta reassuring to know local ratepayers are the new owners of the Railway Hotel (the second one up from the Flowerdrum side) and the old Coach House, at the end. The old Bursill store, in between, is the one that got away – but hopefully its new owner has the best of intentions.  

The council doesn’t know what to do with its two purchases just yet.

On Sunday, Mayor George Brticevic told me “perhaps community type uses” for some group or organisation “that appreciates heritage”.

He’ll also take on board pleas from our excellent Campbelltown & Airds Historical Society which wants to keep at least one of the two buildings open to the public.

“We have many impressed visitors to Glenalvon,” society president Kay Hayes tells me, “who then ask where else they can visit and we have to tell them other historic buildings are privately owned.”

I’d also love to visit – for purely sentimental reasons.

Because in my early 20s I worked in the old Railway Hotel when it was a newspaper office and it was in the main back room, in 1988, that I met the most amazing girl in Campbelltown, Trish Monkcom – now my wife of 27 years. (Check out vintagetrish on instagram).

I remember very fondly that building with its Georgian windows and doors and skirtings, and the slab and shingle sheds out back. 

I know from enthusiastic conversations that one of my mates, Warren Morrison, was a key instigator behind the purchase, as was Margaret Chivers, and the mayor has praised them both.

“To show we’re committed to preserving our local heritage as part of Reimagining Campbelltown is why Council wanted to keep these buildings in community ownership,” Cr Brticevic said.

The nice bonus is council got the buildings for cheaper than expected, so it has a bit extra in its kitty to help with restoration works.

Council doesn’t know what to do with its two purchases just yet.

Maybe, as part of that, the council can find a way to honour the memory of the great Clive Tregear – perhaps a plaque, or a special history room. Because, without Clive, we might not still have these buildings – as I explain in my adjoining column.

Whereas we have facilities or bridges named after other great civic giants – HJ Daley Library, Greg Percival Library, Gordon Fetterplace Pool and Arch Walker Bridge – Clive hasn't got so much as a bubbler in his honour.

Perhaps this is the time?

My last point is that the purchase of the old homes shows the total irrationality of economic rationalism.

Some governments love to “sell the farm”, flogging off public-owned assets to make a quick buck, but it’s usually a con. For example, Campbelltown’s motor registry was shut and sold, forcing locals to Gregory Hills, but this year it was revealed the state government had leased the site back for heavy duty inspections – minus everyday customers, of course.

Good one, Gladys.

In the same vein, the four old Georgian houses were once owned by the people of NSW – but the Greiner Government flogged them off in 1992 to make a quick buck – and now ratepayers are having to fork out to buy them back to protect them!

Clive’s fight to preserve heritage

The four Georgian houses are a source of local pride today, but in the 1950s they were considered “junk” that should be bulldozed.

Arguments for and against their restoration raged for months, with this newspaper calling it “one of the most widely discussed topics”.

The fight began in 1958 when it was proposed by Sydney planners to restore and preserve the buildings at a great cost of 15,000 pounds – but it wouldn’t work without the support of Campbelltown Council.

Many claimed it was a waste of money, one conservative faction on the council calling it a waste of money, suggesting that “a bulldozer should be put through the houses”. One critic called them “junk of doubtful history value”.

But leading the pro-restoration movement was a maverick councillor, Clive Tregear, who said the buildings stood as a “monument to a past age” and were the only such group of Georgian buildings in Australia. A future Campbelltown would be proud of them, he lobbied, supported vocally by Dr Ivor Thomas of Campbelltown & Airds Historical Society.

After much debate, the council agreed in 1959 to support the restoration plan.

Clive went on to become one of our greatest mayors (1964-72) and the buildings were purchased by the state government in 1963, so they could be protected and nurtured...until the rise of “economic rationalists” in 1992.