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The front of what was once the St Mary and St Mina’s Coptic Orthodox Church – “rare & nationally significant”

left to right – Ms Hanan Ghabour, Director of the Australian Coptic Heritage & Community Services, Anthony Albanese MP Federal Member for Grayndler & Reverend Fred Nile, leader of the Christian Democratic party.

I have just returned from a peaceful, intelligent & passionate protest where around 70-80 people met beside the Coptic Church at Sydenham Green to protest Inner West Council’s decision to demolish the building next Monday 8th May 2017.

Is demolishing this building a big deal?  Yes. I think so.  This was the first Coptic Church, not only in Australia, but also outside of the Nile Valley, so it most firmly ticks the heritage box.

First functioning as the Tempe Park Methodist Church, it was purchased by the Coptic community in 1968 & re-consecrated as St Mary and St Mina’s Coptic Orthodox Church.  The National Trust describes the building as being “rare & nationally significant”.

Anthony Albanese MP Federal Member for Grayndler & Reverend Fred Nile, leader of the Christian Democratic party both attended to support the community in saving this heritage building.

The following is what I managed to write down.  I did my best to take it all down verbatim, but all mistakes are mine.

First up to speak was Ms Hanan Ghabour, Director of the Australian Coptic Heritage & Community Services.   She said the Interim Heritage Order protecting the building ended on 22nd August 2016.   The Coptic community have had the building independently assessed & have been told it will take $2-million to renovate.  Inner West Council says it will need $5-million to renovate.

There was a small fire last Tuesday night, that caused limited damage to areas that would need to be renovated anyway.  The fire service were said not to be concerned about the safety of the building.

Representatives of the Coptic community last met with Inner West Council on 3rd March 2017 & have not heard back regarding their offers to renovate the building.

She said Mr Pearson, the Administrator of Inner West Council, said he had three options –

  1. Do nothing.
  2. Do what the previous council had decided, or
  3. Start a third tender process, which will take 4-years.

I felt her despair with getting nowhere with the Inner West Council.

She said Reverend Fred Nile has attended every meeting with the Inner West Council & has lobbied hard to retain this building.

She had been told that Ms Gabrielle Upton MP, New South Wales Minister for the Environment, the Minister for Local Government & the Minister for Heritage cannot intervene & that it was up to the Inner West Council as to what they want to do with the building.

The community is asking the State & Federal governments to intervene & recognize the heritage importance & protect the building. They have also asked Anthony Albanese to stop the demolition.

She said that in Egypt important buildings to Coptic Christians are being demolished all the time, so for it to happen here makes the Australian Coptic community feel further persecuted.

The Inner West Council said they will take out the bricks from the church one at a time & use them to make a footpath in Sydenham Green.  She said this was not respectful. 

[I nearly choked when I heard this.  Council are supposed to be experts on multicultural issues.  Even I know that you cannot get lower than have people & dogs walk on what was once the walls of a church & I am pretty sure this would be regarded as offensive to other Christian faiths, Muslims, Hindus & Buddhists.  In many cultures, even pointing your feet towards a sacred object or a holy person, is deemed offensive.]

She said the Coptic community is a community that causes no problems & they receive no funding for programs.  The Coptic community bought the church in the 60s for $40,000.  The church is also a war memorial.

The community is prepared to request an injunction order on Monday.

Next, Reverend Fred Nile spoke. He said the Coptic community want to save the building & that it should be used as a Coptic centre, a community centre & a museum.

Reverend Nile said he did not trust Inner West Council’s assessment that the building walls were going to collapse & that people will be injured.

He said Council never took care of the church building & they watched it get vandalised.  They have a responsibility to help restore & renovate the building.  The community’s quote for renovation was $2-million.  Mr Pearson said it will require $5-million.  He said he found Mr Pearson negative & exaggerating the cost.

Next Anthony Albanese addressed the crowd.  He said, “This was the first Coptic church outside the Nile Valley & if that’s not heritage, I don’t know what is.”  The community came to Australia to make Australia their home & participate in the community.

“We do not have a Council.  We have an Administrator & no democratic process.”

He said he had spoken with Luke Foley MP, Leader of the Opposition who is committed to standing up for the community & will make representations to Gabrielle Upton, the Minister for Heritage.  He said the State government must stop this order & that he will raise the issue with the Federal government.  “A win here is important for the Coptic community & everyone else.”

He said The Coptic church in Egypt is under siege.  The Australian government can send a message.  We need to represent people of all faiths.  One way to do this is to restore heritage & have a museum & a centre of focus here.  He also pledged solidarity with the community forever.

Then the Coptic Priest addressed the crowd & I left.

My feelings were strong on the bicycle ride home.  This was an engaged, well behaved & intelligent community who in my mind are desperately trying to save a building that does have important heritage connections both for the Coptic community & the Inner West community.

I believe the building should be retained.  Council spends huge amounts of money on all kinds of things that do not have much of an impact, but cost a lot (eg.  The red meshing pattern on the road surface at intersections in the Marrickville shopping strip.  This is to inform drivers of a 40mph speed limit.  The speed limit happens naturally anyway.  Most of the time I travel 25mph along there because this is the speed vehicles are traveling.)

I do believe Council has left the building to decay.   I do believe that the bottom half of Marrickville & definitely Tempe, Sydenham & St Peters have not had much happening for them in comparison to the northern suburbs of the former Marrickville LGA – at least this is my perception over the near 8-years I have been doing this blog.

The Station Master’s property at Tempe was heritage listed, but the same building in Sydenham was forgotten to be assessed by Marrickville Council & therefore not covered by any heritage listing.    Then there was the DA to remove 23 mature trees on the property.  Then somehow, not only were all the trees removed, but the house was also demolished.  Another piece of Sydenham history gone.   Local people care about this, as they care about the fate of the Coptic church building.

Sydenham Green will not benefit by this 1902 building being demolished.  However, both the park & the wider community will benefit by keeping an important heritage building for future generations.  Slowly we are watching heritage be destroyed for high-rise & visually, I think this is a major loss of the character of the area.

I hope the Coptic community wins.  I hope this building can be saved, renovated & start being a place for the community for now & for the future.

There is an excellent article from the Marrickville Heritage Society Jan/Feb 2016 Newsletter on the Australian Coptic Heritage & Community Services website where the Society says, “Council should be ashamed of the neglectful & careless manner in which they have managed this potential community asset, allowing it to decay to the point that even a basic restoration will cost in the order of $2 million dollars.”   See – http://bit.ly/2pjNtZP

Side of ex- Coptic Church in Sydenham and about to be destroyed.

What was the Sydenham Station Master’s cottage is now a desolate treeless block of weeds.

Image taken from 'Your Say Marrickville' with thanks.

Image taken from ‘Your Say Marrickville’ with thanks.

 

 

Marrickville Council is planning something that I think is exciting for Sydenham – the Sydenham Station Creative Hub.

Instead of the usual fare of modern high-rise, which we could have expected so close to the railway station, Council is planning to create an entertainment precinct.  This will include live music venues, small bars, restaurants, cafes, as well as industry they describe as “traditional & creative.”  This means retaining employment in Sydenham, which I think is a very good thing.

The area is on the Marrickville side of Sydenham Railway Station.  The streets are full of old buildings & backs onto the heritage Sydenham Pit & Drainage Pumping Station, a huge sandstone stormwater dam at Shirlow & Garden Streets & visible from the passing train.  I’ve cycled around this area & it is interesting.  To be cleaned & greened while retaining the character is a very good thing in my opinion.

Council’s ‘Your Say Marrickville’ page says that, “the Sydenham Station area is already a major contributor to manufacturing in Marrickville and has very low vacancy rates.”  They also note that the proposed Victoria Road Precinct (high-rise housing & mixed business) & the Sydenham to Bankstown Corridor Strategy (more high-rise housing) will bring a population growth that will be able to travel to the Sydenham Station Creative Hub for entertainment.  Currently trains run every 4-minutes.  It will be safe for people to go home by public transport.

The first step is to rezone the area from General Industrial to Light Industrial. Then Council will green the streets, plant street trees, make the streets pedestrian-friendly & create traffic calming measures.

In many cities older so-called ugly areas have been revamped while retaining their character to create exciting, attractive areas full of creative activity & entertainment.  For this to be happening in Sydenham is exciting for me.  Like many others, I do fear the loss of character in Marrickville, as more high-rise is built.

Marrickville Council has opened community consultation about the Sydenham Station Creative Hub until 17th May 2016.  There is a short survey, plus the opportunity to ask questions.

The plan will then go the the 7th June 2016 Council Meeting, where the Councillors will decide whether to proceed to Gateway with the zoning changes.   You can read more & do the survey here –  http://bit.ly/26gnYJj

New Illawarra Flame trees - the start of an avenue of trees through the park.

New Illawarra Flame trees – the start of an avenue of trees through the park.

Pretty flash outdoor exercise equipment.

Pretty flash outdoor exercise equipment.

Back in November 2013, I wrote about Marrickville Council’s plans to upgrade Sydenham Green. See – http://bit.ly/1J4u4gI

We were in this park a couple of weekends ago & saw that work on the upgrade has started. Council has planted 2 Tallowwood (Eucalyptus microcorys) on the Railway Road side of the park. Tallowwood trees can grow to 30-40 metres tall. It will be fantastic if they do reach this height, as they will become landmark trees for the area.

Entrance from Rowe Lane

Entrance from Rowe Lane.  Looks cared for.

Native along the coastal areas from Queensland down to Newcastle in NSW, Tallowwood trees are long-lived trees with a denser canopy than most eucalypts. They produce creamy white flowers from July to November, which provide food for insects & nectar-eating birds & bats.

Council has also planted 7 Illawarra Flame trees (Brachychiton acerifolius) along both sides of the pathway nearest the children’s playground. These will look magnificent when grown. These deciduous trees are native to the east coast of Australia & can reach 20-metres in height. Flame trees are much-loved trees in Sydney because of their bright red flowers in late spring. They are great trees for wildlife too, which is always a bonus.

The Illawarra Flame trees are part of a planned avenue trees that will follow a walking route through four out of the five sections of this park.

The children’s playground has been replaced & is looking good. The path at the entrance from Rowe Lane has been replaced & native grasses planted on either side. This is a nice touch.

Probably the most astounding thing for me to see is the new outdoor exercise equipment that has been installed. Like the exercise equipment in Camperdown Park, some of these actually move. It is wonderful to see some equity happening as to the quality of equipment provided to this side of Marrickville LGA. I am sure these will be well used.

This is just the start of the improvements planned for Sydenham Green. So far, so good. I look forward to coming across more newly planted trees & other new amenities.

The children's playground.

The children’s playground.

New Tallowwod tree near Railway Street.

New Tallowwod tree near Railway Street.

Another Tallowwod tree.

Another Tallowwod tree. Hopefully these will be future landmarks for the area.

This verge garden runs from the corner of Gleeson Avenue along Unwins Bridge Road right to the building.

This verge garden runs from the corner of Gleeson Avenue along Unwins Bridge Road right to the building.

Looking down toward the corner.

Looking down toward the corner.

I was really pleased to see that Marrickville Council has recently replaced a stretch of footpath beside Memory Reserve on Unwins Bridge Road Sydenham & created a verge garden.  They planted grasses & to me, this kind look good. The grasses also match the work done just inside Memory Reserve. They will visually soften this area.

The same species of grasses just inside Memory Reserve.  It looks pretty &  I often see people sitting in this park.

The same species of grasses just inside Memory Reserve.  I often see people sitting in this park.

These 65-year-old Figs in Memory Reserve are incredibly important trees in this area, which is full of hard surfaces.

These 65-year-old Figs in Memory Reserve are incredibly important trees in this area, which is full of hard surfaces.

 

 

 

At the end of its life.

At the end of its life.

Marrickville Council has given notice that they intend to remove a Narrow-leaved Peppermint (Eucalyptus nicholii) outside 1 Hogan Ave, Sydenham.

They give the following reasons for removal –

  • Tree is on poor health & in decline.
  • Significant canopy dieback – only 20% live canopy.
  • The tree poses an unacceptable level of risk to the public & property.”

Council says they will replace this tree with a Grey Iron Bark (Eucalyptus paniculata) as part of the 2015 Street Tree Planting Program.

This tree is very sick & has been a sad sight on this corner for quite a while.  It will be good to have it replaced with such a great tree for biodiversity.

The Grey Iron Bark is a medium-sized tree native to eastern New South Wales. It produces white flowers between May & January, which are attractive to birds, insects. Bees make great honey from it. However, it does not flower every year.  Grey Ironbarks can live in excess of 100-years.

The deadline for submissions is Friday 27th March 2015.

Lots of dieback

Lots of dieback

Huge loss to this park

Huge loss to this park

I was told to visit Tillman Park as the lovely Fig tree next to the railway line had been chopped down.  The first connection I had in the park was with a man who was very angry that this tree had been removed.  He told me that the tree had been chopped down in the last couple of days.  The stump, about 1-metre round, was still wet.

I have no idea why this tree was removed. If there has been a Notification of Removal on Marrickville Council’s website, I missed it.

I hope Marrickville Council elects to replace it with another Fig tree. There are fewer and fewer of these trees in the municipality.

There is room for this species in Tillman Park.  Marrickville Council has designated Tillman Park a ‘priority biodiversity area.’  Fig trees are entirely appropriate as they are a great resource of food for wildlife.   Fig trees are also impressive & we need to still have such trees in our parks.

The tree that has been removed had a canopy spread of around 15-metres. Before Council pruned it a couple of years ago, the boughs looked like an upturned bowl making it a lovely, relatively private refuge to sit & enjoy the cool shade & the birds.  I shall miss this tree & I know that others in the community already are.  Right now the space looks like an empty scar.

This whole area of dirt & rocks was covered by the canopy of this Fig tree

This whole area of dirt & rocks was covered by the canopy of this Fig tree & there is more area behind the camera.

The stump

The stump

 

 

 

Should look very nice once everything has grown & the tree has matured.

Should look very nice once everything has grown & the tree has matured.

I was really happy to see that Marrickville Council has planted a garden as well as a street tree in a traffic island at the corner of Burrows & Hogan Avenue Sydenham.

The island could have been concreted, as it common practice around the municipality. In a past Council Meeting I heard the previous GM say in response to a question from past Councillor Olive that Council does not usually choose to green the middle of the roads where there are traffic islands or median strips because they are concerned for the safety of their staff who may be working in this area.

My belief is that anywhere without concrete is better for lowering the urban heat island effect & better for streetscape beauty, which impacts on the health & happiness of residents.

Burrows Avenue does not have many trees, so I am hoping the new tree is a tall growing species, so it will make more of an impact. Sydenham has lost at least 21 trees of late, as Railcorp chopped down all the trees in the grounds of Sydenham Station Master’s House last year.  This is a lot of trees for such a small suburb & any new public trees will be of benefit to both the community & the wildlife.

From this...

From this…

To this….

To this….

Leaving this...

Leaving this…

To this.

To this.

And finally to this.  I wonder why it was necessary in the first place.

And finally to this. I wonder why it was necessary in the first place.

On 10th April 2014 I posted about the ruination of a very nice & quite different street tree that was a feature the corner of Swain Street & Burrows Avenue Sydenham.  See – http://bit.ly/1hjsbUq   The tree was left unviable after pruning for power lines & was removed.

I was pleased to see that Marrickville Council planted a new tree in this location sometime in the last week.  It looks like a Banksia serrata, which is a great tree, especially for wildlife.

 

 

From this...

From this…

To this….

To this….

Paying money to get rid of healthy tree assets.

To finally this.   

On 10th April 2014 I posted about the ruination of a very nice & quite different street tree that was a feature the corner of Swain Street & Burrows Avenue Sydenham.  See – http://bit.ly/1hjsbUq

Well, now the evidence has disappeared completely. Today, which just happens to be Earth Day, I drove past & saw that this tree has been removed.  Beauty gone for good.  It made me feel quite sad.  I bet it made the residents near this tree even sadder.

I predict grasses or a small hedge will be planted here. Let’s see if I am wrong. I’ll keep an eye out & let you know.

 Paying money to get rid of healthy tree assets.

Paying money to get rid of healthy tree assets.

Once there was a beautiful healthy landmark tree living here.  Now there is nothing.

Once there was a beautiful healthy landmark tree living here. Now there is nothing.

 

Before

Before

After.

After.   It won’t produce much shade now.

There is a street tree on the corner of Swain Street & Burrows Avenue Sydenham that I have long admired.   It is an unusual tree because it is multi-stemmed & has been planted in an area reclaimed from the road to prevent traffic from turning right.  As you travel up Swain Street towards Sydenham Railway Station this tree is the view.

Also unusual was the red-coloured woodchip at its base.  Marrickville Council uses woodchip from trees they have chopped down, so this was more likely the work of a caring resident.

I’ve been looking at this tree for years as I drive or ride past, so it came as a shock to see it mutilated last Tuesday.  Five out of eight of its stems had been removed, sawn off with the ends looking like fingers rotted away by leprosy.   I returned the next day to take photos & these stubs had all been taken back to the main trunk.

I am assuming Ausgrid did this to the tree because there are power lines on this corner.

I feel sad & annoyed as yet one more piece of beauty in our municipality has been destroyed.  This tree looks mutilated & being a slow growing tree, I doubt that it will ever look as good as it once did.  Why did they not prune off the top like they have done to so many street trees in the municipality? There was enough canopy to be able to take this option.

What makes it worse is that above the tree appears to be aerial bundled cabling.   Was this tree mutilated merely because of a telecommunications cable?

Before.

Before.  Image from Google Street View.

After.

After.  It went from being a beautiful feature to this.  

Certainly enough canopy to remove some instead of remove two thirds of the tree.

Certainly enough canopy to prune instead of removing three quarters of the tree.  Image from Google Street View.

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