La Perouse market gardens under threat

Chinese community and heritage groups are opposing the planned resumption of heritage-listed market gardens at La Perouse in southern Sydney for use as a cemetery. The land on which the market gardens sit has been used for food production for more than 150 years, and managed by Chinese gardeners for more than a century. They are one of the very few remaining examples of the productive gardens which used to be found all around the Sydney suburbs.

Media release – Chinese Heritage Association of Australia Inc.

Resumption of Heritage-listed Market Gardens alarms community

Chinese community leaders were shocked to learn about a plan to resume 60% of the heritage-listed Chinese Market Gardens at La Perouse, which was presented by representatives from the adjacent Eastern Suburbs Memorial Park Botany Cemetery, at a Chinese Community Consultations meeting on 26 July 2010, organised by the Community Relations Commission and the Land and Property Management Authority.

The cemetery and the market gardens are on Crown land. Two years ago, in response to representations to acquire this land by the Botany Cemetery and Eastern Suburbs Crematorium Trusts, the Department of Lands, prepared a Draft Assessment of Crown Land – Chinese Market Gardens, Phillip Bay and called for submissions. Many submissions (including ones from the National Trust and Randwick Council) were lodged in July 2008 for the retention of these seven (7) hectares to remain as heritage-listed Chinese market gardens.

The Draft Assessment identified three (3) suitable uses for this land:

  • Environmental Protection
  • Agriculture
  • Nature Conservation

It stated that ‘the site currently has a very high capability for agriculture and is functioning very successfully in this purpose’. (p.35)

It further states in relation to the cemetery proposal: ‘The site in its current state would most likely require significant engineering works to overcome the current constraints such as a high water table and flooding issues. Given the current environmental constraints and current state of the subject land, the site is considered not suitable for the establishment of a cemetery. As per the Australasian Cemeteries and Crematoria Association (2004) ‘Guidelines for the Establishment of a Cemetery’, if the water table is too high burials may not be possible.’ (p.36)

Daphne Lowe Kelley, president of the Chinese Heritage Association of Australia says, ‘The community recognises that with a growing population, there is increased demand for burial space but urges the State government not to acquiesce to this demand to turn unsuitable land into burial plots. I am sure that no one wants to have their dearly departed spending their afterlife in a former swamp.’

Contact: Daphne Lowe Kelley – 0417 655 233 – lowekelley@bigpond.com

Media release – Australian Heritage Institute

From Andrew Woodhouse
President, Australian Heritage Institute, a non-profit, Australia-wide group of local heritage societies
Suite 12, 3 McDonald Street Potts Point NSW 2011
Phone: 0415 949 506

Wednesday 28th July, 2010

State Government moves to evict Chinese market gardeners at historic La Perouse site and downgrade heritage based on hidden report. Calls for Kristina Keneally to intervene.

‘NSW Premier, Kristina Keneally, should intervene to provide Sydney with more sustainable food sources and stop her Land Property Management Authority from evicting second-generation Chinese market gardeners from their Bunnerong Road, La Perouse, Crown Lease, just to increase profits and plots for a nearby cemetery,’ Andrew Woodhouse said today.

Mr Woodhouse was invited with about 50–60 members of the Chinese community to a meeting yesterday called by NSW Community Relations Commission to discuss land use changes at the controversial market gardens site.

The scheme, supported by the authority and promoted by the Eastern Suburbs Memorial Cemetery Trust, calls for eviction by 2013 of two of three lease holders, and resumption of 60% of the current market gardens, according to information provided at the meeting (agenda available).

However, no guarantee is provided of any future site for two leaseholders and no guarantee the remaining 40% will be not be resumed at a later date.

Former Labor Party Minister-turned paid lobbyist, Gary Punch, spoke for his clients, the Eastern Suburbs Memorial Trust (ESMT), who aim to purloin public land for their commercial benefit.

The ESMT is owned by the NSW state government and has been the subject of previous public concerns about conflicts of interest. (See ‘State Buys into Funeral Service’, by Paul Bibby, SMH, 27 November 2009, p.9.)

‘The whole rationale of this proposal is a house of cards, with the area’s heritage, dating back to land use by Count La Perouse in 1788 according to the NSW Heritage Council, to be handed over to fill state government coffers depleted by financial mismanagement,’ Woodhouse says.

‘According to Glen Blaxland, a local historian and once a member of the local historical society in the Municipality, Count de La Perouse cleared a piece of land and established a vegetable garden in Phillip Bay to prepare vegetables for his return journey back to France.

The first known name of this suburb area was the Frenchman’s Gardens. It is believed that this vegetable garden was Australia’s first primary industry site and the site was more or less the same site as the Chinese Market Gardens.

According to Randwick – A Social History, published by Randwick Council in 1985, ‘…until 1859, the market gardens were owned and tended by Europeans…’

‘Clearly, the ESMT is guilty of re-writing history to suit itself, claiming in their heritage report there has been no market gardening on the site until after 1904.

‘Show us your evidence,’ Woodhouse says.

‘Claims that heritage plaques or other interpretation will be installed on the site post-resumption are tokenism,’ Woodhouse said.

In yesterday’s one-sided meeting conflicting claims from Gary Punch and George Passas (ESMT) about whether work will begin in 3 or 7 years, the actual costs, perhaps up to $40 million in five $8 million stages, and information contained in a heritage report by an architect, Paul Rappaport, which the ESMT refuses to release, all point to a lack of transparency and accountability.

‘The meeting was presentation, not consultation,’ Woodhouse says. ‘It lacked credibility.’

‘This is not a “public good versus private interests” battle, as Gary Punch claims,’ Woodhouse says, “it’s a 7-hectare land grab based on unknown heritage evidence to remove private, profitable, sustainable businesses to make profits from the dead for the government.’

‘Offers to set aside 20% of new burial plots for Chinese community and a temple are simply bribes,’ Woodhouse says with further comments by Gary Punch that ‘Quite frankly, if you were not Chinese but English Australians there would be no problem with all this’ being not only factually incorrect but prejudiced, perhaps even racist.

Mr Woodhouse has applied under FOI laws for the disputed heritage report.

‘This whole dodgy project should be referred to an Independent Commission of Enquiry,’ Woodhouse says.

For further comments please also phone:

Ms Daphne Lowe-Kelly, President
Chinese Heritage Association of Australia Inc.
Phone: 0417 655 233
Email: lowekelley@bigpond.com

Mr Terry Ha, Chinese market gardener & leaseholder
President, Australian Chinese Growers’ Association of NSW
Phone: 0419 218 794
Email: terry8ha@hotmail.com

2 comments

  1. Col says:

    The Government should make a public apology for the oversight that the Chinese market gardens were not heritage listed many years ago.

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