THE Goulburn Heritage Group say they feel “upset and sickened” about Wednesday night’s fire at St John’s orphanage.
Member David Penalver, who has long advocated for more protection of Goulburn’s heritage buildings, said there needs to be scope for compromise with developments.
This can be done by keeping the essential qualities of heritage while adding the new parts of the development. He cited a number of local examples of this compromise, including the proposed convention centre and serviced apartments on the site of the former Marian College.
As part of this development, the heritage listed Our Lady of Mercy chapel and the adjacent administration building, a former convent, will also be restored. Extensive landscaping is also proposed across the site.
“Goulburn’s architecture is what makes the city look unique. This is what will encourage tourists and history researchers to come here,” Mr Penalver said.
“Our older buildings are what distinguish Goulburn from other non-places where fast food takeaways have been allowed on every street corner.
“Non-places have lost their own character, have destroyed their own past and now face a tacky future. Our preservation is essential.
“Surely our Council is capable of working through the difficult issues facing developers of old buildings.”
Mr Penalver said that squatting had been permitted within St John’s, describing Wednesday’s fire as “a disaster waiting to happen”.
“This wonderful old building, on its very imposing site, has a huge history that has been sadly neglected for far too many years,” he said.
“Preserving the important central wing at St John’s Orphanage should have been made essential, while encouraging the owner to offer sympathetic alterations.
“Perhaps it’s not too late; let’s hope that this recent damage can soon be repaired.
“Our members recognise the high costs of looking after old buildings; many of us actually own them. We know that for investment purposes, they need to be adapted to new uses and that the old parts need to be replaced.
“St John’s Orphanage is one of many famous buildings here in need of a serious and sympathetic developer such as Nicolas Daoud with his Marian/Trinity complex - or as the Antiochean Orthodox Church at St Michael’s.
“Thankfully, these entrepreneurs have been willing to bring new life and purpose to this city, to our older buildings and to preserve visually their interesting long history.
“Look at St Patrick’s Hall site - a great restoration piece with sympathetic extensions soon to be added around it.”
“So where do we see our Council’s heritage responsibilities in all this? Why does Council have vast numbers of publicly listed heritage items if there are only very few financial means offered to maintaining them?”
Mr Penalver said that a proposal had been floated with Goulburn Mulwaree Council about ensuring the city’s heritage sites were adequately insured.
“After the disastrous Knowlman’s Store fire years ago, our members discussed with the council the need for proper fire insurance of important buildings so that after a fire, there was adequate finance to repair the damage caused, rather than allowing the owner to walk away from an empty site,” he said.
“I wonder what came of that idea.”
MEANTIME, a former resident of St John’s orphanage said initially she felt relieved when she heard of Wednesday’s fire.
“But then I thought, hang on, that’s where I grew up,” Newcastle woman Denise Bloomfield told the Post. “We had good times there, bad times and crazy times but it was still my home. (With the fire), I died a little bit.”
Ms Bloomfield came to St John’s from Sydney in 1974. Her mother died in 1969, leaving eight children behind. First her brothers - Anthony, Peter, Paul and Hector - were sent to the home, and the girls, including her now-deceased sister, Susan, followed.
By the time she arrived, the Sisters of Mercy had purchased two houses on Auburn St for families. Yet Ms Bloomfield recalled the Sisters kept the main building “immaculate,” with hardly a speck of dust and perfectly maintained gardens.
She said she was disappointed by the structure’s neglect and last week’s fire. “I would like to see it rebuilt and restored to its original condition,” Ms Bloomfield said.
“I’d also like to see it opened up to ex-residents so they can go and have a look. It was our home for a long time. We had good and bad times but being in an orphanage, we all stuck together.”
Police probe cause
INVESTIGATIONS into the cause of the St John’s blaze are continuing, with police urging anyone with information to come forward.
Hume Crime Manager Inspector Chad Gillies said officers were pursuing a number of enquiries into the fire.
He said the initial investigation at the crime scene had been hampered by OH&S issues on site.
Anyone with information about about Wednesday’s fire are urged to contact Goulburn Police on 4824 0799 or Crime Stoppers