The Watsons Bay Association represents the residents of Camp Cove and Watsons Bay. Below is a summary of our view of the development of this important historic site the Stead House known as ‘Boongarre‘ at 14-14a Pacific Street.
WBA is not opposed to development, but we are keen to ensure that our local Council and State Government uphold planning principles and ensure that historic and culturally important sites such as Boongarre or Stead House are protected.
We have worked with expert horticulturalists, heritage architects, historians and local planners to compile this submission and would welcome the opportunity to talk you through the property and discuss our objections.
Boongarre or Stead House
Boongarre is a draft heritage item, nominated as part of Amendment No.66 to WLEP 1995 which included the addition of a number of properties to the list of Heritage Items in the Plan. Numbers 12 and 14 Pacific Street (the latter obviously including the building and grounds of 14A Pacific Street) were included in that draft Amendment. Council resolved without debate, in October 2006, that these two items should become heritage items. The Inventory Sheets relating to 14 Pacific Street contains the following recommendations:
• It is recommended that the building and its grounds be listed as an individual heritage item because of its historical associations with the Stead family over seventy years. This association is not specifically reflected in the modified physical fabric, however the alterations have been in keeping with the character of the original building and as such do contribute to interpretation of the Heritage Conservation Area.
• It is recommended that council encourage the retention of the current building style and manner of detailing in any future proposals for development.
• It is recommended that council encourage the retention of the open garden setting on the harbour side of the building, including all mature plantings and the walled terraces to the waters edge.
Both the Council and the Planning Department have clearly accepted that the subject properties are appropriately designated as Heritage Items.
However, despite Council’s decision to add these properties as heritage items to the LEP, the above recommendations have been mentioned within the preamble to the Council’s Heritage Assessment and planning report on this property, but their spirit has been completely ignored. The Council has a legal obligation to consider the draft heritage listing of this property in its report and we have not seen this fact given due prominence, nor have we seen proper consideration given to the high heritage significance of this property in its long historical association with the Stead family.
The historical importance of Boongarre is both in the form of the building as well as the garden and cultural plantings of palms, figs, coral trees and other significant plantings.
Given the high degree of significance of the house and the gardens and the historical association with the Stead family and with the Harmer family, we feel that the recommendations in the Inventory Sheet need to be given a central position in any heritage consideration of these items.
For example, whilst the Inventory sheet states: This association (with the Stead Family) is not specifically reflected in the modified physical fabric, however the alterations have been in keeping with the character of the original building and as such do contribute to interpretation of the Heritage Conservation Area. It is recommended that council encourage the retention of the current building style and manner of detailing in any future proposals for development.
The Council’s own heritage report suggests that as much has been changed from the original house then the proposed changes - which in our opinion are not “in keeping with the character of the original building” should be allowed.
It makes no sense for Council’s expert heritage advice (prepared by Noel Bell Ridley Smith + Partners Architects, and amended by Council’s Strategic Heritage Officers), to recommend that the house and gardens are important enough to warrant heritage item status, yet the Council Heritage report on the property recommends allowing changes which would be in stark breach of these recommendations
We have listed the Inventory recommendations against the proposed changes that Council staff recommended for approval to show the divergence of opinion.
DRAFT HERITAGE ADVICE ON PROPERTY : It is recommended that council encourage the retention of the current building style and manner of detailing in any future proposals for development.
PROPOSED DEVELOPMENT :
• Allow a bulky extension to Pacific Street, which will block views of the historic sections of the house, block the view corridor to the harbour AND block views to and of draft heritage item adjoining this property at 12 Pacific St.
• Allow massive 1000 cubic metre excavation under the historic house and gardens, which includes up to the boundary of important historical property at 12 Pacific St
• Allow a glass box addition to the front of the house which will block views of the draft heritage item from the harbour
• Not only will the harbour front extension encroach on views of the historic property at 14-it will also ruin views of 12 Pacific St. Both are highly visible and contribute aesthetically to the setting of both the harbour foreshore of Watsons Bay and Sydney Harbour.
• A tall fence which breaches height controls and removes all planting on Pacific street
DRAFT HERITAGE ADVICE ON PROPERTY : It is recommended that council encourage the retention of the open garden setting on the harbour side of the building, including all mature plantings and the walled terraces to the waters edge.
PROPOSED DEVELOPMENT :
• Remove historic plantings (palms, eucalyptus, figs, coral trees) from the open garden setting to allow swimming pool
• Encroach on the open garden setting with a new extension which does not “retain the current building style” and which extends significantly into the historic headland. It is one of the last intact headlands in Watsons Bay, which shows the historical setting of its 19c waterfront villas.
Detailed Design Issues
We have a number of objections to the Development Application of the property and its impact on both the streetscape and harbour front.
Horticulture & Heritage
• As outlined in the Inventory Sheet, this garden has important historic connections as the house that inspired Christina Stead’s novel The Man Who Loved Children; it was also added to by esteemed conservationist David Stead and by botanist Thistle Harris Stead. It was also the home of the novelist Elizabeth Stead.
• The waterfront Canary Island Date Palm (Phoenix PalmCanariensis) is a significant item as are all the plantings in this garden for Watsons Bay. It is visible from many outlooks. Our horticulture expert suggests the Canary Island Date Palm is in good health it is suffering from some wind and salt burn but nothing that cannot be treated. It’s condition certainly does not justify the removal of this tree
• The DA assessment calls for a revised landscape plan with retention of all existing kentia palms associated with the Stead family but we suggest this does not go far enough. Our horticultural and historical experts suggest that removal of other cultural plantings of natives such as Eucalyptus species, coral trees, banksias, palms and fig trees will have an enormous impact on the historic nature of the site and the views from the public domain and from the harbour across to Watsons Bay. These trees form an important part of the historical context of the house in its’ setting.
• The proposed swimming pool position not only breaches control as it is within 12 metres of the harbour foreshore but also relies on the removal of historic trees plantings and walls
• There should be an independent assessment of the Council advice that there is no heritage nor aesthetic impact by allowing the swimming pool within the 12 metres zone of harbour foreshore
Proposed Building Additions & Heritage
• As well as the documented connection with the Stead Family, Council’s heritage report does not point out that William Harmer and his family constructed the house. Harmer established the Watsons Bay ferry in 1876 and he also constructed another important Heritage item Mandalay that mirrors and faces Boongarre across the bay. The fact that Harmer built the house is important historically as is the need to keep its heritage place in tact on the harbour front
• The proposed additions and changes to the property will mean masking and impinging on the heritage aspects of 14 Pacific Street and its neighbour at 12 Pacific St.
• The proposed bulky addition to Pacific Street will close off the existing major view corridor that opens up harbour glimpses between 12 and 14 Pacific St. This is rare in Pacific Street, which has become a façade of high fences and garage doors dominating the streetscape.
• The existing additions on site are sympathetic to the building as a weatherboard villa of great significance to the Camp Cove precinct. ( see diagram below) This includes the front bay window two-storey addition and the rear shed. While not in keeping with the original period bay extension works well with the main house and with the plantings. Similarly the back extension on to Pacific Street allows a good view corridor and a clear view of 12 and 14 Pacific St from the streetscape will largely not be visible to the public. This is not advisable for a heritage item.
• Most importantly, from a heritage perspective, the planned bulky addition to the street level will greatly reduce views of the draft heritage item at 14-14a Pacific St from the streetscape—the current views of the upper levels of the house and across its breadth will be lost.
• Additionally the Pacific Street Extension will block existing views of the draft heritage item at 12 Pacific Street which can currently be easily appreciated from Pacific Street, This intersection of two heritage items with the view corridor to the heritage garden and heritage harbour front is an important aspect of historic Watsons Bay, which must be preserved.
• In addition the proposed fence to the front of Pacific Street breaches height restrictions for the area, is not in keeping with the heritage building and will further impinge on the views of this heritage item. It will also lose the softening currently provided by planting as currently shown above. While the fence is described as “open” because there are gaps in its slats the view will not be open except from a very few angles.
• The current plans propose a massive 1000 cubic sq. foot of excavation under the property. As requested by the Council during the DCC hearing, excavation at the property needs to be reduced significantly to reduce potential impact on the heritage property, on the heritage gardens and on the adjoining heritage property at number 12 and the amenity of neighbours
• The proposed excavation and new extension move the existing building footprint very close to the boundary with 12 Victoria Street- a significant heritage building. We would suggest the current view corridor which allows views of 12 pacific st and a corridor as encouraged in the LEP be retained
• The proposed glass extension to the harbour front will be visible from a range of vantage points around Watsons Bay and will visually obscure the remaining historic aspects of the building including the proposed restored verandah. The proposed glass box will visually “kneecap” the heritage building.
• The glass extension will also protrude into the historic garden and be visible on the headland from a range of angles. The dissonance of this extension with the heritage item behind it, at number 14, and alongside it at number 12, will change the historic nature of this special piece of history forever.
• This property is important historically and aesthetically to the headland in Watsons Bay. It sits in a prominent position, which is visible from all parts of the bay including its historic cultural plantings and the form and silhouette of the house.
• The glass extension will be prominently visible from the harbour and this headland is the one remaining section of this harbour front that retains its original cultural and historical context, with its relationship to another draft heritage item of a similar age and setting.
Historical/cultural associations 14-14A Pacific Street Boongarre
NSW heritage assessment criterion (b) - "strong or special association with the life or works of a person, or group of persons, of importance in NSW's cultural or natural history”.
National Heritage criterion (h) – “the place has outstanding heritage value to the nation because of the place's special association with the life or works of a person, or group of persons, of importance in Australia's natural or cultural history”
The house was constructed by William Harmer and his family. The Watsons Bay ferry was established by Harmer in 1876, and later sold to Sir John Robertson in 1881 when the Victoria Wharf in Pacific Street was decommissioned and a public wharf established at its current Marine Parade location. Harmer’s significance in the maritime history of Watsons Bay is not inconsiderable, and the omission of any reference to him in the Council’s heritage assessment of the DA for 14-14A Pacific Street to date is regrettable.
William Harmer had also constructed Mandalay at 26 Marine Parade – a heritage item in Woollahra LEP and recipient in 1985 of the Woollahra Award in recognition of the heritage excellence of the alterations that had recently been undertaken. Apart from the significant cultural/historical association, Mandalay is a similar form and scale to Boongarre
Note: Mandalay heritage listing – http://www.heritage.nsw.gov.au/07_subnav_01_2.cfm?itemid=2710083 - acknowledges that it has had significant additions/modifications to the original fabric of the building (similar to the extent of changes found in 14-14A Pacific Street which are being used to support argument not to protect 14 Pacific Street. However, the key difference is that Mandalay’s owner at the time had sensitively restored Mandalay rather than sought to add unsympathetic structures.)
Boongarre was owned and occupied by the Stead family for over seventy years, from 1918 to 1990. Watsons Bay Heritage Conservation Area DCP makes reference to the importance of associations with “important cultural figures such as Christina Stead”. However, other family members, namely David Stead, Thistle Harris Stead and Elizabeth Stead, have made significant contributions to NSW’s cultural and/or natural history.
Christina Stead (1902 to 1983), who spent her formative years (from 1918 to 1928) at 14 Pacific Street, was an Australian novelist of international renown. While she spent many years living outside Australia, a number of her novels are autobiographical and have strong associations with Watsons Bay – including The Man Who Loved Children (sub-textual locale of the Pollit family), Seven Poor Men of Sydney (home to the Baguenault family) and For Love Alone (Theresa Hawkins “follows her pathways of desire through its streets, harbour and parklands” according to Dr Brigid Rooney in an essay on Stead – Writers behaving Badly?)).
Christina Stead rejected the notion that she was an expatriate writer. Of the Seven Poor Men of Sydney, she said “You could not call that an expatriate novel: It came out of my experience at Watsons Bay. Would you call Byron an expatriate novelist because he wrote in Italy? He’s English. I’m Australian.” Reported in the article Christina Stead – born to Write, The Age, 17 November 1969.
American poet, Randall Jarrell's introduction to the 1965 American edition of The Man Who Loved Children compares the book to Tolstoy's War and Peace, Proust's Remembrance of Things Past.
In 2010, American author Jonathon Franzen hailed The Man Who Loved Children a masterpiece and hoped that by publicising this view in a New York Times essay Christina Stead’s greatest novel would finally be installed in the Western canon and get the readership it deserved. In his introduction to a new edition of the novel, Franzen notes, "soon after she arrived in New York, Stead undertook to clarify her feelings about her unbelievable Australian childhood by way of fiction…. According to her biographer, Hazel Rowley, Stead set the novel in Washington, D.C. at the insistence of her publisher, Simon and Schuster, which didn't think American readers would care about Australians".
Franzen quotes the inscription Christina wrote in the copy she sent to Thistle Harris Stead "To dear Thistle. A Strindberg Family Robinson. In some respects might be considered a private letter to Thistle from Christina Stead". Seeing that Thistle didn't come into their lives until the Stead family was at Pacific Street, it is reasonable to assume that the inspiration for the book was largely Watsons Bay based rather than the earlier period in Rockdale (or at the very least strongly reinforces the Pacific Street connection). Franzen also states that Stead in interviews " was sometimes frank about how autobiographical her novel was. Basically Sam Pollit is her father, David Stead. Sam's ideas and voice and domestic arrangements are all David's, transposed from Australia to America. And where Sam is infatuated with an innocent girl-woman, Gillian, the daughter of a colleague, the real-life David fell for a pretty girl the same age as Christina, Thistle Harris…"
An article published in the Age, 28 February 1980, reporting a radio interview of Stead by Rodney Wetherell, states that asked about The Man Who Loved Children she laughed - “that’s a celebration of unhappy family life” and whether it had a connection with family life in Watsons Bay – “Of course, it’s exactly word for word” (except she added that she hadn’t tried to poison her step-mother although she’d thought about it). See link: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=fswQAAAAIBAJ&sjid=aJIDAAAAIBAJ&pg=2677,6050074
From The Man Who Loved Children:
• page 17 The patriarch, Sam Pollit (David Stead, see below) returning home to Tohoga House “looking up at the great house, tree clouded” and “over this fence leaned the pruned boughs of giant maples and oaks…..he stole across the grass behind the house, brushing aside familiar plants, touching with his left hand the little Colorado blue spruce which he had planted as the children’s “Wishing Tree”” and “Sam heard nothing but the crepitations of arboreal night.” (sounds of the trees)
There is no doubt that The Man Who Loved Children is autobiographical, trees were important in Christina Stead's work in describing place and mood – we have only included tree quotes that are directly associated with the house (clearly, a heavily treed garden was a feature of 14 Pacific Street in Christina Stead's time). She makes explicit mention of a wishing tree in the gardens of both houses in which the Pollit's lived therefore it is reasonable to infer that such a tree was a feature of the Stead garden (while one is described as a blue spruce, this should not be taken literally as you could assume the American setting, replacing Watsons Bay, required a change in species). Elizabeth Stead gives the flame tree great significance in Fishcastle. Coral trees are often referred to as Flame trees and there is a mature Coral tree in the garden of 14 Pacific Street (which is recommended for removal). Arthur (Jim) Wild’s 2007 Memories of growing Up in Watsons Bay makes reference to the flame trees (coral trees) on Laing Point:
• page 23 “…Sam would often get up before daybreak, patter downstairs in bare feet, just wearing bathing pants, and would go out on to the lawn…standing under the trees, whistling to the birds.”
• page 44 “From where they stood (back veranda), they peered at… (the street)…barely visible through the screen of trees and bushes”
• page 45 “Sam did all he could to attract the very small boys and girls of all ages to Tohoga House” and “He could often be seen spying out of the attic windows, up and down the streets, for some toddler from the neighbors’ houses, who might be making for the Garden of Eden, Tohoga House, or peering up at its clifflike walls and the immense trees, full of birds and birds’ nests…and who might grin…or wave…when it saw Sam’s sunflower-colored head way up among the birds and leaves”. “through the eccentric (Sam’s perception) neighbors (with smaller houses) and their worshipping children Sam loved his house more”.
This is echoed by Arthur (Jim) Wild’s 2007 Memories of growing Up in Watsons Bay:
• page 312-313 The Pollits’ move to Chesapeake - “Spa Creek…is rimmed with a couple of slipways, boatsheds, dilapidated family houses. On the bay side are jetties, gardens, yachts and powerboats for Bay and sea fishing…a large tumble down place, two stories with an attic right on the shallow reach...” and “The house could be entered two ways, by boat, or along the back…along this drive grew very tall old trees…” and “Towards the water was…a lawn with shrubs and beyond the shrubs, the fall of the bank on which grew large trees...”
• page 319 “What a strange life it was for them, those quiet children, in this shaded house, in a bower of trees… the calm sky and silky creek, with sunshine outside and shrieks of madness inside.”
• page 406-407 “…he looked out the window to see the last of the neighbors’ children chasing each other round the Wishing Tree…” and “at five o’clock Sam tied the Stars and Stripes to the Wishing Tree: this was the sign agreed upon, by which Miss Aiden was to know Spa House…” and “…she was flattered by the banner and the family drawn up there under the trees…It was a dear old house with wonderful old trees and a sweet little bathing beach…The straggling bushes of the bank and somebody’s rowboats came right up to the trees on the western side”.
Christina Stead links http://pykk.blogspot.com/p/christina-stead-links.html
Christina was the daughter of David Stead and 14 Pacific Street was the family home that he lived in from 1918 until his death in 1957. David Stead was a largely self-educated naturalist who had left school at 12 to take up an apprenticeship in lettering. Having studied zoology at Sydney Technical College while working as a compositor, he accumulated a knowledge and understanding of ichthyology which led to various positions for which a sound background in marine biology was required, working both in Australia and overseas. While he felt the want of university qualifications throughout his professional life, Stead was nevertheless both a published author and the editor of various journals and series in his field, as well as using radio broadcasts as a means of public education on the subject of wildlife preservation. He also presided over a number of respected scientific organisations and was a member of many others, and was a co-founder of the Wildlife Preservation Society of Australia. His important collection of fish is held by the Australian Museum.
David was the inspiration for Christina’s Sam Pollit in The Man who Loved Children and Andrew Hawkins – Theresa’s father - in For Love Alone(see above) and Elizabeth Stead’s Marlin Hardwick in Fishcastle (see below)
Another relevant (see snake excerpt, above) excerpt of Jim Wild’s Memories
Thistle Harris Stead
Thistle Harris Stead AM 1902 – 1990 was David Stead’s life partner (marrying him in 1953, after the death of his second wife). She lived at 14 Pacific Street from 1939 until shortly before her death in 1990 and requires no introduction to Woollahra Council which holds extensive information on her contribution to the natural environment, both locally and nationally. She was a botanist, landscape architect and university lecturer with an honorary doctorate in science and, among many significant contributions she made, she was instrumental in the development of Gap Park, locally, and the fight for Lake Pedder nationally, which although unsuccessful had a direct bearing on the creation of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. http://www.woollahra.nsw.gov.au/library/local_history/women_in_woollahra/thistle_harris_stead
Thistle was the inspiration for the character of Gillian in Christina Stead’s The Man Who Loved Children.
Elizabeth Stead is a novelist who was born in Sydney in 1932. She is the niece of writer Christina Stead. She remembers her grandfather, naturalist and conservationist David George Stead, with fondness and cites him as a major inspiration. She spent part of her childhood at 14 Pacific Street.
Fishcastle, Elizabeth Stead’s first novel is set in Watsons Bay (called Proudie Bay in the novel) and one of its main characters, Marlin Hardwicke, is inspired by David Stead. According to Margaret Jones, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, 27 May 2000, “Christina's niece, Elizabeth Stead, has brought her grandfather back from the dead in a novel with haunting echoes of her aunt's great, overheated masterpiece” and concludes that it is a powerful first novel which can be read in its own right, but its strong links with The Man Who Loved Children suggest that revisiting the earlier novel will enhance readers’ appreciation of it.
In the novel:
• page 15, “Fishcastle stands proud and high over the Bay as is right for a house with such a name. It is built square, of grey weatherboards stacked like fish scales, scale over scale two storeys high, and near enough to the harbour for its flight of stone steps to tumble down over two tiers of land in order to touch the salt swell, where it slaps against the rocks, and breaks against the base of the sandstone sea wall”
• page 18, “ Jennifer Hardwicke had been named simply Jennifer…a naming ceremony had been conducted by Marlin under the flame tree in the garden…he had made up his own ceremonial words like the storyteller he was, but they had nothing to do with gods”
• Page 18 “Gulliver had been named under the flame tree too”
• Page 322, “Sheltering on a patch of harbour front grass, in the shade of the flame tree…”(Flame tree – coral tree. Is there any connection with “wishing tree” in The Man Who Loved Children?)
Draft Heritage Notice: 14 -14a Pacific Street
Departmental processing of draft Amendment No.66 to WLEP 1995 relating to the addition of certain places to the list of Heritage Items in the Plan awaits the completion of the Standard Instrument version of the LEP. Included in that Amendment 66 draft are 12 and 14 Pacific Street, the latter obviously including the building and grounds of 14A Pacific Street.
Both the Council and the Planning Department have accepted that the subject properties are appropriately designated as Heritage Items. Had the Standard Instrument process not intervened, they would be so designated now.
In assessment of the present DA, that Heritage Item designation should be applied.
Council’s decision of 23 October 2006 relating to the Review of Potential Heritage Items – Watsons Bay Heritage Conservation Area, had authorised the preparation of Amendment 66. A separate element of the decision was as follows:
C. THAT Council notes the individual heritage sheets for those properties in Watsons Bay prepared by Noel Bell Ridley Smith + Partners Architects, and amended by Council’s Strategic Heritage Officers, and that they be considered in the assessment of development applications for those properties.
Page 5 of those Inventory Sheets relating to 14 Pacific Street contains these Recommendations:
It is recommended that the building and its grounds be listed as an individual heritage item because of its historical associations with the Stead family over seventy years. This association is not specifically reflected in the modified physical fabric, however the alterations have been in keeping with the character of the original building and as such do contribute to interpretation of the Heritage Conservation Area.
It is recommended that council encourage the retention of the current building style and manner of detailing in any future proposals for development.
It is recommended that council encourage the retention of the open garden setting on the harbour side of the building, including all mature plantings and the walled terraces to the waters edge.
It is recommended that an appropriate interpretation strategy be prepared for the site to explain the historic associations of the site for all owners and visitors to the place.
Despite the Council decision of 23 October 2006, those recommendations do not appear to have been considered to date in the Council’s heritage assessment of the proposal. They should be considered and implemented.