City News

Sydney Harbour: a jewel in our crown


By Andrew Woodhouse, President, Potts Point and Kings Cross Heritage and Residents’ Society

WHEN Governor Phillip left Botany Bay and his flotilla of 12 ships in January 1788 to seek a better location with more fresh water he was relieved to find Port Jackson and Circular Quay. In his first despatch from the colony back to England he wrote: “…we had the satisfaction of finding the finest harbour in the world, in which a thousand sail of the line may ride in the most perfect security…”.

He had one eye on his present circumstances and one eye on Sydney’s strategic and commercial future as a commercial port. Little did he know the French were about to arrive in Botany Bay under the Command of Jean François de Galaup, comte de Lapérouse. His ships, the Astrolabe and the Boussole, both 500 tonnes, were here on a scientific and strategic reconnoitre of the South Pacific. On 10th March he left for New Caledonia. Lapérouse expected to be back in France by June 1789. However, neither he nor any of his men were seen again – shipwrecked.

In the nineteenth century the harbour was not lusted after by property developers as it is today for its sapphire blue views. It was used as an open sewer, with Rushcutters Bay subject to a typhoid outbreak serious enough to warrant evacuation. And it was abused by slaughter houses, slurry pits from coal mining in Cremorne and metal and other heavy harbour-side factories.

Today, it’s the most well-known tourist attraction we have and known world-wide for its annual fireworks. It makes us millions. A return ferry tick to Manly is the best and most beautiful harbour cruise in the world. Full stop.

So why would we even think about devaluing it?

Yet the NSW Roads and Maritime Authority, which has responsibility for it, now wants to do just that under the guise of an “upgrade”.

Its proposal for the Elizabeth Bay Marina in Beare Park, for which it is conveniently also the consent authority and thus has a clear conflict of interest, will see this benign, quiet spot over-commercialised, despite the fact that locals’ calls for a Sydney Harbour Master Plan have fallen on deaf ears.

This 100 year-old site is slated for demolition and a new 30-seat bar and restaurant with a 60% increase in berthing capacity, a 300% increase in jetty length and a mega-two-storey high modern, faux “heritage concept” pavilion – an architectural indulgence – all in one of the densest urban in Australia. Habour view losses, increased traffic and lack of vehicle access to the marina for goods deliveries will create even more on-street parking problems and late night noise issues. Residents will be living disturbia, not suburbia. They say it’s not an upgrade: its’ a down grade. The design looks frighteningly like a mixed use retail plaza.

Cui bono? The RMS and future marina lessees, that’s who.

Locals are asking their newly-elected Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, who supported them to successfully oppose a similar proposal in 2010 to also oppose this scheme. She correctly said in this newspaper that “Sydney Harbour belongs to the people” with her fellow councillor, John Mant, commenting that “Land-owning government departments were being turned into corporate bodies and urged to maximise financial returns … the government gets three times the revenue from step-on berths than swing moorings … this proposed Elizabeth Bay marina would earn them thousands of dollars each year.”

What would Admiral Arthur Phillip RN, the first Governor of New South Wales, say? He’d issue a command: “Hands off my harbour: it’s the finest in the world. Sydney Harbour doesn’t belong to you: you belong to it. Cherish and protect it, not exploit it for  a fast buck.”

Yes Sir (saluting and at attention).

The public are invited to RMS sessions on Saturday 8th October 10:00 am to 2:00pm and Tuesday 11th October 5:00pm to 8:00pm at the Rex Centre 58A Macleay Street, Potts Point, or can phone 1800 874 876 or email to comment.

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