BY ALEC SMART
In Marrickville, a property at 209 Livingstone Rd, once part of an historic dairy and, latterly, a State Emergency Services (SES) building, is facing demolition. The Greek Orthodox Church alongside, which owns the premises, were granted permission to bulldoze and replace it with a two-storey boarding house and that’s now set to proceed after a year’s delay.
However, campaigners are fighting a rear-guard action to save the building, arguing it is the last significant remnant of Marrickville’s historic dairy industry – around 40 dairies were registered at its peak in 1891 – and part of an important conservation area. The original building dates back to 1931 when it was constructed as a milk depot.
In August 2018, after a conciliation conference in the NSW Land and Environment Court, the Inner West Council (IWC) reached an agreement with CD Architects and permission was granted to proceed with Development Application DA201700180 to demolish the premises at 209 Livingstone.
The IWC rejected an earlier application for a 3-storey building with more bedrooms after receiving public submissions from over 50 residents objecting to a variety of issues, chiefly the replacement building’s imposing size, but IWC accepted a scaled-down compromise.
Although the façade of the original SES premises will remain, it will be grafted onto a two-storey boarding house that will include 23 double rooms and a manager’s apartment, plus a communal living area, alfresco lounge and TV room.
There are also five car parking bays provided, to be shared between 20-39 lodgers, meaning most tenants with vehicles will have to find parking in the neighbouring streets.
The Heritage Impact Statement in the development plan says: “The proposed works will have a minor but acceptable impact on the Inter War Group Heritage Conservation Area.”
The street running alongside the building, Hollands Ave, is part of the Inter War Group Heritage Conservation Area of protected properties in which strict controls are imposed upon residents to maintain the character of their houses.
Marrickville Council – forcibly merged into the IWC in May 2016 – issued a Development Control Plan in 2011 that listed the ‘desired future control’ of properties in the designated heritage area. Among the aims were: “To maintain distinctly single storey streetscapes that exist within the precinct; To preserve the predominantly low density residential character of the precinct.”
It’s ironic that IWC, Marrickville Council’s successors, allow this building to be demolished, considering the long legal battle Marrickville Council fought with Cyril Cooper, who constructed the original building in 1931.
Cooper, whose family ran Champion Dairy on Botany Road in Waterloo between 1884-1914, relocated to 207 Livingstone Road, Marrickville in 1913, and took over a recently vacated dairy farm, which he also named Champion.
His father joined him in 1914, selling the Waterloo operation, but the local industry was already in decline, despite their leasing Taylor’s farm in nearby Illawarra Rd. This was due to two massive country-based dairy cooperatives that wrested milk production away from the city – North Coast Fresh Food in the north, which became Norco, and Dairy Farmers in the south.
Spilt milk spat
By 1923 Marrickville’s dairy industry dwindled down to 9 farms with 370 head of cows between them, while the human population increased to 43,000+, generating constant complaints about straying cows, especially at night when they were released to graze on roadsides. That year Marrickville Council impounded 171 of them, imposing fines on their respective owners.
In 1926 the council declared they would no longer accept new dairy registrations, and within two years stopped re-registering existing dairies.
Cooper was urged to relocate his dairy but in 1931 was given permission to build a milk depot at 209 Livingstone Rd. and become instead a milk vendor. Cooper, by now Marrickville’s last dairy operator, refused to close his farm and fought for nine years to remain in operation.
However, in 1935 Cooper was summoned to appear before the council and ordered to close the farm. He sold the milk vending operation at 209 Livingstone to Dairy Farmers, and the farmland to Marrickville Council, who divided it up to build Ness Park behind and Hollands Ave. alongside, where a developer named Harry Hollands built 22 cottages that are now heritage-listed.
Cooper remained in Livingstone Rd, living at #207, whilst operating a dairy on Sydney’s northern beaches, and lived there until his death in 1950.
Dairy Farmers sold #209 to Marrickville Council in 1944, which initially used it for a girls’ club before passing it on to the SES. Cooper’s house at #207 changed hands a few times until it was eventually demolished in 1965 to construct the St Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church.
The church has since purchased number #209 from Marrickville Council, which they intend to demolish soon..
Historical research by Gabby Richards