By Andrew Woodhouse
The 30 hectare Garden Island site is the most prized single piece of real estate in Australia with developers and cruise ship lines salivating over its dollar potential and crawling over each other’s backs to get it.
In European times Garden Island was colonised when a few sailors from HMS Sirius, the First Fleet flagship, arrived in 1788.
The ship’s log entry for 11th February 1788 reads: “Sent an officer and party ashore to the Garden Island to clear it for a garden for the ship’s company”.
Corn and onions were planted, our first vegie patch. It died without natural water.
From 1810 until 1856 Garden Island was a residents’ picnic area and by 1834 Potts Point was formed as Australia’s first suburb.
In 1856 the NSW Government was given the island by the Royal (British) Navy which evolved into the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) in 1911.
The site was resumed and purchased in 1945 during WWII for £638,000 by the Federal Government.
World II saw tremendous expansion on the island until it was joined to Potts Point and expanded even further.
Now the proposal for a massive $700million expansion to build new wharves and berths is causing angst.
Taxpaying locals want to curtail adverse noise and amenity impacts.
They say RAN does not have “squatters’ rights” or a sense of entitlement at taxpayers’ expense.
They were here first since 1834.
Meanwhile, former Labor PM, Kevin Rudd suggested the base be moved north during the 2013 election to this home Port of Brisbane, costing $6 billion,
It didn’t happen.
And Woollongong’s Senator Concenta-Wells, Minister for the South Pacific put her “Case for Relocation of Royal Australian Navy Fleet Base East to the Port of Port Kembla” down south.
It was made “against a background of heightened security and increased pressure for relocation to a more suitable site.”
It didn’t happen.
A more recent confidential 2017 NSW Cabinet submission by Peter Collins AM, RFD, QC, recommended berths be shared between cruise ships and Navy.
That didn’t happen after locals protested.
Even, former Prime Minister, Paul Keating, a self-proclaimed design expert suffering from M.A.D.D. (media attention deficit disorder) said in 2007, “Garden Island should … not be sold off in bits [for] home units … Keep Garden Island in public hands … Admirals like big ships and [their] position on the waterfront.”
Speculative developers lob in with fuzzy “artists impressions” of Stalinesque-style 1960s Housing Commission high-rise towers, but with no infrastructure.
So can’t the island’s defence functions be scythed off to other facilities such as HMAS Sterling (WA) and HMAS Coonawarra, Darwin, closer to the South China Sea?
And why don’t locals get a say about their backyard and chosen environment?
After all, this area is not really “owned” or belong or anyone.
Let the people decide with a design competition.
Andrew Woodhouse is the President of Potts Point & Kings Cross Heritage & Residents’ Society.