Callan Park does not need shopping centre/food court infrastructure

It had to happen. Nimbyism has been weaponised by the culture vultures. First, it was the developers who would heap shame on those who didn’t want to share their backyard. Now the creatives are doing it.

First, we love culture. We love creatives. Without them we are like that planet that Dr Who visited: a perfectly run economy with great GDP and green, but no humans. Why? Because humans are inefficient, but brilliant as fertiliser.

We want the whole of our cities and regional towns and rural villages to be hopping with life and fun. It’s a love of life and joy that will get us to our Moonshot – net zero by 2030. Not fear. Not shame.

Like the taxi driver said back in the days when we all did taxis instead of Ubers, “I come from a former eastern European communist country. When I tell people that, they say they feel sorry for me; no freedom; just one television station broadcasting the party line day and night. I say, how wrong they are. It was great that we had only one TV station because every night we would all gather together to have fun. We sang songs, we danced, we wrote poetry and performed plays. None of us had much money, but we had cheap housing, enough food and health and education all paid for. The only thing left to do was have fun.”

Oh capitalism, how badly you have driven us down the path of unrighteousness.  How you have fooled us that 500 channels on tele is a good thing. (No one warned us that it would all be game shows and Midsomer Murders ad infinitum.)

Now after lockdown has ended and released with it all the bats in the cave, all at once, all bursting with crazed pangs of longing and loss and pent up adrenaline that for two years has had nowhere to go, and when it did, got knocked back inside like the victim of a classic bully turning on kindness and horror in alternate unpredictable ways, we start to get all the batshit crazy ideas coming out of the closet.

The latest affects a place that some of us at The Fifth Estate have been personally and profoundly and passionately fixated on for a couple of decades now. It’s the former home for the mentally ill, long since abandoned and no doubt the scene of many horrors in the days when humans were only just crawling out of the other caves they habituated, the ones dominated by Neanderthals. So just last week, right?

Yes, it was a horrible place, but walk among its evocative urban ruins now, the whimsical stone circles and sitting places, the carvings in the rocks, push your way through the almost wild bits of bush and remnant scrub and you can almost pretend you’re in some place from “before”.

Years ago when then planning minister Frank Sartor held the reins there were cohorts who wanted to develop the place, use up this valuable harbourside stretch for something of highest and best use (if you were from that Dr Who planet).

It was and remains pretty much the last vestige of wild within spitting distance of the CBD of Sydney, a rare place of natural refuge from the rat runs of the inner west, with its booming population. We pointed out to Sartor that without some respite many of the area’s citizens would likely have an urgent need for the park’s original purpose.

Sartor responded to the cry for the saving of the park with legislation that he said would protect it forever. But forever is more of a concept than anything that actually exists in any known place on earth or among its occupants. Change is our nature. And now changing the legislation is exactly what’s proposed.

Kerri Glasscock an esteemed leader of the culture scene in Sydney has come out swinging in support of developing Callan Park into a centre for art and culture.

Callan Park: some community groups and quiet artists might be good alignment with the park’s soul

Well, fine, some use of the still habitable buildings by some community groups and quiet artists might be good alignment with the park’s soul, but Glasscock goes further, as someone who is a founding member of the Night Time Industries Association could be expected to do. She wants food and beverage allowed, for how can you have food for the soul without food for the body as well.

Now this might sound innocuous enough, but it’s not. It’s far from innocuous.

Food and beverage means health and safety regulations. It means proper car parks, paved. It means bitumen surfaces and hard-nosed edges and attitudes. It means proper toilets that meet modern sanitary standards (heaven forbid we perch on something to the side of a footy field when we’re seeing a grand concert or viewing artistic works).

It means kitchens and grease traps and it means all the mod cons….that we find everywhere else in this city – infrastructure.

Right now there are copious amounts of these expensive and highly standardised infrastructure installations in and around the CBD and including all its groovy little satellites. All mostly empty, languishing.       

You can probably find half a dozen big property owners who would gladly carve out a creative “third space” among the already hollowed out CBD to host a cultural institution, and now would be the time to extract a 10 year lease from such windows of opportunity.

All, you would expect, to be perfectly outfitted, stylised and WHS compliant, waiting like Miss Haversham among the windswept cobwebs for the party to recommence.

People, workers  – lots of them – are proclaiming loud and clear they don’t want to play any more, when it means being in the office for close on 12 hours a day, before they even add in the commute. In time they may well succumb to the patterns of generations past and flock to the bright lights of the big city and the buzz of clustered humanity but seriously do we actually get that in an office?

It’s the spaces outside that we get the buzz. Work then go to lunch and breathe in the stuff of entertainment and inspiration. The landlords are smart, they’re all working on clusters and synergistic enterprises that appeal to joy; they’re up for it!

Covid has given us an amazing opportunity to rethink not just our place in the capitalist world but whether it’s actually looking after our interests as promised or someone else’s (and woe betide in pre-Covid times anyone who points this out lest they be branded a lefty greenie. Ouch. So hurtful. After all who wants to be known as someone who prioritises nature and other people’s welfare alongside that of their own?) If we have a selfless heart surely we need to prioritise the interests of the boss and the corporations such as Google and Facebook who are doing so well for us. Or Woodside petroleum or Clive Palmer’s coal fields or Matt Canavan’s future earnings on the board of Adani or some such?

Covid has made a lot of people question a lot of things.

On Wednesday morning at the little café up the road that TFE likes to occasionally hang out in before heading into adrenaline central (TFE) the owner of the café and the travelling distributors were discussing how much has changed since lockdown ceased.

The milk distribution people, part of  a big chain that our café owner said she would use when “hell freezes over” said all over Sydney business was down’ they speculated a lot of people are simply leaving Sydney.

Point being, if so much is in question and so much can change, why not this infuriating habit of turning everything in our world into a stylised shopping centre?

We saw it in Darwin. Charmed by our first visit we were appalled on the second to see the waterfront had been turned into the cookie cutter model: comfy slouchy chairs outside upmarket restaurant in front of the obligatory nicely tailored – and perfectly safe – boardwalk

On the same visit to outback Arnhem Land the white man in charge of the tourism outfit  at the time enthused about the big goal he had of paving the old rutted roads that led to the Aboriginal communities. He wanted proper upmarket quality amenities, sleeping  quarters and kitchens.

We could not hold back. For Chrissake we almost screamed, why? We have all that at home; why do you think I’ve come here?

When the place PC police get a hold of these areas will we again be warned not to walk in open ground lest the water buffalo charge you, or the pythons attack. Will we ever see the kids in the night rush to slaughter the poor snake (poisonous sure) that wandered into the human space. Will we experience the tossing and turning on the hard rustic stretchers in the tent, but only on the first night because by night two you are totally knocked out of your regular senses and immersed in deep sleep that feels like you’ve gone to another planet.

Imagine what the tourism authorities want to do with the other homeland our group visited where Nike, the three-metre crocodile follows the action from the shallows of the water. At dinner time, waiting patiently near the fish cleaning area for his share of the scraps that the folk toss him from time to time, and at night moving up the shore a bit to better hear the chatter and laughter around the campfire.

So, all you purveyors of all that is right and proper and conditioned and standardised and legalised and corralled and securitised and monetised in our built environment – let’s call you the Place PC police – why don’t you take all your standardisations and stick them in the shopping centres where they belong, and in the offices where people are happy to know they don’t have to expect the unexpected.

Stay away from nature.

What’s left of it

Stop putting neat steps into parks

Stop naming and explaining the landmarks

Stop making everything safe and sound and just like you’d find in Westfields

Stop making everything the same

And for Chrissake stop bringing your rules and regulations and predictability into every last corner of our world.

As Leonard Cohen said, there is a crack in everything, that’s where the light gets in…

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  1. LOVE IT! Callan Park is beautiful – it is not nature in the raw but it is as close we inner city peeps can hope to get. Here’s my plea to Rob Stokes and NSW Parliament: Please don’t interfere further. And quit knocking down potentially functional buildings to improve ‘sight lines’ for major assets so you can up the price at which you lease them. Instead do the cost-benefit (if you must) on the savings in mental health and domestic violence costs that Callan Park provides 24/7, 365 days a year, and leave the park alone.
    And at the very least, would you please not transgress further than what you promised in the community consultation process? The Callan Park Act works (well enough). It’s not broken. So don’t fix it. You’ll only make things worse. Much worse.
    And if you must change and bring a much stronger economy to the park then let it be Doughnut Economics and forthwith let’s call it Callan Ark – a place where we work out and experiment with what it is we really need to thrive in a 1.5+ degrees world. x

  2. To be honest, some form of Commercialisation is good – look at Centennial Park. I don’t think anyone would compare this public park to a Shopping Centre yet it has commercial activity that supports it’s future as a wonderful asset for the broader Sydney community.

    The road that now supports parking was a part of the original design – at a time when a Sunday Drive and Promenade was valued. Not only for those that could afford a car – for a diversity of the public. It was designed as ” The People’s Park “.

    If designed sensitively food and beverage outlets do not have to be a detriment to the physical beauty of the place – even the decay. Think Cockatoo Island ( in it’s current form ) or Pirrama Park.

      1. Leave Callan Park alone. It’s beautiful as it is and we don’t need to be able to buy coffee and lunch there, we can go up the road to Gladesville, where the shop owners will appreciate our custom.
        The buildings are beautiful and built of Sydney sandstone, very scarce commodity now.

        1. On my last visit there, last Friday I suddenly realised what was so beautiful about Callan Park; it’s that it’s abandoned… so wonderful to have something not fully utilised and maxed out in efficiency. Just there…unlived in, underused. (OK repeat: some quiet artist/writing activities would not detract…but only some)