Sunday, 22 October 2017

The migrants who helped make Modernism in Sydney

Today’s talk was titled ‘Making Australian Modernism: Architecture’ and it tied in with an exhibition currently on at the Sydney Museum in Bridge Street. Glenn Harper was the compere for the afternoon, which started at 2pm and went through including a period of time for questions until around 4pm. 

The speakers were Tone Wheeler, Peter Lonergan (both practicing architects) and Catherine Lassen, who teaches at the University of Sydney. All three spoke about the contributions made to the evolution of Modernism in Sydney often by migrants who arrived in Australia in the middle of the 20th century.

Migrants had an enormous influence on design in Sydney, Wheeler said. The city’s population doubled from after WWII up to 1975. Sydney is the most concrete-based city in the Western world, he went on, and attributed this to the influence of overseas architects.

He talked about the influence of the Snowy Mountains Scheme. It was started under the Labor government of Ben Chifley, in 1946, and it was finished by 1974. Over that time, 100,000 people were involved in the project. 70,000 of these people were migrants. It involved the skills - of both technologists and labourers – of many people. "There was an enormous spirit for the learning of the new trades." Wheeler pointed to a musical band called The Settlers who were active in the region at the time, and he recited the words of a song about a night out by a group of workers getting some R&R in a pub in the town of Cooma.

Then he pointed to Gerardus (Dick) Dusseldorp, a construction manager who came from the Netherlands, and who, in 1953, founded Civil & Civic and later formed Lend Lease. Wheeler said that there was a tradition in Australia of “build once” properly, a directness and rawness of approach that you can see in the concrete structures of the 1970s. One of the notable buildings that Dusseldorp was involved in was the Harry Seidler block of flats in Ithaca Rd, Elizabeth Bay. “Concrete clad buildings beautifully executed became a hallmark of Sydney,” said Wheeler. Wheeler's ideas can also be found expressed on the same subject in a book edited by Rebecca Hawcroft titled ‘The Other Moderns’.

Lonergan talked about Bruce Rickard, a Sydneysider who completed his education in the US. Rickard's grandfather was real estate developer Sir Arthur Rickard, and he entered Sydney Technical College (now the University of New South Wales) in 1945 to study architecture. He worked with his uncle Ruskin Rowe for three years, but he had an interest in the practice of architecture overseas. He met Sydney Ancher and worked in his office. While there, he saw a book on Frank Lloyd Wright. He developed a love of an architecture that responded to a regional environment. He went to lectures by Lewis Mumford. He got a scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania to study landscape architecture. There, he was lectured by Philip Johnson.

In 1957, he returned to Sydney. At a site at Warrawee on Sydney’s north shore he tested out ideas learned from Frank Lloyd Wright. He would go on to design 80 houses in Sydney, and in every house, Lonergan said, he exercised ideas he had tried in the first house. “He never gave up,” Lonergan said. “The houses were unaffordable, the blocks of land too large.” Lonergan added that today’s architects owe a great debt to architects of those days.

Lassen spoke about husband and wife Hugh and Eva Buhrich, who met on their first day studying architecture together in Munich. They went to TU Berlin then ETH Zurich, and had elite architectural educations. They saw the Bauhaus exhibitions in Berlin and Stuttgart. They worked with Swiss architect Alfred Roth, who had worked on the design for the 1929 Le Corbusier exhibition. In 1939 they arrived in Sydney.

In Australia they struggled with professional recognition of their education. In Sydney, Hugh worked as a designer or planning consultant; Eva never registered as an architect in Australia but was the Sydney Morning Herald architecture critic from 1957. She argued for a deeper architectural understanding of Walter Burley Griffin. In 1966, she argued for conservation of terrace houses in Paddington that the state government wanted to tear down in order to build apartments. Most of Hugh’s practice was residential work, and he didn’t get registration as an architect until age 60, in 1971. Lassen said he was “conjuring nature through materials”.

Above: (From left) Tone Wheeler, Catherine Lassen, Peter Lonergan.

Saturday, 21 October 2017

The Hills Shire transitional housing plan to go ahead

About six weeks ago I wrote a blogpost about a new social housing project initiated by The Hills Shire Council. Under the plan, developers in the area would be allowed to increase the yield on their developments if they agreed to provide the council with apartments in them for a period of 10 years rent-free. The council would allow social housing providers to manage the apartments during that period to provide housing for families displaced by domestic violence, for example. At the end of that 10-year period, the apartments would revert to the developer, who could do with them what they wanted.

The plan was touted as a brainchild of mayor Yvonne Keane. But then we had the local government elections and the council’s mayor is now Michelle Byrne, so I got in touch with the council to find out whether the transitional housing program would still go ahead. A council spokesperson replied to my email:
The Transitional Policy Framework is a resolution of The Hills Shire Council. The matter is before the Department of Planning and Environment as part of the Gateway process. It will return back to Council, if approved. Council will then hold further consultation with residents.
I got in touch with the state government and they told me that the council’s application for approval to change its local environment plan (LEP), “to introduce a local incentive provision for the delivery of transitional group housing”, had been approved.

The council must now put the proposal out for public comment, including advertising it in local media and making plans available to view at council properties. The approval by the government also specifies that the council must consult with the Department of Family and Community Services as well as with local service providers for group homes. The council has 12 months from the date of the approval to make changes to its LEP. The Gateway determination report also says:
It is recommended that the proposal proceed with conditions given that it will assist in enabling the delivery of transitional group housing for people in need in The Hills Shire, while ensuring that any resulting increases in floor space will not result in any unreasonable impacts on the amenity of surrounding residents.
The council’s plan would apply to all land zoned either R4 High Density Residential, R1 General Residential or B4 Mixed Use in The Hills Shire, if the development is for a residential flat building or shop top housing where the development includes no less than 50 dwellings.

Here is a summary of the proposal’s details:
The bonus floor space shall not exceed 10% of the maximum Floor Space Ratio permitted on the site, up to a maximum of 900m2 [gross floor area] (capped regardless of the site area); 
An additional 300m2 of GFA would be available for every ‘transitional group home’ provided, which would allow for 2 bonus dwellings (each with an average internal floor area of no less than 100m2 GFA) comprising:
  • 'transitional group home’ (to be used as a group home (subject to agreement with a suitable provider/s) and then returned to the developer after a period of use - potentially 10 years); and
  • standard dwellings above the yield otherwise achievable by the developer;
The maximum additional yield achievable within the bonus floor space will be 9 dwellings (of which 3 would need to be a ‘transitional group home’), as the average internal floor area of all transitional group home dwellings within the development is no less than 100m2; 
The timing of the developer’s incentive is staged:
  • Upfront: 2 bonus (unrestricted) dwellings; and
  • After 10 years: 1 bonus dwelling (when use as a transitional dwelling has ceased).
The government’s documents also note:
This planning proposal is not a result of any strategic study or report. However, the planning proposal provides an appropriate response to and is consistent with the vision for The Hills Shire Local Government Area given in various strategic studies, including A Plan for Growing Sydney, the Draft Central West District Plan, The Hills Local Strategy, and the North West Rail Corridor Strategy.
From the department’s website:
A Plan for Growing Sydney, released in December 2014, is the NSW Government’s plan for the future of the Sydney Metropolitan Area over the next 20 years. The Plan provides key directions and actions to guide Sydney’s productivity, environmental management, and liveability – including the delivery of housing, employment, infrastructure and open space.

Hills Shire Mayor Dr Michelle Byrne (on the left) and Deputy Mayor Robyn Preston stand outside a new development in the area.

Friday, 20 October 2017

Book review: October, China Mieville (2017)

This year - in fact this month - marks the centenary of the October Revolution. In Wikipedia:
It followed and capitalized on the February Revolution of the same year, which overthrew the Tsarist autocracy and resulted in a provisional government after a transfer of power proclaimed by Grand Duke Michael, brother of Tsar Nicolas II, who declined to take power after the Tsar stepped down.
The book takes the reader through the process of change starting just before the February Revolution and leading up to the October Revolution. It wasn't clear-cut, during this time, that the Bolsheviks would finally grasp power. In fact, because of the way socialism had been theorised by Marx - as a step lying between capitalism and communism - most of the people involved in the political process during these months were hesitant to proceed direct to rule by the proletariat. They wanted the bourgeoisie to first step up and form an interim political settlement first. But of course that could not happen; Russia was very far behind the West in terms of its economic development, let alone its political settlement.

This is why there was so much support in those intervening months for the provisional government, which was made up of politicians from across the spectrum - from left to right (but not the Bolsheviks) - most of whom were trying to make the thing work despite setbacks. Another complicating element at this time was the war against Germany. The Bolsheviks viewed it as a creation of the capitalist class, and wanted to stop it; others had different ideas.

Things came to a head after an attempted coup by forces loyal to a general. Wikipedia summarises the event: "In what became known as the Kornilov affair, Kornilov directed an army under Aleksandr Krymov to march toward Petrograd to restore order to Russia, with Kerensky's agreement." Kerensky was the leader of the provisional government. The result of this was that the left - and the Bolsheviks were on the far left - gained a lot of support within the community, and they gradually moved from this point of strength to instigating the seizure of the Winter Palace, where the provisional government resided.

Mieville's technique is to couch all events in the present tense, in order to increase the sense of drama involved in events. He also shortens things to their acronyms and Russian original words, which makes events hard to follow. I still don't know what the "CC" was, for example, although this acronym appears again and again in the book. Part of the problem is that the backgrounding of the main actors is insufficient to sustain the reader on his or her journey. You are constantly coming across things you don't understand, which is just unnecessary. Better editing would have fixed this defect.

Nevertheless it's a useful book about a seminal event in the 20th century. More people should educate themselves about the events leading up to the October Revolution in order to understand its significance to the average person in the street of Petrograd (now St Petersburg) or Moscow. As the world becomes more and more unequal due to the effects of neoliberal policies of governments worldwide - and due to the effects of capitalism - we will see more and more calls from within communities for change of a kind that mirrors those of people living 100 years ago in Russia. Calls for change to make the world a fairer place.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Brutalism five: McKell Building

This is the fifth in a series of blogposts about brutalist buildings in Sydney. Like a lot of buildings in this style, this one was built by the government but is now privately-owned.

In a memo to the city building surveyor dated 18 April 1969, the deputy chief commissioner of Sydney City Council asked for special consideration to be given to a development application (DA) from the director of public works. The application was submitted late – after state government guidance on the floor space index had been given, rather than before – because of “protracted negotiations in respect of the acquisition of all the property required for the development”. He added that he considers that “the Crown is not ‘bound’ to the same extent as other developers and should receive special consideration because of the Council’s strong desire to encourage large development in the Haymarket – Central Square area”.

In a summary of the proposal from the Department of Public Works, the purpose of the development is described:
The Government is continuing its policy of providing its own accommodation for offices of Government Departments. This building will be the third city office building to be built in recent years and at this stage it is proposed to accommodate the Departments of Agriculture and Health and the Automatic Data Processing Centre. 
Other functions in the building would be some shops and a small area of general purpose space suitable for letting. This accommodation would be located towards the George Street end of the site and would tend to replace to some extent the existing commercial activities in this block. Final area of rented space may vary depending upon market survey, but basic plan of the street level areas will not change. 
The project as a whole is in line with the Government’s announced policy of supporting development on the depressed southern end of the central business district.
“The island site with wide streets on two sides (George Street and Rawson Place) and Belmore Park on the east lends itself to a development of a floor space index of 12 (twelve),” the summary goes on. “Pedestrian traffic volumes in the area are low, adjoining streets wide and open, and vehicular traffic access to the site can be ideally arranged from Barlow Street.”

The DA states that the land in question – bound by Pitt Street in the east, Barlow Street in the north, George Street in the west, and Rawson Place in the south – was resumed in 1901 for Central Station then sold as surplus to requirements. The hotel was erected on part of the site about 1934 and the other buildings “on the balance” about 1912.

The NSW Government Architect was appointed to design the new building with Lionel Glendenning as project architect.

Architect E.H. Farmer noted in his report on the site that the area was zoned under classification 3(a) for general business in the City Planning Scheme. A 90-foot building for the postmaster general was at the time nearing completion in Barlow Street.
The surrounding known development proposal comprises a scheme for new offices for the Australian Gaslight Company to the north side of Barlow Street on the site already occupied by that Company. Further north at one city block away in Hay Street, is the large scale hotel Sydney-Tivoli development. 
A building on the Rawson Chambers Site would form part of the architectural development around the perimeter of Belmore Park and the final design would need to be considered accordingly.
In the three-storey Prince of Wales Hotel building at 774 George Street at the time the new building was being planned (number 4 marked on the top map, above) were a newsagent, a florist and a bookshop. In six-storey Rawson Chambers (number 1 on the map) at 2-24 Rawson Place and 491-499 Pitt Street were two delicatessens, a milk bar, two cake shops, a radio shop, a dry cleaner, a fish shop/café, a tobacconist, a wine shop, a wholesale clothing and carpets shop, two wholesale clothing shops, a textiles outlet and a wholesaler. In two-storey Barlow Chambers (number 3 on the map) at 3-23 Barlow Street were an electrical outlet, a barber, a shoe repairer, a milk bar, a dry cleaner, a fish shop, a florist, three leather goods shops, three clothing outlets, a dress shop, and a baby wear shop. In three-storey Station House at 489 Pitt Street, the building at number 2 on the map, was a lottery office.
Approximately one third of the total area was occupied by the Wholesale Clothing or Textile Trades, the remainder being general shops such as electrical, radio, florist, shoe, newsagent, fish and milk bars.
Buildings at numbers 1, 2 and 3 on the map were already owned by the department.

A letter dated 22 May 1969 from the property officer of Tooth & Co Ltd, Kent Brewery, Broadway, to the secretary of the department states that the company is the owner of the Prince of Wales Hotel and shops in George Street and Rawson Place. “We authorise you to act as our representative in the making of a development application incorporating these properties,” the letter continues. The government subsequently bought the building outright.

Total ground floor shop space in the buildings to be demolished to prepare the construction site was 18,098 square feet (1681 square metres).

The new building would comprise 213,000 square feet (19788 square metres) of space, to be allocated (at the planning stage) as follows:
  • Department of Agriculture: 75,000 sq ft (6968 sq m)
  • Department of Health: 120,000 sq ft (11148 sq m)
  • Automatic Data Processing Bureau: 18,000 sq ft (1672 sq m)
The building would accommodate approximately 1900 to 2100 workers. “It is expected that there will be a significant increase in the number of people crossing in peak hours to Central Railway and Buses due to the development of the site,” Farmer’s report goes on. “It is desirable to locate an entrance to the building Rawson Place [sic] so that pedestrians are encouraged to cross Rawson Place and Pitt Streets at regular crossing points on route [sic] to Eddy Avenue and the staris [sic] to the Railway.”

The department’s planning document notes that:
The site dimensions which are approximately 45 [feet (13.7 metres)] to George Street and 150 [feet (45.7 metres)] to Pitt would make it difficult to develop any internal plans for public use. It is proposed however to recess the building from the boundary at the street level and provide under-cover colonnaded access all around the site. There is approximately a one storey rise from George Street to Pitt Street and it is intended that the access area would follow the slope of the existing pavement with internal steps of varying numbers down to shops. It is proposed to interupt [sic] the undercover sloping levels as little as possible with only one short flight of steps at a point approximately half way along Rawson Place.
These ground-floor plans, and the plan to have shops on the George Street side of the site for public use, never eventuated. Farmer had suggested that the lottery office could be accommodated in the new building, but this idea also did not make it into the final plans.

Cost of constructing the new building estimated at $10 million. The construction site would include Barlow Lane, which was council property. DA permission was granted in April 1969.

The planned 23-storey tower would include an auditorium, a first aid clinic, dressing rooms, conference rooms, and a cafeteria and shop on the first floor “in lieu of offices”. (There would be “A public address and “Muzak” system … installed in the Cafeteria and the two large rooms of the Auditorium and Conference centre”.)

Staff would be encouraged to use public transport and there would be no all-day parking inside the building although parking for 50 to 80 cars would be included. “Only Government owned or operated vehicles will be allowed in the parking area, which will operate as a ‘pool’ under the supervision of attendants,” a departmental document says. The architect’s report notes that there would be an area in the lower-ground floor for unloading goods. A car wash would be provided also.

As well as a first aid room in the basement “for emergency purposes” the building would also include a clinic:
The Clinic will have a Treatment room, Office, waiting Area, Female Ward, Male Ward, a toilet off each ward and a store. Female Ward will be large enough for 4 beds and will be used also as a Female Rest Room. 
The windows would be “Solar Bronze Glass” with “dark bronze anodised aluminium frames”. The external wall cladding would be “mid-tone stone colour, smooth finish” and the paving for the area next to Pitt Street would be “off white pre-cast concrete paving slabs”.

The 150-person auditorium was designed as a “series of multi purpose rooms, some with folding partitions, to be used for lectures, films and training seminars”, including 100 fixed seats. There would be a small stage “for dramas”. “The other room will have 80 seats. Both rooms will be able to be divided by a sound proofed folding partition giving room sizes for 100, 50 and 2 x 40 seats. Two additional rooms for 30 persons will be provided in the complex specially for conference.”

From the architect’s report:
At this stage the structure is proposed in light weight aggregate concrete. It is intended to use an [8.5-inch (21.6 cm)] flat plate floor system stiffened with capitals at columns. The structural grid is 28 feet [(8.53 metres)] which is the practical limit of this kind of construction. Preliminary analysis shows that this method is more economical than deuse weight concrete and even much more economical than steel framing. Although steel framing can be constructed in less time, the developing concrete technology in recent years makes it possible to pour floors and columns sufficiently ahead to suit an overall building programme. Many “Developers” are adopting concrete structures. 
As planning proceeds a detailed analysis will be made to maintain structural costs to an optimum and any methods which will integrate structure with finishes to reduce overall costs will be examined.
The DA was approved by council on 29 June 1970. Barlow Lane was officially closed by government gazette notice in February 1974. The city council agreed to the closure on the understanding that the department would not require any compensation for the splays at each of the four corners of the site.

The building is now owned by Cromwell Property Group. Their public relations firm was contacted for the purposes of writing this blogpost but no reply had been received at the time of publication.

Above and following photos: I approached the McKell Building from the direction of Chinatown and passed along Eddy Avenue up toward Surry Hills, taking photos as I walked along.

Above two photos: The George Street frontage of the building is just an imposing-looking set of stairs, instead of shops (as had originally been planned by the Department of Public Works).

Above: Posters for the NSW government along the Rawson Place side of the building impress on you the fact that the public service still uses the building, although now as tenants rather than as owners.

Above: The Pitt Street entrance of the building with its civic plaza. Next to this entrance to the building is a Service NSW centre, where the public can perform common state tasks, such as renewing drivers licenses and paying for car registration.

Above: The sandstone fabric of Central Station's Elizabeth Street exit with the McKell Building visible in the background.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Brutalism four: Bidura Children’s Court

This is the fourth in a series of blogposts on Sydney brutalist buildings. This property in Glebe has been sold by the state government to a developer who wants to demolish it and build apartments and townhouses.

Sydney is growing and so the NSW government is in a rush to meet demand for housing. In a story in Domain recently:
“We cannot afford in Sydney to wait around to develop new housing,” [Planning and Housing Minister Anthony Roberts] said [on 15 September]. “The population of Sydney is increasing by about 100,000 people each year and to accommodate it we need to ensure we have a diverse range of housing stock, close to public transport."
Since his government came to power six years ago, over $9-billion-worth of government-owned property has been sold for development. While development applications (DAs) continue to be approved by local governments, there is also a state government instrument used for development, the Sydney Local Environmental Plan 2012, which sets out the kinds of development that can take place in given areas. In addition, the Draft Central District Plan (2016) of the Greater Sydney Commission, an independent organisation funded by the NSW Government, sets out housing targets.

In this plan, Sydney’s Central District – which includes the suburb of Glebe - has a five-year target of 18,300 dwellings. “The Department of Planning and Environment’s projections of population and household growth in Central District for the next five years translate to a dwelling need of 42,900 dwellings” says the draft plan, which adds however that the actual targets it has set in the plan go beyond those projections “owing to the current strong housing market”.

“It is important to address pent up demand that has resulted from past undersupply,” the document goes on. “It is also important to address housing choice and affordability and provide supply to the talented workforce that is needed to contribute to the Central District’s global city aspirations and needs.”

“The draft Central District Plan [seeks] to create great places through design-led planning that integrates urban land use and transport as key elements of a people-centred, sustainable and liveable environment,” the developer’s report says. “The application contributes to the creation of a great place in Glebe by enabling redevelopment of the site as a high quality mixed use development that conserves the existing heritage item, respects the heritage conservation area setting, integrates with the existing environment, has minimal impacts on surrounding development and public domain, and provides high amenity for future residents.”

The proposed development meets locality statement requirements in the NSW government’s Sydney Development Control Plan 2012, says the developer’s report, because the 19th century streetscape will be retained and reinforced. GBA Heritage (formerly Graham Brooks and Associates) says that the brutalist Bidura Children’s Court, also known as the Metropolitan Remand Centre (MRC), has little heritage significance.

A contextual response to an historic urban setting

Design for the MRC was undertaken by the Tertiary Education Buildings Section, Government Architects Branch (GAB), Department of Public Works, initially under Charles Weatherburn, government architect. A perspective sketch had been prepared by May 1977. Westherburn was succeeded by John Whyte (Ian) Thompson in February 1978.

Project architect for the department on the MRC project was Andrew Milcz. A report commissioned by the City of Sydney Council from Clive Lucas, Stapleton and Partners (CLSP) says about Milcz:
Andrew Milcz trained at the University of NSW graduating about 1972 joined the NSW Government Architects’ Branch in 1974 and worked with Colin Still, Brian MacDonald, Peter Moore in the public building section. He designed Bidura under the general supervision of the Principle Architect for the Tertiary Section, Les Reedman, who signed some of the drawings in addition to the NSW Government Architect. Following his work on Bidura he continued to work at the Government Architects’ Branch in many of its design sections including Corrective Services and Psychiatric Hospitals.
The office worked with architects Behne, Ritchie and Hart, consulting architect Philip Diment, structural engineer Lehmann and Taty Pty Ltd, and consulting structural engineer John Harrison Engineering Consultancy Pty Ltd.

The new building would replace the Metropolitan Girls’ Shelter (which had a capacity of 25) located at the far end of the block, as well as the Metropolitan Boys’ Shelter in Albion Street, Surry Hills (which had a capacity of 35). The girls accommodated would be in the 12-18 years age category, and the boys would be in the 16-18 years age category. The CLSP report continues:
The building of the MRC was one outcome of changes to the child welfare system initiated in the mid to late 1970s under the reformist platform of the first Wran Labor government with the infamous Rex Jackson (1928-2011) as Minister for Youth and Community Services between 1976 and 1981. These changes included: in 1977 an amendment provided additional protection to child offenders while being interviewed in police stations; 1979 being the International Year of the Child heightened public awareness of children’s issues generally and the Australian Law Reform Commission issued a report in 1981 on “Child Welfare”. 
A Green Paper issued in 1978 (the “Jackson” report) opened with this comment – “It has been recognised for a number of years by all political parties that State laws relating to child and community welfare are in need of thorough revision.” A review of the proposals in the green paper and further submissions led to a failed Community Welfare Bill 1981. The Community Welfare Act 1982 was passed but only minimal provisions were proclaimed to commence. Already substantial amendments were proposed to that largely unproclaimed Act and by mid l986 the project had stalled. The experience of these earlier apparently cumbersome proposals led to reforms being introduced in a package of Bills in 1987. The enactments included the Children’s Court Act l987, the Children (Criminal Proceedings) Act 1987, the Children (Community Service Orders) Act l987 and the Children (Detention Centres) Act 1987.
The original budget was $4,771,600 for construction work, which was further broken down to structural and civil work, hydraulic services, and mechanical services, but this increased to just over $5 million. Demolition commenced on the site in February 1978. Rex Jackson appeared on Channel Ten in March for an onsite interview.

In June 1978 a DA was submitted to Leichhardt Municipal Council. It was presented personally to the mayor and town clerk by officers of the Department of Public Works in company with the assistant director, Department of Youth and Community Services. The council granted consent to the development in October 1978. A document from the department in the NSW records, which I consulted for the purposes of writing this blogpost, says:
Every effort has been made in the design of this complex structure, to achieve a quiet and low-profile integration with the building’s surroundings. The domestic scale of the buildings in adjacent Avon Street and Ferry Lane has been very sensitively appreciated, and the profile of the Centre has been arranged to preserve this scale by stepping the building back and limiting its height much lower than the adjoining tower buildings. In fact, the earliest scheme … was reduced in height and form, in response to general criticism and in particular informal reaction from the Glebe Society.
Minister for Planning and Environment Paul Landa wrote a letter to Jackson asking him to make sure that Bidura House, which had been listed by the National Trust, was retained. The DA was approved on 5 October. A story in the Sydney Morning Herald appeared the next day in which residents were quoted not only objecting to the development, but claiming that they hadn’t been consulted about it. A spokesman for the Department of Public Works denied there had been any secrecy.

The new building would provide short-term remand accommodation for 50 male and female young offenders and facilities including “a clinic and assessment unit, kitchen and dining room, educational recreation areas, general office [space] and basement parking. Accommodation [was] also provided for two children’s courts with legal aid, police prosecution and Department of Youth and Community Services court offices [and] a multi-purpose [recreational] hall with stage and gymnasium adjoining and external courtyard pool,” according to the developer’s conservation management plan and heritage impact statement.

The building would also include a medical treatment room, a laundry, kitchens, a dental clinic, remedial teaching facilities, a tea room for police and also for departmental staff, a matron’s quarters, the superintendent’s quarters, the deputy superintendent’s office with a clerical office attached, two offices for psychologists, a cleaner’s store, and interview room/alcove for the clerk of the court, a legal profession room, and interview rooms for solicitors.

A letter from the Department of Youth and Community Services to the Department of Public Works dated 12 November 1978, says:
The question of the provision of an auditorium in the abovementioned complex has been further examined by Senior Departmental Officers following discussion with your Mr. A. Milcz on Tuesday, 8 November 77 and it is considered the development of a multi-purpose building at the Girls’ Shelter site would have greater advantage in the long term. Because of the restricted nature of the site, areas for both internal and external recreational activities are extremely limited and it is proposed that you include, in the overall plan, a building which would serve the dual purpose of providing accommodation for approximately 300 people and also provide an activity area for both wet weather and evening activities. It would be desirable that the ground floor of this building would be sufficiently large to enable indoor basketball to be played.
The excavation contract was let on 9 October 1978, envisaging 10 weeks’ duration. The Department of Public Works let the tender for construction in March 1979.

The MRC started operations in May 1983 and “within a month or so, however, there were 42 escapes” according to the developer’s LEC submission. “This was ascribed to the difficulty of securing such a large building; the Bidura House group was also used for ‘open remand,’ and experienced fewer absconding.” Further, in 1984 the Department of Youth and Community Services “developed alternative programs for young offenders, emphasising community integration and decentralised, small-scale facilities”. The MRC ceased operation as a young offender unit in February 1985.

Above: Scale drawing of the site prior to the MRC being built, showing ownership by the Child Welfare Department for use as the Home for State Wards. The Girl’s Hostel building is visible at the back of the block, on Avon Street. It is clear that most of the block was kept as open space at this time.

The Bidura Children’s Court closed permanently in July. Operations moved to Parramatta while waiting for the newly-rebuilt Albion Street, Surry Hills, courtrooms to be opened.

Despite the fact that the MRC was listed this year on the Institute of Australian Institute of Architects’ (AIA) Register of Significant Buildings, GBA Heritage recommends in Vision Land’s LEC report that the Sydney City Council approve the application. The MRC has also been listed by the National Trust.

The AIA listing document says the MRC was designed in consideration of its historic urban setting. “Particular care was taken to ensure that the scale and nature of the existing Victorian streetscape of terrace houses was respected in the articulation of this building.”

The MRC is also the only in-situ cast concrete Brutalist courthouse in NSW, the listing document goes on. “As a unique Brutalist period building, undertaken by the NSW Government Architect’s Office during the height of its creative output, reveals how the [tenets] of Brutalism, that recognised important social and public uses built with an attention to detail, was applied in the design of a contextual response to its historic urban setting. This is a rare and relatively intact late modern architectural building that meets the criteria of state heritage listing.”

The document says that the MRC has important heritage value in exhibiting particular aesthetic characteristics. “It has aesthetic significance as being a rare, representative and fine example of the late Brutalist architectural style, especially in its application to the court house building type and in its use of off-form concrete and its picturesque massing of stepped forms, terraces and cylindrical elements intended to minimize its impact on the neighbouring historic precinct.”

The MRC’s AIA heritage listing also hinges on its:
  • demonstrating the principal characteristics of a particular class or period of design, 
  • establishing a high degree of creative achievement, having important monumental and symbolic heritage value to the development of architecture and the history of architecture, 
  • having a special association with the life or works of an architect of importance in our history or other person of importance to the architectural history of NSW
  • demonstrating a high degree of technical achievement of a particular period.
Conservation and refurbishment work was also done on the 19th century era Bidura House Group of buildings by the Department of Public Works in 1989. The works, which were estimated to cost $40,000 at the time the DA was submitted to Leichhardt Municipal Council, involved making a total of 330 square metres of office space, hearing, interview, and conciliation rooms. The buildings (including the Blackett ballroom) would house 14 fulltime employees hearing 4 to 5 cases per day. The works went ahead in the face of objections from local residents. The buildings were already classified by the council at the time as an Item of Environmental Heritage.

The city council has reservations about the DA

NSW’s Coalition government put the site up for sale in 2014 and it was sold for $33 million. In a December 2014 media release, Minister for Finance and Services Dominic Perrottet said the sale was “a significant win for government and for taxpayers”, remarking that “up to 100 units” could be built there.

Glebe residents were vocal in rejecting the developer’s DA, however. At a meeting held on 24 November 2015, Greens MLA for Balmain Jamie Parker said that the planned development was “a direct result of the privatisation agenda of the NSW government that puts one of our area’s most important heritage buildings under the hammer”.

“Bidura was the largest disposal of residential property in 2014 by the state government and sold for more than $33 million to two property developers, Lina Jin and Yuelai Zhou, who own ACC Development,” he went on.

“There were a lot of people there,” Jenna Reed Burns, a local resident, told me in September. “And after that we tried to keep local people informed and we all sent in submissions to the first DA. I think we received roughly about 120 submissions, all objecting to the development. We then followed that up early in 2016 with a petition we put together and we got 1521 signatures which is one of the largest petitions Sydney City have ever received.

“Around 800 or 900 of those signatures were local residents, and then people who visit Glebe on the weekends, mostly from nearby suburbs. We would stand outside Bidura on the weekend and collect the signatures. To try and get council behind us, and particularly Clover Moore, I made up a very big map of Glebe by cutting and pasting and stitching together smaller maps, so it shows every house in Glebe, every property. And I coloured it all in according to who had signed the petition. That was also tabled at one of the council's meetings. And that really got her looking, because elections were last year and she realised that there was a lot of community anger about this development, and concern.”

Reed Burns wrote a heritage assessment report about the brutalist building when she saw that the DA said it wasn’t worth saving.

“I’ve lived behind the building for ages but not really looked closely at it, so I had a walk around and I started to think, ‘There’s something really quite wonderful about this building.’ And I tracked down the original architect, who’s still alive, and interviewed him. He came and met with me, showed me some wonderful photos of it when it was first completed. So, then I wrote an alternative heritage assessment that said it was significant and worth saving, and I sent that to council. And I also got in touch with the then-president of the [AIA], he also rang council and said, ‘I think you need to take this seriously and get an independent heritage assessment done’.”

Sydney City Council then commissioned Clive Lucas, Stapleton and Partners to do an independent heritage assessment. They also found that the building was significant.

The council had a lot of reservations about the DA and asked for a number of things to be changed. Areas of contention were numerous. The list included the impact of the development on Bidura House; impact on a heritage conservation area; floor-space ratio; height, bulk and location of towers; height of terraces; building separation; overshadowing of Ferry Lane properties; amenity of proposed residential units based on the reference scheme; footway to Ferry Lane and addressing the public domain; private open space; removal of trees; traffic; impacts on groundwater; and that the approval would not be in the public interest.

The LEC refused the application in September 2016 but developer Vision Land made a new DA.

“And again, council then advertised it and sent letters out to everybody,” Reed Burns told me. “Because it’s such a big development they again gave us a month to respond. Normally, with a DA you only get two weeks. We were given a month. The day after submissions closed was 41 days after Vision Land had lodged the second DA, and the developer went straight back to the LEC without hearing a thing from council. Went straight back to the LEC and said, ‘I’ve heard nothing, my statutory 40 days is up, it’s another deemed refusal.’ Because this was the second time round, council are now - not forced, but more or less obliged – to have to attend this first hearing, which is a one-day conciliation hearing.”

The one-day hearing will take place in November.

“But in the meantime, the developer has already gone back to court and applied for a full three-day hearing as well. She wants to get in the queue rather than waiting for the conciliation hearing to happen - and finding that there again is no conciliation, which she knows there won’t be, and council knows there won’t be - so she has also lodged a request for a full three-day hearing.”

That three-day hearing will take place in February.

Responding “intelligently and sensitively” to the urban context

The new DA specifies 9 x 2-storey plus attic terrace dwellings (3 bedrooms each) and a 7-storey apartment building containing 73 apartments (20 x 1-bedroom, 50 x 2-bedroom, 3 x 3-bedroom) with a 2-level basement, and associated site works. As well as 94 off-street parking spaces. In total the design specifies 82 dwellings. Proposed cost of development is $29,060,507.

The design document by architects DKO of Redfern talks about responding “intelligently and sensitively” to the location and urban context. “As Glebe evolves further to meet changing conditions, it is vital that its architecture and built fabric changes too; preserving those qualities that give identity to place, while responding to the needs of a new generation.” It notes that this development will be “urban infill”, and responds to the challenges of this strategy “with a design that mediates between the scale of the large housing blocks and the fine grained historic terraces in the area”. The document notes that the site is within a couple of hundred metres of a light rail station.

The site has variable maximum permissible building height, following the Sydney Local Environmental Plan (LEP) 2012. “The 27 metre maximum permissible building height is to be setback 15 metres from the site boundary adjacent to Glebe Point Road and 50 metres from the site boundary adjacent to Avon Street (at the rear of the site).”

“To ensure the new development does not visually overpower the heritage items located on site, the building envelope will not be visible over the ridge line of Bidura House from across Glebe Point Road.”

The document says that the response to solar “will only improve or meet the minimum solar access requirements for neighbouring private open spaces”. The architectural drawings show that the planned terraces would go down Ferry Lane and on Avon Street, at the rear of the site. The long section in the plans shows that the structures come in under the maximum building height for the site according to council guidelines.

“Right next to the site, unfortunately, are two very unattractive white seven- and eight-storey tower blocks that were built during the very shonky Askin era, that should never have been allowed to be built,” Reed Burns told me. “And according to council’s heritage and height maps, that site, where these two tower blocks are – if they fell down, let’s say – they would only be allowed to be rebuilt to three storeys. But unfortunately, because of these two very tall towers the developer of the Bidura site thinks that she therefore should be able to build something as tall.”

Reed Burns thinks that the NSW government raised the allowable height for the site before selling it in order to get a better purchase price.

“The Bidura Children’s Court is part of the Glebe Point Road Conservation Area,” she told me. “The Glebe Point Conservation Area, which is a separate one, wraps right around the site. [The developer has] got to abide by those sorts of controls, which they’re not doing.

“And that’s why council objected when the state government said right at the start, apparently, that they were going to change the LEP height and density limits for the site. The height in the [Development Control Plan], as I said before, is limited to five storeys or eighteen metres, and the density is limited to 1:1, the [floor space ratio]. And they said to council, ‘No, we want to change that to an FSR of 1.5:1, and a height of 27 metres.’ Council objected strenuously about that and yet they went ahead and did it.”

Possibly to allay community concerns, the NSW government in August added the Bidura House Group to the State Heritage Register. Residents appreciate this action but are concerned that the MRC was removed from the curtilage of the heritage item. And they remain worried about the impact of a large new development on the local area.

"The impact of demolition and construction on the local area will be enormous," Reed Burns wrote to me in an email in October.

“At the back of the site where the brutalist building is, is only accessed by a lane, called Ferry Lane, which is an L-shaped lane,” she told me. “It runs off Ferry Road at one end and Avon Street at the other. And then Avon Street is a little one-way street that runs from Ferry Road down to Forsyth Street. So, there’s not easy access to this site.”

She wrote that retaining and adapting the MRC would be a much better outcome, as it would save what is a significant and rare example of a Brutalist building built in a suburban area.

Above: Southwest elevation as seen from beside Bidura House, February 1983. Government Printing Office collection, State Library of NSW.

Above: Northeast elevation as seen from Avon Street, 1983. Photographer: Andrew Milcz.

Above: View of upper staircase, February 1983. Government Printing Office collection, State Library of NSW.

Above: Loading dock and driveway entry from Ferry Lane, February 1983. Government Printing Office collection, State Library of NSW.

Above: The auditorium, 2014. Photographer: Sarah Rowland.

View along Ferry Lane, 2014. Photographer: Sarah Rowland.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Why can't China have a hybrid democratic settlement?

Currently, China's politicians are involved in the 19th Party Congress in Beijing. It is at this time, every five years, that the Communist Party of China elects its top leadership. It does involve the National People's Congress (NPC) - a body of representatives elected in a cascading series of polls down through the Party membership to the local level, but which in fact has no power at all - as well as the top leaders such as the Premier, Xi Jingping. Overseas, people watch to see how the dice fall as the real deliberations of the leaders in China takes place in complete privacy, away from the public gaze.

The Party has said that it will never have a Western system of rotating governments of different parties, but there remains a latent appetite in the community for democratic power, and the opportunity to voice opinions in public on political matters. You see the strength of this appetite in the rivers of wealth leaving China for safe havens in places like Australia's property market. So far, the Party has remained firm in its opposition to a democratic process to oversee the peaceful transfer of power from one set of leaders to the next, despite the popularity of this system in virtually every other country in the world.

But what about if we allowed the Party to retain absolute control over part of the political machinery, such as the executive, and lay the legislature open to election by the general populace? This sort of hybrid system worked well enough in Britain for hundreds of years - in fact, you could say that it continues to work in Britain today, as well as in countries where the Queen of England remains the head of state, such as New Zealand, Canada, and Australia - and still allowed the emergence of other sources of power in society.

Political parties per se emerged in Britain in the years after the so-called Glorious Revolution in 1688. On the king's side were the Tories - the name apparently means "bog runner" in Gaelic - and on the side of the landed interest were the Whigs. In parliament throughout the 18th century and well into the 19th these two parties worked to determine government policy and to settle other issues such as the distribution of spoils deriving through corruption from the business of government. But the king remained at the top and continued to wield considerable power throughout this period. It wasn't really until the 20th century that the monarch's practical influence was reduced to a largely ceremonial function.

For hundreds of years, therefore, during which government was run by the King in Parliament, Britain rose to economic and strategic heights never seen before since Roman times. And a similar fate could await China if it decided, for example, to give the electorate the power to choose representatives as people living in Westminster-system countries do all over the world today. The NPC would under such a settlement become a truly representative body, and China's standing in the global community would consequently soar to unrivaled heights. Imagine how important such a development would be in terms of its strategic effect ...

Monday, 16 October 2017

Wentworth Park rough sleepers have gone

Last Thursday Lanz Priestley put up on his Facebook page a notice that the rough sleepers in Wentworth Park were being evicted from where they had had their tents set up under the railway viaduct’s arches. Yesterday when I was on my way up to Newtown to do some shopping I snapped this photo showing the empty arches. And on the way home I went around the other way so that I could see if they had been moved on from the other side of the park too. They had been. So Lanz was right: the rough sleepers have been moved on. And there were two City Rangers in the park when I was walking back home yesterday too, no doubt to make sure the rough sleepers don’t come back.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

We're less tolerant of transgression in the face of facts

I saw a wonderful photo by Fairfax photojournalist Alex Ellinghausen showing three small girls running down the hill which forms the roof of Parliament House in 2016, before the security fence was erected. When I was younger I had a friend who worked as a journalist in the building, and one day when I visited Canberra he took me on a tour. We walked through endless passageways and up flights of stairs, then we went through a door and all of a sudden we ended up on the grassy slope that is the building's roof. There was something magical about this sudden revelation that has meant that I have never forgotten it.

We see creeping security measures everywhere we look, a desire to coerce and control people so that they don't transgress. We see it in the stories about recent increased security at the ABC building in Ultimo, where now guards pounce on visitors to ask them what their business is. You see it in the warning signals set in the macadam of the roadway at some pedestrian crossings in the city, where the authorities are trying out new ways to stop people crossing against the lights. You see it in the visibility of guards in shopping centres - those black-uniformed men and women constantly circulating among shoppers. You see it when there are police officers with sniffer dogs positioned outside train stations screening commuters for illicit substances. You see it in the bollards set up in busy pedestrian areas next to roadways to guard against people using vehicles as a weapon. You also see it in the federal government's giving authorities access to the meta data of people's communications, and in Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's naming of encrypted communications channels as tools used to subvert the efforts of authorities investigating terrorism.

But the crime statistics show that overall we are safer now than we have been for a long time. These charts are from BOCSAR (the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, NSW).

Above: Long-term violent offences trend, NSW, Covers period from January 1995 to July 2016. (Violent offences include: murder, attempted murder, manslaughter, assault - domestic violence related, assault - non-domestic violence related, assault police, robbery without a weapon, robbery with a firearm, robbery with a weapon not a firearm, sexual assault and indecent assault / act of indecency / other sexual offences.)

Above: Long-term property offences trend, NSW. Covers period from January 1995 to July 2016. (Property offences include: break and enter dwelling, break and enter non-dwelling, motor vehicle theft, steal from motor vehicle, steal from retail store, steal from dwelling, steal from person, stock theft, other theft and fraud.)

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Celebration of our criminals exposes a cultural chauvinism

Long before Mark "Chopper" Reid was a household name we had Ned Kelly, a celebrated rogue although a deadly criminal. Nowadays, there are plenty of books about Australian criminals, including Carl Williams, Roger Rogerson, Lindsey Rose, John Ibrahim, Alphonse Gangitano, Richard Kuklinksi, and Robert Farquharson. There are hundreds, probably thousands. And while it's only in the last 40 years or so that as a nation we have come to terms with our convict past, the tide has well and truly turned, and those who can trace their family histories back to the early days of the colony - especially if their forebears were convicts - are happy to enlighten you by announcing the news.

There is a strong demotic streak in Australia. For example, every year when the Archibald Prize exhibition of finalists is held at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the TV news always gives viewers notice of the winner of the vaunted Packing Room Prize, where the judge is the head packer working at the gallery. (The head packer's name is Brett Cuthbertson.) The prize is usually given to a conventional portrait of no particular artistic merit, other than its fidelity to nature. Winners of the prize tend to be large, smooth renditions of famous local TV personalities.

But that's not all. Just down the road from the gallery is a statue of Robert Burns, the famous Scottish poet of the 18th century, which was erected in 1905. Burns is most famous for the fact that he was an unlearned farm labourer. (He also wrote the lyrics to one of the most famous songs in existence, 'Auld lang syne', a sentimental ditty everyone is familiar with.) And another statue can also serve to illustrate my point. Outside the Queen Victoria Building on Druitt Street is the statue of the monarch presiding over the street, but next to it is another statue: that of  a Skye Terrier named "Islay", begging above a wishing well. It was erected in 1988.

These three examples of Australian kitsch serve to illustrate the demotic streak in the culture, one that exemplifies a tendency to seek out the lowest common denominator, the ordinary, and the real in preference to the celebrated, the showy, and the artificial. On the other hand, to celebrate criminals - who personify this demotic bias because they offer no challenge to the individual's sense of self (undistinguished, ordinary, and common) - is also to prefer these qualities in preference to the brilliant, the excellent, and the uncommon. It is to say, without any ceremony, "We are plain, unimaginative people whose only aspiration is to be rich."

For the criminal has the same aspirations as the capitalist - the other side of the same coin, so to speak - which is to be at the same time wealthy and drunk, and to gamble on sport. It is so easy to admire the criminal because he or she shares the same goals as the average bloke: to never have to do a lick of work, or to have to strive for some seemingly-unattainable goal. And we're proud of this aspect of ourselves. We consider it to be one of the things that sets us apart from other people. We have a chauvinist's love of our demotic roguery, although it is hardly a point of difference in any real sense: people all over the developed world are happy indulging their baser instincts, providing a poor example to their peers in the developing world.

Friday, 13 October 2017

Pyrmont sandstone is still being cut out

The photo below shows the construction site on Harris Street, Pyrmont, where they are building new townhouses. You can see they have sliced through the sandstone to make room for the new dwellings. Pyrmont was from 1853 the site of the Saunders and Company quarry. These days, Saunders Street is very close to Quarry Master Drive on the Anzac Bridge side of the peninsula. In his book Pyrmont and Ultimo: A History (1982), Michael R. Matthews writes:
The peninsula rose steeply out of the clear waters of Sydney Harbour and fortunately for the architectural history of Sydney it comprised some of the best sandstone in the world. Between 1880 and 1893 Pyrmont sandstone won first prize at building exhibitions in Melbourne, Amsterdam, India and Chicago. It was tested as withstanding a pressure of 100,000 lbs. per square inch. 
Charles Saunders, a stone mason from Devonshire, was 28 years old when he arrived in Sydney on 9 April 1852. With him was his five year old son, Robert and his wife Emily. 
Charles leased land from the Harris family in 1853 and established a quarry on the north west of Pyrmont where there were already minor ballast quarries operating and where there was also a sizeable population of Scottish stonemasons brought out by the Rev. Dunmore Lang from Clyde in 1831. 
Robert finished his schooling at Sydney Grammar and joined his father in the business. He became the driving force behind the expansion of the quarries. The streets and tracks of the peninsula became rutted as the bullock and Clydesdale teams carried sandstone blocks to the building sites of Sydney University, the Colonial Secretary's Office, the Department of Lands, the Australian Mutual Provident Society and the Australian Joint Stock Bank. As well as these, St. Paul's Cathedral in Melbourne and public buildings in New Zealand, Fiji and Canada arose as Pyrmont was levelled. 
One of the major constructions was the Sydney Post Office in 1885. The keystone block for the main arch  in George Street measured 13 feet by 4 feet 6 inches by 6 feet 6 inches. This weighed over 25 tons and was delivered using a specially constructed wagon pulled by a team of 26 of the finest and strongest Clydesdales.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Making a nation: West Papua, an interview with Jacob Rumbiak

After I spoke with Australian Peter Woods last month for this blog he put me in touch with Jacob Rumbiak, a Melanesian man who fled Indonesia in 1999 to base himself in Australia, from where he has been coordinating West Papuan independence work. This transcript has been edited somewhat for easier reading.

MdS: Ok, so [the voice recorder is] running. So, Jacob can you tell me a little bit about your story. You came to Australia in 1999. Is that right?

Correct, yes. I arrived in Darwin from East Timor in September 1999. So, I came with the delegation of UN observer members on the 2nd of September 1999 to Darwin. When I arrived, I wanted to go back to Indonesia because I entered Australia without, you know, following the regulations of Australia. You should enter with a visa and also a passport. I came without a passport and also a visa. But when I arrived in Darwin together with a delegation of the United Nations, I explained to immigration that I came without a visa. So, they said, ‘Well, how did you come without visa?’ I said, ‘I was a political prisoner and I am still under house arrest but because it was too dangerous and I had no choice, I took this Hercules.’

And then the way opened to me and one month later, on October 1999, my colleague Xanana Gusmao – because we were together as pollical prisoners in Cipinang Prison in Jakarta – he arrived and on the night of the delegation of East Timor’s dinner with the Australia federal government, Xanana introduce me to Philip Ruddock, at the time he the minister of immigration, and then later because of him someone helped me to appoint a lawyer. I think this lawyer is now in Sydney, his name is Jonathan Hunior, he’s the one who helped me to prepare all the documents to get permission to stay in Australia, and in only two months I got permanent residency. So that’s the story of how and why I arrived here. Of course, I couldn’t be safe in Timor Leste. And also, at the time I wanted to go back to Jakarta because I was still under house arrest (until 2007). So, when I discussed this with Xanana and also one of Indonesia’s very famous human rights defenders – he was poisoned by the Indonesian intelligence agency in 2014 when he flew from Jakarta to the Netherlands; he passed away in the aeroplane – so he’s the one, and also another Indonesian lawyer, and Xanana, they advised me, they said ‘Better you stay’.

Because the lawyer [indecipherable] said ‘Better you stay so that you can help the West Papua movement.’ Because at the time Ramos Horta told Xanana to tell me that there was no West Papuan diplomat outside the country: ‘Better you stay so that you can use your influence to keep the movement going. Both inside and outside must connect. West Papua lost because you haven’t had good contact between inside and outside.’ That’s why I came out. And now we have very good cooperation. But that’s the story about how I came and why I came to Australia.

MdS: So, since 1999 you’ve been living in Melbourne and you’ve been helping the West Papuan struggle. What have you been doing? Have you been giving advice? When I spoke to Peter Woods he said that you were the intellectual architect of the movement. Is that true?

Yeah, that’s right. I was a lecturer at a state university in Indonesia, in Java. Initially, I was a lecturer at (now they call it) UPI, Indonesia University of Education. That’s one of the most famous Indonesian education institutions. At the time they called it Institute of Education of Indonesia. And now they changed the name, and they call it Indonesia University of Education, UPI.

So, when I graduated from university I was a lecturer there and also, because my subject is astronomy maths, in climate and training air traffic control. So, from 1982 to 84 I was at the Indonesian Military Academy, who also needed specialists in dropping parachutes, so they opened an opportunity to someone who want to teach there. They let us enrol and then we had to pass a selection process. And so, I passed. So, I was an academic lecturing at the state university but also at the Indonesian Military Academy.

So, when I was there in 1986 I was sent to West Papua because in Cendrawasih University, the State University of Papua, they didn’t have a specialist in training air traffic control for airports, and also astronomy. And at the time they also appointed me to be director of scientists for east Indonesia. So, when I was there I saw lots of Papuans killed, disciplined, tortured, so I thought, ‘No way.’ Especially I saw how we lost the movement because Indonesia tried to create a fight between our liberation army and the military. And at the time our military and our political movement leadership broke, you know, they had internal problems. And in the jungle they split, they became three groups of military, they killed each other. So, at that time I thought that only education could change things. So, in 1986 we changed, and decided that the movement must actually be in the village, in the city. And also we should educate Indonesian people to support us to have a real movement, what I call ‘people power’, a student movement in Java, Bali, Sulawesi. So, we had to have a movement inside West Papua but also in Indonesia territory.

But we didn’t have anything outside, that’s why when I arrived in Australia every year from 2000 until 2005 I held a workshop on the border, in Jaunimo between Jayapura and Sandaun Province of Papua New Guinea. So, I went and ran a West Papuan student national workshop, twice a year from 2000 to 2005, when I saw that it was enough. At that time, I tried to prepare West Papuan students to organise people power in the city, also in Indonesian territory. And also, I took some of our friends from Australia to train student in the use of mobile phones and cameras to get documentation, because we didn’t have enough documents to tell the world about the current situation in West Papua.

So, I tried to prepare a human quality movement and of course that’s come from the student movement and I collected people from 312 different tribes. They went back to their tribes and set up our motto and taught our different tribes that we are - although we are different tribes - but we are one people, one soul and one goal. And that was a very important doctrine. I told West Papuans that although we have 312 different tribes we must see West Papua with only one set of eyes, because the majority of Papuans are Christians but we also have a national Muslim movement who work very closely with us Christians and Catholics. So, in West Papua all religions work very closely together. So, I said, ‘Look, West Papuans have got eyes, don’t look through Christian eyes, or Muslim eyes, or the eyes of other tribes, but we believe God is one. Look, West Papua is in one in God’s eyes. And different tribes are souls God must look after. You from the highland, look after the highland. You from the valley, from the coast, from the islands. So, when people in the highland need fish, ok, you from island of course send fish up there. When you from island want to enjoy snow, go up there because we have family up there.’

So, to uphold our moral understanding and how to keep unity we had a movement until the Second Papuan People’s Congress (in 2000), and the Third Papuan People’s Congress (in 2011). But still the Indonesians were very smart, they tried to create intelligence to come with what they call divide and rule. But we tried to work together to uphold unity between tribe and tribe. We also have one group we call West Papuan National Youth Awareness Team, which run awareness to our liberation army which has already splintered inside the jungle and has become three groups. And now they must work to raise awareness among Papuans in Papua New Guinea because they also split, became lots of groups. We have people in Holland who also split and became 22 groups. So, this is very heavy but I’m now happy because although it took a long time, since 1986, in 2014 it was all done.

But, yes, it was very, very difficult but today I am very happy because I see that education is very successful in bringing all of them to stand … I always say ‘We must stand on two feet.’ So I had a paper, I said before that we are like the cassowary – in West Papua we have cassowaries also – I said, ‘We fail because the cassowary only stands on one foot.’ It’s means we existed only as a political body. But now we stand on two feet. One foot is people power, the civilian movement and one foot is the political movement. And the political movement has a political wing, a diplomatic wing, an intelligence wing, and the military. So now we have two feet.

That means strength but it’s still not enough. Because we need three actors to be involved. The first actor is the people of West Papua, the locals, they must have initiative, they must be active to move, they must organise so that the people can unite. If the people unite the leadership on two feet must unite. The civil rights movement must unite. Politics unite. And both of them unite.

But it’s still not enough. We also must have support from the Indonesian side. Today we have FRI West Papua, that means ‘free’ in Bahasa Indonesia. In Indonesian language F is ‘Front’, R is ‘Rakyat’, I is ‘Indonesia’ for West Papua, that is ‘Front Rakyat Indonesia untuk West Papua’. We have 11 provinces with them, they are Indonesians who support us on Indonesian territory. I hope when you have time you can talk with one of their coordinators, now based in Indonesian territory.
Now, we also have international support. One is you. We have eight Pacific countries who sponsor us, also now the Africa, Caribbean, and Pacific Nations, and European countries they are also involved, and Latin America.

So, we need three actors. The first actor is very active inside: we have this. The second actor is support from Indonesian people. The third actor is international support. So, when three actors work very closely I believe that the West Papuan issue, the West Papuan struggle, can be resolved. That’s our way going forward to get independence. I always say that ‘We should solve this problem by the noble way.’ I think that’s my opinion and what I want. I am still doing it.

MdS: How much support do you find inside Australia? I understand that the Australian government has the Lombok Treaty with Indonesia which means that Australia respects Indonesia’s geographical sovereignty over West Papua, but there must be other people who have different ideas in Australia.

Yeah, I met a few politicians in Canberra also at the state level. I work very closely with two or three from Labor, and from the Liberal Party also. The Australian Greens, yes, because I am very close with Di Natale, Adams and Scott (who is finished because he’s a New Zealander, I think). But I’m very close with them. Also in 2015 I signed an agreement, an MOU, with the Australian Council of Trade Unions. I met with some politicians. And federally yes, they support us. We also have parliamentarians in Canberra but with the institutions I think it’s difficult. So far only the Greens. I talked to them. I said, ‘Ok, I understood that based on its institutions Australia as a federal country always follows the United Nations, as long as United Nation does not recognise West Papua, the Australian government can’t give us our voice.’

But just two months ago I met with a Liberal politician, one of the backbenchers, and I told him that – me and Peter Woods met this MP – and I asked him, I said: ‘Could you talk to your government because you now control this country. Please support Pacific countries because Polynesia, Micronesia, Melanesia now are behind West Papua. So, I hope that when something happens in New York at the headquarters of the United Nation and they call for West Papua to be solved by the principle of the UN. Why? Because West Papua are the victims of a world policy or a global decision made to protect ANZUS – Australia, New Zealand, United States – because in the era of 1960s – 50s, 60s, 70s – there was the very important issue of Communism. And second is because of WWII. Australia said it would support East Timor because East Timor have supported Australia and the Australia alliance to win WWII. But how about West Papua? We have lots of documents concerning around 300 warships that landed at Hollandia – now they call it Jayapura – and my island Noemfoor in 1942 was used because all the runways on the mainland had already been attacked by Japan and so you landed on my small island, Noemfoor. When I was in secondary school I looked around my island in and the coral was [indecipherable]. And also, we have resources, gold. So, we contribute three good things for the America-Australia alliance. The America-Australia alliance stood on Melanesian land, including West Papua, to win the Second World War. Second is when in the Cold War America-Australia sacrificed West Papuan life, when almost one million were killed. And third is the goldmine, the resources. Rio Tinto have around 27 percent of goldmine Freeport. So, we contributed great value for you, and we don’t need money, we don’t need anything, but we only need our rights, our dignity, our sovereignty, and our liberty. That’s all.’ 

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Big data and AI in the law

Today’s talk was part of the Information Innovation @ UTS seminar series, organised by the University of Technology, Sydney. One speaker was Carolyn Austin, a lawyer with law firm K&L Gates. Austin has worked in knowledge management for 25 years, and her talk was titled ‘Managing legal knowledge in the age of AI’. Also speaking was James Jarvis from Thomson Reuters and his talk was titled ‘From knowledge oriented projects to automated decision systems’.

Today we see the convergence of AI, big data, process design, and knowledge work, said Austin. There have been dire predictions of job-eating robots, and in the legal profession there are also pressures on the market from increased competition, and from new people entering the market. Austin said that it is up to law firms to be in the vanguard of new technology, because they are well placed to rise to meet opportunities. She also added that there is also an ethical imperative that should be driving law firms to embrace new technologies.

She mentioned Michael Olsson at UTS, who teaches in the field. In law, Austin said, knowledge management means leveraging collective expertise to better serve clients. Big data is about the four-‘v’s: volume, velocity, variety and veracity. It is also important to use data analytical tools, which are descriptive, diagnostic, predictive, and prescriptive (telling us what should we do). AI or cognitive technologies are used more and more frequently for tasks that normally require human intelligence. There is also now a lot of natural language processing in the legal profession. Expert systems can be applied to very complex knowledge domains. Austin also noted that legal knowledge work is rapidly and permanently changing.

James Jarvis in his talk pointed to the fact that the size of the digital universe today is 16 zettabytes (1 trillion gigabytes) which will increase to 163 zettabytes by 2025. There are more and more opportunities for lawyers than ever before, he said. Only 0.5 percent of data is currently analysed and this will increase to 1.4 percent by 2025. The amount of digital information available for analysis is equivalent to 40 trillion DVDs, or 26 zettabytes. He said that Walmart is currently processing 2.5 petabytes an hour for its store operations. At the present time, 30 percent of data is created by businesses, and by 2025 this will increase to 60 percent.

To illustrate how radically the world has changed, in 1986, Jarvis went on, most data was analogue, but now it is mostly digital. There are now over 6 million apps in the iPhone Appstore. But in 2017, 87 percent of law firms said that they are not using AI, although companies that use big data are making decisions 5 times faster than their competitors. There will be an impact on billable hours, floor space and organisational structure due to adoption of technology. Knowledge managers are design thinking strategists in the legal profession. There was $5 billion of investment in AI for law in 2016, and the trend over time is up.

Jarvis put up a slide on the screen at the front of the room that said that knowledge work automation would equate to $6.7 trillion in economic impact by 2025. That would equal the productivity of 140 million equivalent full-time workers.

During the question period, one participant said that some problems are too complex for automation. Jarvis said in response that you have to turn that into a business proposition. Carolyn added that you can’t oversimplify complex legal matters but that there are examples where lawyers have conversely said that the law needs to be simplified. Another participant asked what are the limitations of AI and big data. Is it a risk that lawyers will just use the routine route to finding a solution, and not be creative, if AI is adopted more in law? Iteration is important, said Jarvis. He also said that the aggregation of meaningful interactions with data teaches algorithms to do their work.

Another participant asked why lawyers are so slow in looking at AI. She was answered by another person in the room who said that lawyers are confronted by it. Jarvis said that a critical element in design thinking is to tell the right story for the audience, and that people have to be brought along on the journey. Another participant said that lawyers have no interest in automating their work because it’s competition for them. Jarvis said that you have to keep doing it by watching how people work. Austin added that lawyers are risk averse, too.

Above: James Jarvis with a slide showing software applications for the legal profession. Not all will survive.