WMF is a leading independent organisation seeking to protect historical sites. It keeps watch over some of architecture’s greatest achievements, and supports a “call to action” every two years. This year, the WMF has called on the NSW government to respect the recommendation of its heritage experts to list Sirius on the NSW Heritage Register so it avoids demolition.
The 2018 World Monuments Watch List has 25 sites, from Mexico City to Yemen. It spotlights landmarks that face adversaries including human conflict, natural disaster and climate change.
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WMF placed the Dampier Rock Art Complex (a natural rock formation marked by Aboriginal rock carvings in Western Australia) on the list in 2004, 2006 and 2008]. In 2004, the site received an American Express grant through WMF to finance the necessary research to secure Dampier’s place on Australia’s National Heritage List.
“Today’s announcement highlights on an international stage the fact this building is endangered and on death row,” Shaun Carter, Save Our Sirius chairperson, tells Broadsheet. “This is not just a little old heritage council of NSW, or the Australian Institute of Architects, or even the National Trust. This is a world recognised group that sees Sirius as a significant building, highlighting that this is an exemplary piece of architecture and an important social and cultural marker,” he says.
“The government is just being bloody ignorant if it turns away from their broad opinion. It needs to be protected.”
For Carter, the most concerning part is that “its heritage and culture is not understood in a sophisticated way, or any way really. Sirius explains who we were and who we are.”
In February 2016, the Heritage Council of NSW issued a unanimous recommendation for the listing of Sirius, for its architectural and cultural significance. In July 2016, the Minister of Environment and Heritage rejected the recommendation on the grounds it would diminish the building’s sales price, creating financial instability for the government.
In July 2017, the Land and Environment Court of New South Wales ruled the government’s decision was “invalid” and ordered it to repeat the decision-making process. The government is currently pending its decision.
“We’re in this weird limbo where everyone knows we’ve won the court case,” says Carter. “We’re waiting and in the meantime have issued a notice of intention to appeal.”
Carter shares a story of two elderly ladies who still live at Sirius. They’ve had their hot water turned off for 10 days – one is legally blind. “If that was anyone’s grandmother, or great grandmother … society would be ashamed. They have a duty of care,” he says. The ladies are also forced to sign out every time they come and go from the building, answering to security guards.