The National Trust was recently consulted by the Greater Sydney Parklands regarding their draft Landscape Master Plan for this historic estate.
The Trust welcomes the opening up of the Fernhill Estate as public space, allowing this important heritage landscape to be accessed and enjoyed by the Mulgoa and wider Sydney basin community.
However, in our role as a public advocacy organisation with a commitment to heritage conservation and good outcomes in NSW’s cultural and natural heritage, the Trust outlined some specific comments and concerns regarding the current Draft Landscape Masterplan to Greater Sydney Parklands and are advocating strongly for their inclusion.
Importance of Rural Landscape Setting
The National Trust first recognised the importance of Fernhill Estate in 1946. The heritage significance of the site rests largely in its position as an outstanding and increasingly rare example of an Australian rural colonial landscape. This rural character is defining feature of the historic setting of both Fernhill House and its associated Landscape Garden. The significance of this rural character is clearly articulated in the State Heritage Register listing for the place:
“The estate is primarily significant for its landscape which is a rare Australian example of the English landscape school’s practice of modifying the natural landscape to create a romanticised natural appearance embellished by a richness of cultural features… [t]he estate also demonstrates a unique phase in Australia’s history with the rise of the landed pastoral estates.”
As urban development in the Sydney basin has increased, the rural landscape that once characterised the area has becoming increasingly rare and within Fernhill itself there has been a gradual reduction of the rural land as bushland has been reinstated. It is therefore vital that the defining rural characteristic of Fernhill Estate is emphasised, both for its centrality to the established heritage significance of the site and for its future recreational and educational utility as rural farmland in an increasingly urbanised landscape.
The Trust is concerned that the importance of the rural colonial landscape in defining the heritage character of Fernhill Estate has not been adequately recognised and accommodated for in the current Draft Landscape Masterplan. More emphasis on the exact nature of this major component of the site should be presented.
The Racetrack needs to be considered
The Trust is greatly concerned that the racetrack has not been included in the Draft Landscape Masterplan for Fernhill. It is our opinion that this is the major shortcoming of the present document and that this must be reconsidered.
The Fernhill Estate Conservation Management Plan (October 2019) is very clear on the need for the Masterplan to be “whole of site”. Its “Critical Recommendations” noted:
- A masterplan should be undertaken for the whole site to determine appropriate uses, suitable locations for those uses, the infrastructure needed to support those uses, suitable locations for any new building elements that may be required and to set out site specific design guidelines for any proposed new built elements.
- The existing heritage fabric should be maintained and intrusive elements including the racetrack, new stables and stone wall along the driveway should be removed where practicable.
The National Trust are very concerned that the entire Draft Landscape Masterplan, predicated to help shape the next 50 years for Fernhill, has not considered the removal of this highly intrusive, centrally located and very large component of the site.
The ongoing presence of the racetrack compromises the site’s historic integrity and its positioning presents a significant barrier to both public enjoyment of the site and respectful celebration of the site’s historic character and heritage values. The racetrack negatively impacts significant views within the site, including views to and from Fernhill House. The racetrack additionally obstructs physical movement through a substantial portion of the site.
The Trust agree with the findings of the CMP that the racetrack is part of the whole site, is intrusive, and should be removed and maintains that the Draft Landscape Masterplan, as it currently stands, is incomplete and does not consider the whole site.
Cumulative Impact on Overall Cultural Landscape
The Draft Landscape Masterplan proposes a number of physical changes to the site in order to facilitate future public use and activation, many of which are commendable. However, the Masterplan fails to adequately address or consider the cumulative impact that these individual changes will have on the overall integrity of the cultural landscape and its significance.
Basic discussions on site regarding parking areas, entry points, and places to picnic reveal that much is yet to be considered in terms of the site’s operation. Seeing a large number of cars parked along a main roadway inside the place will have a major impact on the rural character of the site. These things can be resolved, but they need to be considered now.
An understanding of cumulative impact should be considered ways to minimise this impact should be developed, including re‐design if necessary. This is an essential step in ensuring that identified heritage values of Fernhill Estate are appropriately maintained, protected and celebrated.
Overall Position of the Trust
The future of Fernhill Estate offers a unique opportunity to establish a vibrant community site that both celebrates and consolidates the heritage values of the site whilst allowing for a public enjoyment and use of one of the most important remaining colonial rural landscapes in NSW.
Aspects of the Draft Landscape Masterplan have the ability to achieve this potential, while other components have the ability to perpetuate past wrongs and create lasting negative impacts. The final Masterplan must consider the whole site – including the racetrack.
The National Trust has provided these comments to Western Sydney Parklands and we look forward to the next iterations of this design work that take our comments into account in a way that improves the outcomes for Fernhill Estate, as well as the Mulgoa Valley and wider Sydney community.
Image courtesy of Ken Jacobs, Christie’s International Real Estate