Wednesday 9 July 2008

Big names join Heritage campaign

The battle to keep the old Cairns Yacht Club, that resides on the waterfront, gained a number of new friends last night, as 20 community activists met to save the historic club building from demolition by the Cairns Port Authority in three months time.

State Liberal candidate for Cairns, Wendy Richardson, who also contested the recent election for the Tablelands Regional Council, has formed the PADYC campaign (People Against Demolishing the Cairns Yacht Club).

"Our urgent aim is to galvanise support amongst the community," she says. "This is not a political issue, it's a community fight. This place belongs to the residents of Cairns, not some State corporation to dispense with," she told the meeting.

Cairns Mayor Val Schier made her intentions clear last week that the building and land could be handed over to the community.

Cairns academic, Dr Jan Wegner, with expertise in mining, heritage and North Queensland history, has also put her support behind the campaign.

And it's not just the seniors and old sailors that are coming to the rescue of the building's threat of demolition. 31-year-old Matthew Page and his dance partner Lisa Camilleri from the Cairns Rock n Roll dance club, have joined the fight. They has enjoyed the Yacht Club's facilities for the last 16 years.

"I've danced on that unique Black Bean dance floor since I was 14 years old," said Matthew. "There's nothing like this anywhere north of Brisbane. This place is very special to me and to our community."

Matthew was instrumental at setting up an online campaign to protect the building three years ago.

Cairns Historian Dr Tim Bottoms said that the Yacht Club building dates back to 1908, which was repaired following a 1920 cyclone, that devastated Cairns.

"However, records show that the Club was active using the Trinity inlet and that land to launch from, since 1878," he said. "This means that there is an association for the last 130 years with the Cairns community," Bottoms told the meeting. "This is a very significant piece of our regional and national Colonial history. It must be preserved for future generations."

Former Commodore of the Yacht Club, Bob Rendall, also has lent his support. He has been involved in the long battle to retain the building for the enduring use of the community.

Human rights campaigner, peace activist, and former Cairns Mayoral candidate, Bryan Law told the meeting that, although he wasn't prepared to be chained to any bulldozers, he did believe this fight was winnable. "How many more apartments or high rises do we need on the waterfront? This area is a very small part of the CityPort land that should be gifted to the city," Law said.

It was noted that in the last 30 years, Cairns' population has increased from around 50,000 to 130,000. "This means that a significant number of residents does not have the same connection with our local history," Dr Bottoms said. "

Wendy Richardson drew the comparison that there were inconsistent heritage listing rulings when you look at the Herries Hospital in McLeod Street and the Majestic Theatre in Malanda. "Herries has not been occupied for many years, and therefore does not have the same social connection with the Cairns community" said Wendy. "That building was moved here, 240 klms north of Cairns. It pails into insignificance when you look at the Yacht Club building."

Warren Entsch, former Federal Member of Parliament for Leichhardt, and board member of construction giant CEC Group, was there to offer his support. "I've enjoying this club for many more years than I can remember," he said. "This building can and should be saved for everyone to use."

Rob Williams, president of the Dixie Jazz club, has followed the fight for over 5 years. He revealed to the meeting that Yacht Club committee was forced to sign a binding Memorandum of Understanding by the Port Authority. This committed the Club to relinquish occupation, leave the site, and pay for demolition of the building, with no recourse.

"I believe this document was signed under duress," he told the meeting. "They were told, in no uncertain terms that if they didn't sign it, they would have to get out of the building the following week," Ray Taylor says.

A legal opinion about how the Memorandum was signed, is being investigated by the PADYC campaign team. The decision was recorded in the Minutes of Yacht Club committee on 11th May 2004:-
  • The Cairns Port Authority have moved that we sign the Memorandum.

    The Committee is disappointed with the outcome. We have no option but to sign the Memorandum and see what happens.

    If we don’t sign, we have nowhere to go. The Committee discussed some options once we are at Precinct 12. We could take licence of the premises and set up the premises ourselves and run it or put someone in the premises to get it operational, then in the future take over.

Architect plans, to enhance and modernise the building, were shown to the meeting.

Communications expert and local writer, Angela Murphy, told the meeting that the Yacht Club forms a valuable social fabric for the town.

"The Yacht Club building delivers to Cairns people a sense of place, and that is why people are so passionate about it," she told the gathering. "To stand in a building where returned soldiers once danced, where local’s grandparents were married and where generations of sailors have shared stories, is both inspiring and humbling."

"This historic waterfront building is our tangible connection to Cairns’ history as it still stands where generations of people no longer can. To destroy it, would be a travesty," Angela Murphy says.

Wendy Richardson says that the Yacht Club is one of the most unique, and certainly oldest, community buildings left in our region.

"It has been continually in use for over 100 years. Surely that means something."

It is a possible intention of the PADYC campaign, that after the Yacht Club moves out of the building in late September, the entire Cairns community will embrace a re-vitalised building.

"The Port Authority and the Council need to seed the building and land to the residents," says Richardson. "I envisage community, cultural and sporting groups all using this amazing building and location. It has truly earned its place in our history and our future," she says.

An online Parliamentary E-Petition will be launched on Friday. Paper versions will also be distributed across the region. If you would like to help, please contact the organiser below.

Special information stalls will be available at the upcoming Cairns Show, Wednesday 16th July, Thursday 17th July and Friday 18th July. The public will be able to speak with those involved in the campaign, and see the proposed architect's renovation plans.

A public community gathering at the Yacht Club, will be held on Saturday August 2nd, at 2pm.

PADYC People Against Demolishing the Yacht Club
Tel 07 4034 2248 or 0418 196 011

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