"What we are facing is the destruction of Haberfield"

WE received the following email from longtime Haberfield resident Graeme McKay, who sent it to every MP in NSW. It's a powerful and heartfelt account of what WestCONnex's destruction means - not just to residents of Haberfield, but for people across the toll road's destructive 33km route.

UPDATE: After this post went viral, Graeme was spoke to 2SER show Razors Edge with WestCONnex Action Group's Pauline Lockie. Listen to the interview.

Dear Parliamentary members,

I have sent this email to every NSW parliamentarian, except for those few who, in 2016, do not have an email address. You may think it extreme, but this situation is extreme. I am writing about the pain being inflicted on Haberfield, and whilst you may believe it is of no interest to you, it soon may be with the Baird Government’s seemingly never ending overdevelopment of NSW.

Haberfield residents stop WestCONnex works
Young Haberfield residents protest unauthorised WestCONnex drilling, 2016.

A second harbour tunnel will mean more home acquisitions on the North Shore. Rail links across the State, airports and town by-passes all require land and property. CSG property invasions are another matter.

I am sure that some of you will simply hit the delete button, and think this is an email from some mad bloke in faraway Haberfield. Past emails to some local members have been ignored, but hitting the delete button is exactly what the Baird Government is doing to the people of Haberfield.

When I was born my parents lived in Kensington Road Summer Hill. I was barely four year old when my parents bought the rear of 21 Wattle Street in Haberfield.

It became known as 21A, and I would spend the next twenty or so years of my life there. We knew many other families in the street. The Barneys, the Ippolitos, the Iaconos, the Martins, the Triggs, the Elliots, the Campagnes, the Whites, the Lettos, the Brasingtons.

21A Wattle St
Graeme's childhood home at 21A Wattle St, Haberfield

Our parents didn’t seem to worry too much about where we were, because we were usually in one of those backyards. Both of our immediate neighbours were Italian, and much fruit and vegetables were passed over the fence.

Just make sure you kept the cricket ball or football out of their gardens!

On the corner of Allum Street, cranky old Mr Hawkins kept developers at bay until he died. That’s when the home units appeared at number 27. Units followed at number 29, then number 7 and 46.

Funny, when we built our house, we were not allowed to build a second storey.

Of course traffic wasn’t a major concern. Wattle Street didn’t connect to Frederick Street, or directly to Dobroyd Parade. Back then you could drive up Alt Street, cross Parramatta Road, and drive to Ashfield. You could even turn right at Orpington.

Graeme with his dad in the backyard
Graeme and his dad at their Haberfield home in the early 1960s, just after they'd moved to Wattle Street.

All good families in our street, and most of us kids went to Haberfield Demonstration School. It was back in the days when kids walked to school. I can recall parents mowing the school lawns on weekends. These were also great days of community spirit.

In the school yard, only the tough kids stuck their heads over the fence and looked into the nasty Yasmar. We were always told only bad kids ended up there.

We also had friends in Wolseley, Northcote, Walker, Bland, Alt, Turner, Barton and Dudley. We’d ride our bikes without fear as we were so familiar with people in our community. There’s that word again.

We’d meet up at Scott’s Haberdashery or the HMD milk bar. The time of day didn’t matter. You’d see someone you knew outside the MFC, or Moran Cato’s or the newsagent. Always a friend or schoolmate to talk to in this community.

Oops. I used the “C” word again.

Our next door neighbour was the union rep at Peek Freans. Her English wasn’t great so we’d help her out with the union letters. And we’d get some veggies for helping ….. ah, community.

My uncle took us out to Prospect to pick up a load of gravel at BMG and came back to the Keith Lord’s site (Brescia for you youngsters). It was a great day for a couple of wide-eyed kids.

Then there were the Friday afternoon games of Rugby League at Algie Park where all the local kids formed two teams and it was on. Years later we’d play organised sports at Algie such as soccer and cricket. This former quarry was always a quagmire in the rain, but we didn’t care.

Cricket at Algie
Graeme with his cricket team at Algie Park, Haberfield, 1981.

But we all grow older. You move out, get married and start your own family. Your parents sell up and move on after retiring. After many years, my wife and I finally moved back to Haberfield. I love the suburb and the people. Always have, always will. And the history is so rich. Nicholas Bayly, the Ramsays, Simeon Lord and Alexander Learmonth all played their parts. Richard Stanton and William Nicholls also helped a little.

But enough of memory lane.

So on to 2016.

The WestConnex’s effect on Haberfield will be devastating.

I mentioned Yasmar, which goes back to the 1870s. Part of the grounds may be acquired at the tunnel portal. Ashfield Park was also under the microscope, but seems to have escaped any major damage. At this stage nothing is certain and there is little trust of the government.

The heritage significance of Haberfield sounds good on paper, but that will not stand in the way of the Baird Government. After all, it is imperative to connect the outer western suburbs with the CBD and Port Botany. What a shame it falls short of the CBD by 4kilometres, and misses Port Botany altogether.

McKay family Christmas
Christmas at the McKay family home in Haberfield, mid-1980s.

My old home at 21A Wattle Street will be demolished, along with all the homes on that side of the street. That is half of the street I grew up in. Then there’s the homes in Walker Avenue, Bland Street, Alt Street, Parramatta Road, Wolseley Street, Northcote Street, Martin Street and Ramsay Street.

Some residents are living from day-to-day. Will they lose their homes – yes, no, maybe, we changed our minds. It’s not as bad as the Vietnam War’s lethal lottery, but people can’t live like that, especially the older folks.

And what of the homes that were acquired and are no longer needed. Thanks for that. People forced to leave their homes now find they didn’t need to? What a disgrace. I can’t imagine how such people would feel. Can you?

The reality here is that I don’t know what will be left of my Haberfield community after the WestConnex monolith passes through, aside from memories. Homes demolished, and for what? Maybe it will make sense one day.

Sorry we missed you notice
How some residents found out their home was about to be forcibly acquired for WestCONnex.

So many residents uprooted from their homes. The Government promised to compensate people appropriately, but in many cases they have played hard-ball. If I knew I wouldn’t get in strife I would say their performance borders on being morally bankrupt.

I organised a number of community meetings with a solicitor who specialises in compulsory acquisition compensation. What he said at the meetings and what was actually happening were vastly different matters.

I’m glad I was able to do something for my community. I care about my community. Many come form non-English speaking backgrounds, some are elderly and some just don't understand why it's happening. Why would our government do this to us?

You would think that the Government would at least pay people decent compensation for their homes. Yes, homes. Not just houses or property. People’s homes. Homes where people have lived many years, raised families, experienced great times, hard times, Christmas, weddings, parties and BBQs. Their homes have been a major part of it all.

Haberfield heritage homes
Some of the heritage homes and buildings set for WestCONnex destruction in Haberfield. Photo: Lucy Hodgkinson-Fisher

Exactly how do you compensate these folks? Now their homes are going, being ripped apart and demolished. People whose sight is failing will be moved from a home they know well to, well who knows what? People who have worked all their lives, paid off their mortgages and now happily retired.

No more chats over the back fence. Might even have to buy their own fruit and veg. No more meeting up at the shops for a coffee. Friends of many years may lose complete contact.

Compensation? How?

WestCONnex protest at Haberfield, 2015
Pedestrian bridge occupation, Haberfield, 2015. (c) Lorrie Graham Photography

And please, someone tell Duncan Gay to stop running around saying he should be treated as a deity. People’s lives are being turned upside down and inside out. It's embarrassing. Show some propriety Mr Gay.

Then there’s the homes that won’t be acquired. Those residents will be able to stay and enjoy the increased traffic, pollution, dust, noise and the loss of their property value and amenity.

Now don’t take this the wrong way, but those facing home acquisition are entitled to compensation, insufficient as it may be. Not so those of us remaining.

Residents such as my wife and I will have to wait years until the monolith is complete. Only then can the full effect of the project be determined.

A tunnel portal within spitting distance, extra traffic lanes and re-routing of local roads will affect us all. And of course the ventilation stack at Wattle Street. It is perfectly placed to distribute pollutants as far as Great North Road, Ashfield Infants Home, Algie Park and Haberfield School. Thanks for that.

Pollution stack map at Haberfield
The planned WestCONnex pollution stack at Haberfield. Note how WestCONnex call it a "ventilation outlet" to hide its impact.

There is no financial compensation under the Land Acquisition (Just Terms Compensation) Act 1991, just some cosmetic surgery. Some cubing here, some noise barriers there. Regardless of what is offered, it will be a case of too little, too late. If you don’t like it, too bad.

The Baird Government would have you believe that this incrementally delusional project will connect our suburbs. It will, in fact, destroy our communities. Where do the elderly folks go? Perhaps into nursing homes that they weren’t prepared for, many kilometres away from lifelong friends?

Local State MPs such as Jo Haylen, Jodi McKay and Jenny Leong and a handful of others have done their utmost to support and assist their constituents, and oppose this project. But it’s a losing battle for the few good ones who are up against a tsunami of short-sighted egos.

The rest of NSW politicians seem to care little. Put the blinkers on and play follow-the-leader. I’m tired of hearing, “We sympathise with you, and know how you must feel”.

Well no, you don’t.

You won’t know until you’re in the position of losing your home. One in which you may have lived for 40 years, or a little as five years. One in which you raised your family, or maybe you’ve just started a family.

Yes, a house can be built anywhere. Yes, you can live cut off from the world in your cubed prison. But you cannot simply rebuild a home. That takes years. Wads of cash just can’t replace it.

You won’t know until you have a highway in your backyard, or the reverberating noise of a tunnel portal a block away. So save me the “we sympathise” platitudes. They make me sick.

When did we become so obsessed with being an economy, and forget about being a society?

Baird is stealing our homes for WestCONnex sign
Sign at St Peters, where scores of families are also losing their homes to WestCONnex.

I apologise if I cause offence to those who work hard for their communities, but I haven’t the time or will to be concerned with people’s sensibilities.

The tergiversations of the WestConnex Delivery Authority and Sydney Motorway Corp leave me wondering if anyone outside Mr Baird’s office has any idea what is actually happening.

The fact that this entire project appears to be linked to the mass construction of soulless flats along the route is disgusting. This isn’t a game of Monopoly, Mike.

This is our life, our home, our future. One we’ve worked hard to achieve.

What we are facing here is the destruction of Haberfield. I’m not talking about the homes, or heritage or the parks.

No. What the government is doing is destroying the people and community of Haberfield.

So sleep well, great and powerful leaders.

Haberfield isn’t.

Graeme McKay


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