Preserving 150 years of heritage was the subject of an address to Redland City Council at its General Meeting on 23 September.
President of the Birkdale Progress Association, Pam Spence, urged councillors to act now and purchase Willards Farm so it can become a a cultural hub for tourism that generates local jobs and supports education about our local history.
Her address to Council is published below and is also available on this video recording (select Item 7 Public Participation).
Pam Spence addresses Council about Willards Farm
Mayor, Councillors. My name is Pam Spence and I’m the president of Birkdale Progress Association (BPA). I’m here today, to request that Redland City Council purchase Willards Farm at 302 Old Cleveland Rd East Birkdale.
Willards Farm is now a rare find. It was established in the 1860s, over 150 years ago. At its height the farm grew to more than 250 acres demonstrating the efforts of pioneers James Willard and his wife Margaret. The current site consists of 2 acres while the remainder of the farm is known as the Commonwealth land.
Officers of the Department of Environment and Heritage reported that Willards Farm is of a high level of significance to Queensland history. Queensland Heritage Council decided that the farm was more significant at the local heritage level. Redland City Council conducted its own studies and in 2012 concluded that Willards Farm is a “highly significant place which demonstrates historical, representative and aesthetic values”.
Council doesn’t have a heritage policy so what happens to this property that we’ve been told is so important? Has it been listed on the local register? Is the property protected from demolition? Again, BPA requests that Redland City Council purchase Willards Farm.
Our new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was quoted as saying that cities need to become economic assets for Australia. Well, this is exactly what the Willards property can become for the Redlands – an economic asset – an asset that has much to offer locals and tourists.
Consider its location. Willards Farm is ideally situated near the main roads of Capalaba, close to Capalaba buses and also the Birkdale train station.
And what does it have to offer? It can become a cultural hub for tourism that generates jobs. Locals and tourists alike will see a farm complex that still stands, reminding us of times past, tempting us with its secrets, providing real evidence to help understand Queensland’s history. It’s a primary source, most valuable for students at all levels of education, allowing them to trace the stories of the people who have lived there.
Inside the residence you can see the original one-room dwelling with its solid front door and ancient door latch. Rooms have very narrow doorways. The kitchen is separated from the living areas. The progress of technology can be seen in the kerosene light in the main room and a gas light in the hall way.
Wide verandahs were added. Imagine, in times past, how pleasant taking tea on the verandah would be, with everyone kept cool by the shade of the pine trees, while looking across the gardens to the bunya pines and beyond. This setting would also appeal to locals and tourists and perhaps it could become a favourite spot for wedding photos.
One important element of the history of Willards Farm is its involvement with World War 2. Willards Farm was commandeered by the Americans and became part of the radio communications centre established by General Macarthur. It is said that Mrs Cotton, the owner at the time, was the first to receive the message that the war was over in the Pacific.
The future of Willards Farm, as in its past, remains linked to the Commonwealth land and both have an uncertain future. The Commonwealth land is zoned Community Purpose and Conservation and has strict rules to protect koala habitat, yet we read in the draft City Plan that the design for the Commonwealth land could be “a special purpose precinct possibly containing a mix of low impact, export-oriented industries and, training and tertiary education facilities”. I don’t assume to know what this consists of but it doesn’t sound small nor community purpose nor protecting of koala habitat.
Combined with a restored Willards Farm the Commonwealth land would be a wonderful asset for the people of the Redlands. Much of the land that surrounds the Communications Building and Reserve site, highlighted in the Urbis report of 2015 as being historically significant, is heavily treed and would be a perfect location for koala habitat that overseas tourists would love. Perhaps a koala refuge or hospital could be established. An Indigiscapes style business with café could be added.
Adjacent to the Communication’s Building and Reserve site could be the location for Opera in the Redlands or Music under the Stars. Shuttle buses would connect to public transport. Willards Farm and the history of radio would be bonus attractions. And, as both properties are yet to be assessed by QYAC for indigenous heritage artefacts, the potential that Willard’s Farm and the Commonwealth land have, together, to draw tourists is enormous.
BPA requests that the Willards Farm buildings are not demolished. BPA requests that the buildings are not relocated. Their current setting couldn’t be reproduced and the aesthetics would be lost. The old home would become a building. The baby’s grave would be left behind and disappear forever.
BPA asks you to purchase Willards Farm. A precedent was set in 1994 when Redland Shire Council purchased Birkdale Bush from a developer. So, it can be done again.
Quoting John Birmingham from the Sydney Morning Herald: “You do have to wonder when, or if, we’ll ever learn. Not just in Brisbane but in all of the major capitals. They’ve been around long enough now to have accumulated at least a small stock of old buildings. Yet we keep tearing them down without a thought to the featureless landscape we’re leaving in their place.”
Councillors, BPA asks you to preserve and protect this significant piece of our heritage for the people of the Redlands. BPA doesn’t want Willards Farm to become a featureless landscape of 12 lots. BPA requests that you purchase Willards Farm. The community values our heritage. Over 150 years of history exist there that we can see and show others, history that can be valued and not forgotten.