Willards Farm played an important role during World War II and it is a direct link to the Redlands’ farming history. But the battle now being fought is about ensuring future generations are able to see and even feel this history…on the ground.
Redland City Council has received an application for residential subdivision which would result in demolition of a 150 year old homestead.
Meanwhile the Commonwealth Government is planning to divest a large area of land next door.
Originally owned by the Willard family, the (Willards) Farm, also known as ‘The Pines’, is located on Old Cleveland Road East, Birkdale and dates back to the 1860s.
James Willard, a timber-getter and farmer, was one of the first settlers of the Capalaba-Cleveland area, and he and his family ran the farm from about 1863 to 1938. The property was established as a result of the very earliest decisions of the Queensland Government to allow the lease and sale of land for pastoral and agricultural purposes.
The original Willard family farmhouse and outbuildings, such as the dairy and sheds, were built with slabs of timber which were felled on their farm. Some buildings still stand on the now adjoining land.
World War II
Facilities in this area played a critical role in the direction of military operations by General Douglas MacArthur when he was Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in the Southwest Pacific Area. It was a dark time for the Australia and its US ally: we were on the back foot and the Japanese invasion of Australia threatened.
In 1943, the US Army Signal Corps established a Radio Receiving (Telecommunications) site at (the then) Cotton’s Farm, Capalaba. The farm was bounded by Tingalpa Creek on the west, Old Cleveland Road East on the east and Uhlman Road to the north. Willard’s Farm was owned by Doug and Rosemary Cotton when it was acquired by the Americans.
Heritage value to be assessed
Following representations from local MP Don Brown, the Member for Capalaba and support from local councillor Paul Bishop, the State Government has intervened to ensure that heritage issues are considered.
“I have now taken action, using the powers provided by the Heritage Act 1992, to allow time for the independent umpire to make a measured and informed decision about the site’s heritage status,” Environment and Heritage Protection Minister Dr Miles said in a media release. The Minister has issued a Stop Order upon the site.
Dr Miles said the farm deserved further research and inspection to determine if it is of State level heritage significance.
“This process will give the community, the owner and the local government the opportunity to have their say about the heritage value of Willards Farm,” Dr Miles said.
Member for Capalaba Don Brown said he was pleased that the site was protected to allow the heritage evaluation to occur.
“The Willards Farm site is a well-known local landmark with a lot of history attached to it, being over 150 years old.” Local Councillor, Paul Bishop, said that he feels the pastoral homestead has immense historic value and that a formal assessment is essential.
“I hope we can all enable an exemplary outcome in the best interest of civic, commercial and community values as we honour the work and living conditions of our pioneering European ancestors to whom we owe so much.
“Thanks to the Minister’s intervention, community volunteers and officer support, we can now be assured the assessment process will help to reveal any secrets from our past that might otherwise have been lost,” Cr Bishop said.
The Minister has also asked Queensland Heritage Council to consider this matter as expeditiously as possible and it is anticipated that this will occur by mid-September.
The Queensland Heritage Council, which is the independent peak advisor on heritage matters in the state, will then make the ultimate decision about whether Willards Farm is entered in the State Heritage register.
Timely community action
Members of the Birkdale Progress Association became very concerned when a 12 lot residential subdivision application was lodged with Redland City Council. The applicant’s report stated that “The site contains an existing house which will be demolished as part of development”.
Unfortunately, Willards Farm was not recorded in the Redlands Heritage Places Register. Because Council had given no heritage recognition to the site, heritage provisions of the planning scheme could not be invoked. There was a risk that the owners and developers had almost “as-of-right” ability to demolish the buildings.
In the face of another failure of the Redlands Planning Scheme the Association approached the Minister for Heritage for a “Stop Order” under Section 154, Queensland Heritage Act 1992. The Stop Order is a blunt tool and one that poorly serves the needs of the community and landowners.
This Minister’s Stop Order” buys time by protecting the property for 40 days (Section 155). While the Association welcomed the Minister’s decision its members know too well that this decision is only a holding operation and it does not guarantee protection (or even a proper assessment) of the site. This tasks are matters for the Queensland Heritage Council.
The Heritage Council gives some measure of the issues it will consider in is guide Assessing cultural heritage significance: Using the cultural heritage criteria.
Is this enough time enough to further assess the heritage values of the property and the possible listing on the Queensland Heritage Register?
World War II heritage next door
A broader concern of the Birkdale Progress Association is that the much larger adjoining properties contain the World War II communication buildings and ‘antenna farm’ and evidence of an aircraft landing strip. The site is clearly no Bletchley Park, but in its own way it was an important part of Australia’s War effort.
While many of the structures are still largely intact the land is up for sale. The community representatives are currently lobbying our State and Local Governments to make community use of the land and also retain the historic buildings and artifacts.
It is likely some artifacts may been removed while others could remain buried or hidden.
So the Government should act with due caution and conduct a proper heritage and possibly archeological survey of the site.
Questions for the Commonwealth and the Council
Why is the Commonwealth not gifting the land?
It seems that the Council has some interest in buying the land adjoining Willards Farm. But does the Federal Government expect the Council to purchase the land even if it is to be used for public purposes? There are good precedents to suggest that a nil value transfer would be a fair deal.
In Sydney the Commonwealth Government initially tried to adopt a commercially focused approach to surplus defence lands around Sydney Harbour and the ANZAV rifle range. Under the weight of public opinion various Federal Governments have “folded” and much of this land, worth millions and earmarked for sale has been set aside for National Parks and public use.
If it is good enough for people in Sydney to be “gifted” Federal property why not the people of Redlands. Action by our Federal Member to secure publicly owned land for a public purpose is long overdue!
What protection did the Redlands Planning Scheme afford Willards Farm?
There is scant regard for heritage and historical values of Willards Farm in the Redlands Planning Scheme. The site is not listed in the Heritage Places Register of the existing Planning Scheme.
On this basis what might be the protection given to Willards Farm and other sites of like value? It is likely the answer is “NIL”. Why can this be predicted? Because it is inconceivable Council’s planners would know or could accurately assess or record heritage sites and values without the expertise and input of the local community!
Perhaps the actions surrounding Willards Farm will help to focus community attention on the way that City Plan 2015 will deal with protection of historical and heritage places in the Redlands.
A planning scheme that does not look to identify and protect places like Willards Farm cannot lay claim to protecting community values, lifestyle or livability.