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Trashing Sydney's Botanic Gardens

By Peter West - posted Wednesday, 9 April 2014


In an article last year, I condemned the privatization of the Centennial Park and Moore Park by the Trust which administers it.

The Trust [itself, a curious choice of words] is hell-bent on making the Parks pay their way. And thus we get rock concerts and all kinds of things in Centennial Park, parts of which are now for hire. This now includes hire of picnic spaces, according to notices at the park gates. So do we have to pay, now, to have a picnic in the Park given to the people of Sydney in 1888?

We are now seeing the same process applied to Sydney's Botanic Gardens. Let's look carefully at the announcement:

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The Royal Botanic Gardens Trust has unveiled the draft of its 25-year redevelopment for the Gardens and the Domain, which includes a multimillion-dollar five-star hotel.

A walkway at Mrs Macquarie's Point will connect visitors with the water, while redevelopment of its historic buildings will provide them with new facilities and amenities.

The plan - a first in the 200-year history of the park - also includes a children's garden, with new walkways and educational centres also planned.

"When people consider the draft Master Plan, it's important that they understand that the Domain is outside the Garden gates," said Kim Ellis, Executive Director of the Sydney Parklands and Botanic Gardens.

"This draft Master Plan provides us with the framework to secure our future as a premium Sydney cultural landmark, world's best, Sydney's own," he said in a statement. [Emphasis added]

Here is the pattern:

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1. A wide-ranging "draft plan" is announced, with all kinds of promised benefits

This, it is emphasized, will "protect the Gardens", according to Sunday's TV news. Or "secure our future", as we see above. We are told that we must "understand" that it will be wonderful and beneficial, and so forth. Pretty pictures and reassuring words are blazed forth in the uncritical Sydney Sunday press. Shades of George Orwell and a world in which sheer truth is denied and covered up with fine-sounding, reassuring phrases. Underneath all the pretty pictures is buried the truth – that we are seeing another public asset of green space privatised. This will all make money for- whom? Ah- it turns out: people who run hotels or casinos (or both). And of course the government, through taxes, imposts and charges.

2. Objections are forthcoming, and there are many justifications, including surveys that were done and opportunities for consultation. There are many plausible reasons given for what is really a privatization of public space. There will be a hotel built on the edge of the Gardens, but the public will be "allowed" to go onto the roof. And so on.

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About the Author

Dr Peter West is a well-known social commentator and an expert on men's and boys' issues. He is the author of Fathers, Sons and Lovers: Men Talk about Their Lives from the 1930s to Today (Finch,1996). He works part-time in the Faculty of Education, Australian Catholic University, Sydney.

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