Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Restoration Australia - quick review Episode 4, Gervasoni farm

Sibella was struggling this time to get Marnie and Dale to fight; for all the discomfort that taking on such a project and lifestyle involved, they seemed pretty level headed and calm. When the show was announced by Richard Finlayson back in November 2014, the line was: "stylist Sibella Court follows a group of Aussie battlers who are working to restore some amazing Australian heritage buildings in RESTORATION AUSTRALIA". So the participants were labelled and stereotyped from the start.

The antagonist this time was the poor council building permit officer. At least four times we are told how the work is being held up by slow council approval. The "Piss off heritage people" was given plenty of prominence. A shame really, since the show was a lost opportunity for bringing parties together. Preserving and re-using old buildings has to be a compromise between conservation and change, something evident in every choice that each of the restorers in this show make. Perpetuating the conflict myth only serves to further distort public views. A case in point is Reimund Zunde's photostory on Vince. On the surface it seems to be a proud old man surrounded by his family history, but look deeper and the photos speak of insularity, superstition and decay. He was greatly dishonoured in this show. Lisa G. has also filled us in on the dynamite myth. The only damage I could see looked pretty much like water had undermined the wall after the adjoining roof collapsed.

A look at the Heritage Study citation shows some discrepancies with the way the show describes the place. No mention of Granny's House or a Blacksmith, and the real estate listing suggests Granny's house is earlier than the big house. As Lisa suggested, it would be useful to update the citation and statement of significance. Site descriptions are sparse and I can't find the HV permit, but looking at some photos, it seems there were details of history, fabric and potential archaeology that might not have been given the study they deserved. The best-practice approach would be a Conservation Plan, but what happens when the battler can't afford best practice, and the heritage people would rather see anything done rather than inevitable decay. Some heritage might just be considered sacrificial, either because its state of decay and the economics mean that no one will ever front up the repair cost, or that if someone is crazy enough to do something with it, they should be given all possible leeway, because otherwise it would just crumble to dust.

One irony is that if it were to crumble, it would probably become more obviously an archaeological site, and so the level of scientific rigour and excavation would be more likely to be applied. For example the nearby "Former Gervasoni Farm Building Ruins" are on the inventory, but not the register H7723-1165. I saw archaeology everywhere in the show, but the "3-400mm of crap" in the basement floor seems to have just been dug out and dumped.  I guess it is in a secondary depositional context now.

Another irony of course is that as the place is more lived in, with the accoutrements of modern comfort, it will be less picturesque. The subtle patina of age and "ruin aesthetic" that attracts people to it now will be diminished. The old chestnut about distinguishing between what is old and the' definitely new' results in the PWD toolshed extension while the new layers over the existing iron roof have distorted the original proportions.

There is a well understood aesthetic appreciate often applied to such projects in Europe – in fact whole real estate companies devoted to selling ruins for reconstruction and restoration. I will give Marnie and Dale time and the benefit of the doubt, but the concrete slabs, tin sheds and penchant for pushing walls around with screw jacks doesn't fill me with confidence that my own heritage aesthetic will be satisfied.

Speaking of screw jacks or acrow props, I would say that one good reason for the "bossy bureaucrats" permits and heritage red tape is to protect the restorer's from themselves.


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