GREG RAY: Just crumbs for Hunter

I GOT a bit excited there, for a moment.

I thought the state government had listened to my endless whining.

A story in The Sydney Morning Herald said the government wanted to shift some cultural spending out of the middle of Sydney.

The Powerhouse Museum, the report said, is apparently being encouraged to move to a regional location.

Parramatta. Sigh.

That just about sums it up, really. From the government’s point of view, going regional means a cab ride to Parramatta.

Hunter people will recall that Western Sydney is now officially a region, a development that suddenly occurred a couple of years ago when the government had an out-of-character brain snap and set aside some funds specifically for “regions”.

Somebody in the bureaucracy must have noticed that this concept came with a serious risk of dollars leaking out of Sydney, so the solution was to spot-rezone Sydney’s western suburbs as a region in their own right.

That instantly rescued millions of dollars that might otherwise have accidentally flowed to places other than Sydney.

In its desire to recognise that the heritage and culture of NSW doesn’t finish at central Sydney, the government is to be encouraged.

But, if its vision ends at Parramatta, then it only reinforces what I keep saying about the problem our present electoral system creates for everywhere in the state that isn’t Sydney.

What should happen, in my opinion, is that Newcastle Regional Museum ought to be pulled under the Powerhouse Museum umbrella and automatically get state funding every year. It should not have to depend on poor old Newcastle City Council and its hapless ratepayers.

Same with the Art Gallery, which has a fabulous collection languishing in inadequate accommodation. Our gallery ought to be funded directly by the state.

Same with our main library. Newcastle’s place in the evolution of Australian literature is very significant. You’ve heard of Lancelot Threlkeld’s incredible Australian Language – the codification of the Awabakal tongue, co-written with Aboriginal mentor Biraban. That’s a milestone work of Australian publishing, done here, in Newcastle.

How about the Skottowe Manuscript, the Macquarie Chest?

How about The Memoirs of James Hardy Vaux? The Adventures of Ralph Rashleigh?

If you haven’t heard of them, look them up. In any country with a fair dinkum electoral system, Newcastle’s cultural facilities would be generously funded by the state.

I wrote yesterday about the Bogey Hole, and how the government spent $350,000 bolting an unsightly steel monstrosity onto this amazing cliff-foot bathing place that the notorious commandant Morisset had convicts carve from the living rock for his personal use.

Our local National Trust people told me yesterday how they begged the government’s Heritage Branch people come to Newcastle to have a look at the Bogey Hole before they committed money to this mistake, but they couldn’t be bothered.

And now their scrap-metal is storm-damaged and they can’t be bothered fixing it.

Spare a thought for the hundreds of hard-working volunteers who turn up every week to put their valuable labour into the Hunter Region Botanic Gardens at Heatherbrae.

They never know from one year to the next whether they will get a single cent from the government, which throws money at Sydney Botanic Gardens without a quibble.

Newcastle’s first botanic gardens site was by the harbour. You can see it on old maps.

But BHP wanted the land, so that was that, with no replacement provided.

If you haven’t visited the gardens, you ought to. It’s a tribute to the sweat and vision of hundreds of Hunter people.

I admit the government has tipped in some dollars. Apparently they funnelled $50,000 via the Sydney Botanic Gardens in 1996 and that’s been somewhat grudgingly maintained until now (not indexed, you’ll notice).

The gardens people tell me they’re hoping for a breakthrough soon to guarantee some annual money, but I’m not holding my breath.

Unless we get electoral reform or a charter of budget equity in NSW, then I’m afraid Woolloomooloo will be gazetted a region before we get more than crumbs.


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