WOOLLAHRA HISTORY & HERITAGE SOCIETY

Submission: Heritage listing of St George Greek Orthodox Memorial Church

7th June 2023

Submission from Woollahra History and Heritage Society Inc.

Email [email protected] council file ref SC7214

RE: Support for heritage listing of St George Greek Orthodox Memorial Church, 90-92 Newcastle Street, Rose Bay (the site) complex and its setting.

The planning proposal for the heritage listing of St George was considered by the Council’s Environmental Planning Committee on 6 March 2023 and then by the full Council on 23 March 2023. 

In this submission “Urbis report” refers to their report dated 11th November 2022 project reference P0043655 by Urbis Heritage planning lodged on behalf of the church.

1 Heritage is only about one thing: significance. 

This landmark site has significance in the following areas:

We support the recommendation for heritage listing.

(a)   Architectural. It was designed Fowell, Mansfield and Maclauren. They have been described as “key practitioners” in post-war (1940-60) ecclesiastical design by Richard Apperley in “Identifying Australian Architectural Styles …”. 

 Fowell was a prominent architect. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Charles_Fowell

It is highly intact and in excellent condition with a high degree of integrity. It considered to be a fine and representative example of that firm’s ecclesiastical buildings. The church building is described as an “interesting example of a Greek Orthodox War Memorial Church, which combines elements of the Byzantine style typically associated with an ANZAC memorial within the traditional Greek Orthodox Church style”. It incorporates simple and restrained design elements of these styles. The traditional west front derived from Romanesque architecture, the bell tower with open top cupola and the traditional triple-arch entry. As the Urbis report concedes, “it is a modern building based on traditional form consisting of blonde face brick, concrete detailing and an entry triptych of three large concrete classical arches painted white over the large panelled timber front entrance doors. It features a brick campanile bell tower with rendered open cupola and free-standing cross atop the cupola. Internally, the church ceiling is a triple-vaulted timber board ceiling. The iconography and other liturgical elements are certainly not understated.”

The interior of the church also incorporates a blend of traditional Greek architecture, Byzantine influences and the spiritual symbolism of the Orthodox faith in terms of iconography and distinctly Orthodox decoration.

See below: Interior of St George Rose Bay.

It is a richly decorated interior incorporating candlesticks, chandeliers, icons, frescoes, a reredos, banners, lecterns and crosses and other items of opulent decoration in gold. 

It is not “modest and austere” as claimed by the church’s Urbis report and “not readily recognisable as a Greek Orthodox Church particularly as the eastern orthodox tradition.” 

The Urbis report claims “the church is undecorated” p 915/998  https://www.woollahra.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0019/272422/EP-Agenda-6-Mar-2023.pdf. We disagree. 

Urbis claims the site “does not exemplify any significant architectural style”  p 885 of 998 and “is not a representative example of the work of the architect”. We disagree. 

(b) Social. The NSW Governor The Hon Margaret Beazley AC KC has said at the building’s 60th Anniversary last year “… as a place in our community … three things were of particular importance. The first is community … Also … commemoration because it is a church … dedicated to service [of] people … The Church is significant for its association with migrant communities that settled in NSW following World War II. Since its construction and consecration, the church building has been the focus for worship and the continuity and celebration of Greek customs and traditions in Sydney’s Eastern suburbs.”

It is assumed the St George Greek Orthodox Church is held in high esteem by members of the Parish and the broader Greek Orthodox community of Sydney because, apart from its regular Sunday church services, the building has been a focal point for the local Greek Orthodox community for significant celebrations and events including weddings, baptisms, funerals and religious activities for more than five decades, thereby providing an important part in the community’s sense of place. 

According to the Parish’s own website, St George Rose Bay is now a community of over 2000 Orthodox Christians in the eastern suburbs of Sydney. 

The Urbis report claims “it is undetermined if it has social significance. See p 885 of 998 https://www.woollahra.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0019/272422/EP-Agenda-6-Mar-2023.pdf

We disagree: its social significance is confirmed.

(c)  Historical. The site is a war memorial and was dedicated in 1962. On 24 November 1962, the Governor of NSW declared the Church as a war memorial dedicated to the memory of Australian soldiers of Greek origin who laid down their lives for Australia in the two world wars and to Australian servicemen who died in Greece during World War II. It is listed on the NSW War Memorial register and is therefore a priori a heritage item.

(d) The Urbis report claims the ANZAC plaque does not have a substantial role in the day-to-day use of the church see p 915 of 998 https://www.woollahra.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0019/272422/EP-Agenda-6-Mar-2023.pdf. We disagree. This statement fails to properly understand the commemorative role of the plaque set into the very fabric of the church in a prominent position as an inchoate part of the site. It is a day-to-day reminder of the sacrifice of those who died and for whom the church was originally constructed.

(e) As part of the Rose Bay Estate subdivision of the former Point Piper Estate, the St George Greek Orthodox Church and war memorial have local historical significance. It reflects the rapid pattern of development of Rose Bay in the post-World War II era and the growing presence of migrant communities that settled in the area during this time. A site history is given at pp 403-406 of 998 and 478-486 (including original plans) https://www.woollahra.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0019/272422/EP-Agenda-6-Mar-2023.pdf

2 Conclusions

The Urbis report claims “[the church] does not reach the threshold of local significance” p 917 of 998.
We disagree for the reasons listed above.
The Urbis report is in error and requires review. It is fundamentally flawed.

The church claims it needs to demolish the church for expansion and heritage listing will thwart its aims.

This view misunderstands the role of heritage listing.
Heritage listing does not fossilise a site.
It provides a framework for alterations and adaptive re-uses which will protect its significance for future generations.

After all, this site does not belong to the church or any one group: we belong to it.

Item R2 of the Woollahra Council meeting dated 6th March 2023 notes that the site’s heritage values are recognised by the Woollahra Local Planning Panel [p365 of 998 on-line edition].

We agree with those conclusions and recommend the site complex and its setting for heritage listing.

We wish to address council when this matter comes to council.

Thank you for your consideration.

Andrew Woodhouse

Secretary and Public Officer
Woollahra History and Heritage Society Inc.
PO Box 1100 Double Bay 1360
Phone 0415 949 506
Email [email protected]