By Jeremy Sollars
Anger continues to boil over about the demolition by the Southern Downs Regional Council of two historic shelter sheds at Pioneer Park at Swanfels, east of Warwick, with nearly 100 people turning out for a public meeting in the park last weekend.
As reported in the Free Times, current and former residents and former students of Swanfels State School were furious when the council razed the shelter sheds on Friday 20 January, less than 72 hours after announcing the sheds – which the council said were infested with termites – were to go.
Since then a wave of community fury has rolled out, with many people blasting the council for a lack of notice and pre-consultation and adamant that the sheds – each more than a century old – could have been repaired as a community project.
The timber and iron-roofed sheds had formerly been a tennis shelter and a play shed at the old Swanfels State School and were moved to the district’s Pioneer Park in the early 1980s.
Since that time the sheds and the park had been the venue – and a place of cherished memories – for countless family and community celebrations in the form of weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, Christmas parties, cancer fundraisers and weekend picnics, along with the annual Swanfels State School reunion.
The park is also hallowed ground in the stunning Swanfels district, with plaques and trees commemorating early settlers and later families alike, and in some cases marking the site of their ashes, and is also popular with passing tourists such as ‘grey nomads’.
Since the demolition the council has released a community survey asking residents if they want the sheds replaced, and if so with either a “simple structure” or “reconstruction of a structure similar to the previous building”.
The overwhelming resolution of the public meeting in the park last Sunday, 12 March was for the council to construct a timber-and-iron structure as close as possible in size and design to the original sheds.
The meeting was told that a council report – of which the Free Times has obtained a copy – made it clear that the termite damage to the sheds was not insurmountable, leaving many to question why the demolition was ever carried out.
The report by Osborn Consulting says that while “the building does not meet the current regulatory standards framework… it is generally in good structural condition (and) damaged and missing elements… could be remediated and/or replaced which may increase the life expectancy of the structure”.
The Free Times can also reveal that the last council budget set aside $20,000 for the works referred to in the Osborn Consulting report.
The Free Times previously asked the council for details of the cost of the Osborn report and the cost of the demolition itself but was refused, although the council did confirm the demolition work was done by Stanthorpe firm Rob Wilkinson Building.
The council said that memorabilia from the sheds had been placed in safe storage.
Warwick’s newly-formed RANGE residents’ action group – prompted into existence largely thanks to the Swanfels sheds demolition – was represented at the meeting by president Peter Kemp who urged locals to “not compromise” on the sheds’ replacement.
Along with others at the meeting, Mr Kemp questioned if the council had even had the authority to demolish the structures – and its ownership – given the costs of its relocation from the former Swanfels State School and the installation of power and water at Pioneer Park were paid for by the community itself.
“They have effectively knocked down a building that they didn’t own,” Mr Kemp told the Free Times.
“They knocked down someone else’s sheds.
“I have 40 years in the building industry – to fix up these sheds would have been just a week’s work for a couple of chippies.”
Long-time Swanfels local Milton Rippingale told the meeting that the council’s actions were “callous and arrogant”, noting that despite being invited neither Mayor Tracy Dobie or any Southern Downs councillors attended the meeting.
Yangan resident Jenn Greene-Galloway – who 22 years ago held her wedding reception in the sheds with husband Brian – said the community deserved a replica building “with a pitched roof”.
The meeting resolved to ramp up distribution and return of the council surveys, which are due in by close of business on Friday 31 March.
For a copy of the survey visit the Warwick council office or call the council on 1300 697 372.
The next meeting of the RANGE residents’ action group will be held on Monday 26 March at 6.30pm at the Warwick RSL. Membership is $5. For more information visit the RANGE Facebook page.