Tag Archives: Helen Bergen

On saving things

Silos, Bathurst NSW Australia
Pic by Steve Woodhall.

It is in the nature of things to come and go. This is the theme in my friend Karen’s pom pom installation that will cover a plot of land in Kandos just after Easter. Her installation will be a part of Cementa, a week of arts and culture in the post-industrial landscape of a little town that was once fed by a giant cement factory. The factory is still mighty in the landscape, visible for miles around. The cement it produced is part of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Now all that work, all that movement, all that creation, has been stilled. But the mighty architecture is still there; a reminder of the very recent past. Karen started making pom poms as her partner Steve Kirby was dying of cancer. Making pom poms was something – something light and colourful – to do in the midst of grief and sadness. It provided a way for friends to sit in companionship before, during and after Steve’s death. These pom poms, made of see-through nylon and clear plastic on slightly bendy sticks, are small and light, their ephemeral nature a delicious counterpoint to the massive industrial machinery nearby. Even if people don’t realise it, a memory, a trace, of Steve Kirby will be kept alive in those pom poms. And then they’ll be pulled up out of the ground and they’ll go, just as all of us have to go. We arrive, we bloom like pom poms or sunflowers and then we go. An aura of memory stays in the air that we have left but eventually we are forgotten. That’s in the nature of things.

The Kandos cement factory is just one of the many reminders of our industrial past studded through the landscape in these parts. These are monuments not to individual lives but to collective memory, collective effort, whether endured or enjoyed. They tell us something of how we got here, how things used to be not so very long ago. They’re woven into the memories of thousands of people, each remembering – or misremembering – their own bits of story, whether that’s a couple of generations of family working there, or something seen out of a car window and an idle thought: “What’s that?” They are collective reference-points in a world that changes all the time.

What should we try to save? Not everything, clearly. Time moves on. Hoarding, as we’ve seen on the TV shows, is not healthy.

But some things are worth saving so that they continue to be part of the fabric of a changing community; part of its collective memory. The town I grew up in, Carnarvon, is slowly losing its iconic one-mile jetty to the waves. Busselton has saved its long jetty; the Carnarvon jetty – unbelievably for those who know and love that place –  is rotting slowly into the glittering Indian Ocean. Here in Bathurst we have buildings galore of striking grandeur. Unlike Carnarvon, which has clung less certainly to a bit of windswept earth, we have a great big gaol complete with lion with key in its mouth; a great big courthouse for putting people there; an old railway station and nearby, tall cement wheat silos that make visitors do a double-take as they come down Havannah Street. Over the past two centuries these things have become part of what defines this town, this place (as well as ancient natural features like Wahluu/Mt Panorama and the Wambool/Macquarie River).

This week, before I really knew what I was doing, I got involved in an impassioned plea to save the mighty wheat silos and old flour mill buildings opposite the railway station.

My friend Helen and I went straight from the Hub cafe where we were talking about it to talk to Chris Frisby at Bedwell’s Feed Barn (one of the occupiers of the old site). I whipped out my trusty iPhone and started filming.

Depending on who you talk to, the silos and flour mill are under immediate threat or we’re worrying about nothing. The information we’ve heard is that there is developer interest, and the D word (demolition) has been mentioned. It’s early days, and there may be nothing to worry about. But we think it’s worth saving and we feel it can’t hurt to get in early. Some developers prefer demolition and starting from scratch; others like to work with the fabric of the past to create something new. That’s the sort of development we need.