150 years of history destroyed for 60 more beds

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By Rachel Clayton

A stranger to Murrembeena would think Wahgoo Road was just like any other. Tucked behind a corridor of residential streets far from local shopping strips, the road was a peaceful one that was home to families, couples and elderly residents. But to locals, Wahgoo Road held 150 years of historical significance.

Frogmore House is a 150-year-old estate on which stood a red brick Victorian era home with cream quoining, ornate French windows and cast iron verandah posts.

But this local prized piece of Murrembeena’s history is no more.

For close to a year, residents of Glen Eira and the Glen Eira Residents Association (GERA) have been fighting to protect Frogmore. But on June 9 the fight was lost when the Glen Eira Council announced Frogmore would lose its heritage overlay that had been protecting the building since February.

Despite close to 1600 community signatures, of which 934 were verified and Heritage Victoria and The National Trust of Australia (Victoria) officially supporting the local significance of Frogmore, Cr Pilling stated,

“[The] weight of community numbers doesn’t always dictate a correct decision. The expert opinion was divided on local significance. In 1996 the answer was no, early this year a consultant said yes, Heritage Victoria said no to State significance in June with a recommendation for Council to only consider local protection.”

Cr Pilling had the casting vote as the Mayor was absent and the deputy mayor declared a conflict of interest on the issue. This meant, according to local law, the previous Mayor – Cr Pilling – took the chair.

The vote was tied at three for and three against. Cr Pilling ultimately used his position as chair to abandon the overlay.

Cr Pilling stated he “agrees it was an unusual situation”.

Bette Hatfield, the President of GERA, explained that when local resident Jan Armstrong first approached Cr Pilling last year when he was the then Mayor,

“He said, and I quote, ‘how important can it be? I have lived in Murrembeena for 20 years and I’ve never heard of it.’

“This is outrageous what the State council did. How many Minister callings are there on developments? Why has he got powers of ministerial direction if he can’t support over 1000 signatures wanting the historical overlay to stay in place?” Hatfield said.

One of the reasons the Estate lost heritage protection was because local and state assessments of the house could not find strong evidence to link the building to pioneer William Lyell. Assessors of the property have argued the house was rebuilt by Victorian architect Sydney Smith, whose father – also an architect – designed Caulfield Town Hall.

But Hatfield believes the links to Lyell are in the original 1996-2003 assessment of Frogmore, a document she has asked for many times but never received.

“On the 6 May I heard Bette ask the Mayor – Jim McGee – ‘I have asked for that report’ and Jim said ‘I will make sure that you get it’. So over two months later Bette is still waiting for that report,” explained Armstrong.

All the information on links to William Lyell I am sure are in that document,” Hatfield said.

Despite the pristine condition of the house, Cr Pilling stated he was concerned for the future of the site.

“[I] felt there was a real likelihood that the site would remain derelict, as it is now, for many years to come if a local heritage overlay was enacted. In effect this would create a stalemate that would penalise two worthy not-for-profit organisations who entered into negotiations in good faith only to have the goalposts changed at the last moment,” Cr Pilling said.

Despite the ruling and appeal by GERA, demolition has begun on the site and Hatfield and Armstrong have conceded defeat, stating they have been forced to roll over and play dead as their cherished Frogmore House is torn down. Both are adamant they will never go down Wahgoo Road again.

Coinciding with the recent decision over Frogmore was the announcement by the Heritage Council Victoria that they had launched a review into the Heritage Act 1995 to better protect Victorian state significant buildings and objects.

The recent demolition of Frogmore may jeopardise Victoria’s status as a national leader in the identification, conservation and management of heritage.

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