THE CITADEL PROJECT: Old Grafton jail reborn
Should Clarence Valley Council take on the old Grafton jail site?
This poll ended on 26 November 2020.
This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.
IN JUNE, Grafton resident Dan Fahey shared his 15 ideas to repurpose the former Grafton Correctional Centre.
As Clarence Valley Council considers a NSW Governnment offer to acquire the former prison site at today's monthly meeting, Mr Fahey implores council to look beyond the cost analysis as he shares his views on how to maximise the community benefit of what refers to as The Citadel Project.
Everyone wants to know: 'How ya gunna fund it?'
Produce income: There is an industrial kitchen already on site, ready to punch out Devonshire teas this very afternoon. A café where you can sit and chat and relax after a well-spent morning volunteering, or in between touring the Old Jail Museum and the Botanic Gardens.
Charge for tour and museum entry: Where do we queue? Is there a souvenir shop? Can I have an ice-cream?
Negate future costs: Solar panels recoup their investment in a few short years. Battery storage in some of the redundant out-buildings, solar cells replacing prison cells. The installation guys could be there Monday.
Accommodation brings in dollars: There would be room for a swish hotel, a youth hostel, staff quarters for the hospital, or any fraction of the 36,000 international students queueing up for hotel quarantine. Where would you rather serve quarantine - as a pigeon cooped in a high-rise tower, or a low-rise digs with a yard, garden and grounds? What about the estimated 29,000 Aussies already registered, waiting to be repatriated? They could be the first volunteers in the community garden... or go home with a woodwork or handicraft project.
NSW Government quarantine charges are $3000 per adult, $1000 per additional adult and $500 per child for a two-week stay. Multiply that by 300 people and that's about $75,000 gross per fortnight we're missing out on with every moment's deliberation and delay.
'So, how ya gonna fund it?'
Invest in people: Attract a volunteer workforce. They will need a vision to work towards, and if they feel valued and welcome, and you resource and equip them, people are happy to contribute their time and expertise.
Advertise: How about filming a documentary about how a community outsmarted the powers-that-be, the big end of town, the self-serving politicians and uncaring bureaucrats who treat us with such contempt - starve your dog and he'll love you; feed your dog and he'll bite you, as the saying goes. A documentary about the metamorphosis of a town facing the reality of becoming a backwater ('in the middle of nowhere', Ms Berejklian?) to the shining example of a garden city, using the focal point of an already abandoned jail, transformed into a citadel, reflecting the dedication of its people and their belief in themselves and their future.
Function centre: Weddings, parties, embassy balls, anything really. A cocktail bar replacing prison bars.
Performance venue and concert hall: The Clarence Valley Orchestra and Chorus are hamstrung by the lack of a permanent home. We have no mid-sized theatre in our valley with proper backstage facilities or adequate rehearsal venues. Now that the Grafton Regional Gallery has its extensions nearing completion and the PCYC complete, the only cultural facility lacking in the valley seems to be a proper concert hall, indeed an opera house, a jewel within the delightful setting of the Botanic Gardens, in the grounds of a University Campus.
Botanic Gardens: Imagine wisteria-clad walls, Babylonian terraces sweeping down to Egyptian lotus ponds, and a willow-lined canal, with water harvesting mechanisms in place to feed the fountains, and irrigate the pear grove - a symbol of good governance, throughout all of history. What if Alumy Creek became a delightful stream again, rather than just the sewer, drain or morass that we have allowed it to become? Why couldn't it all be like See Park, the length of the town, using the volunteer workforce, who need a focal point and a base with amenities to work from?
Community Garden: The functional commercial grade nursery already set up on the site could be the starting point for a Community Garden, for the propagation of the 84 species of gum trees that koalas need, and for any amount or kind of ecological restoration. Perhaps the Richmond birdwing butterfly could again live in our valley
'Doesn't this all sound a bit risky?'
There are other risks to consider: The risk of being held hostage by an abandoned building, the risk of being haunted by the ghosts of so many lost souls and imprisoned by more uninspiring leadership? What about the value in a functioning community, with new networks of inter-personal and cross-cultural, generation-bridging interactions, a seat of learning and culture and civilisation?
The NSW Government has offered the simple transfer of this entire site to the Clarence Valley Council for $1, thus retaining local community ownership.
The facts are that the building is surplus to the needs of the Department of Corrective Services. The buildings are not going away, and need to be managed by local people. We can decide our own destiny.
But have we the willpower to realise our true potential; to remove a rotten core, and replace it with a beating heart? We'd need leadership, not a penny-pinching mindset, to get the result of a lasting and enduring legacy.
Leadership: The new jail was six years in the planning, design and building stages. So presumably the Department of Planning and the Department of Corrective Services had six years' notice of the old jail closing… and yet nothing.
So what label could we apply to such an oversight? Delinquency? Neglect? Dereliction of duty? Ignorance? Out-stayed-their-welcome? Where are their specific, measurable, attainable and realistic, time-bound goals? Nowhere to be seen.
Don't the government have grown-ups on the staff, whose task it is to actually come up with ideas on behalf of the community? Don't they know how to resource and inspire and enable people and communities; how to be the instrument of government, to actually do their job? Or are we about to be hoodwinked by more tokenistic community consultation such as what transpired with the new Grafton bridge?
Fortunately, all the successful ideas are already in existence, already up and running. Here's some examples:
• The former Bendigo jail is now a 1000-seat performing arts venue;
• Fremantle jail is a well-patronised tourist attraction;
• The Butchart Gardens in Vancouver were simply a disused quarry, now a wonderland;
• Boggo Road Jail is a popular function centre;
• The Hunter Valley Gardens was an empty paddock;
• The New York High Line was an abandoned railway viaduct, scheduled for demolition, now a thriving cultural and pedestrian precinct;
• Perth Gaol has just been the recipient of a $400 million dollar upgrade to be the WA museum.
How and where to place a car park is a matter for a draftsman to decide; what cultural institution should be founded is a matter for a statesman.
We first need a sober discussion about the need for the new jail. Is it true the cultural background of 43 per cent of the new jail's population is Indigenous? This figure outstrips anything the South African Apartheid regime ever accomplished - and at least they had the decency to publicly admit to the world they were running a racist regime.
Hang on, that would be un-Australian, wouldn't it? What happened to the 91 per cent of Australians who freely voted at the 1967 referendum to welcome all 170 original nations of the Great South Land in the Commonwealth of Australia?
Fair go, "but they did nothing with it", I hear you parrot. Well, the British declared the entire continent a prison the day they arrived… So how is that progress? How is that civilisation? How is that something rather than nothing?
Is SERCO, the private company charged with the management of the new jail, merely the latest incarceration of the British Empire wandering the globe, looking for peoples to enslave and imprison, rather than the benevolent folks safeguarding society they make themselves out to be?
Aren't we a modern nation, who would never send criminals, alleged or otherwise to remote Norfolk Island, Rottnest Island, King Island, Maria Island, Christmas Island, Palm Island, Manus Island, just for political reasons? That would be unAustralian, wouldn't it?
Except that 20 per cent of British convicts transported here were exactly that - political prisoners. We've got history, and they've been doing it ever since.
The repatriation of these peoples disproportionally represented in our jails, the reparations needed, complete with, not pardons, but exoneration from crimes born of the injustice served up by mounting decades of racism and discrimination.
More broadly, why do we allow government to buy our votes with our own money? Why do inequities in resource allocation exist at all? Why do we allow our very humanity to be called into question by turkeys like Howard and Rudd and Morrison and that other guy that got deported back to England - wassisname? How unAustralian is that? Hey! You can't call ex-Prime Ministers turkeys! Sorry, Prize Turkeys.
Why do we allow political parties to accept campaign funds from anyone not on the electoral roll? Why are such donations not limited to 1 per cent of any individual's previous year's taxable income? All those political donations would be better used for charitable purposes, or patronising culture and the arts. Otherwise they are simply legalised bribery, and then it's all spent on political ads… join the dots!
Sir Rupert won't like it when he hears this! Ah, Yes. Sir Rupert, the original unAustralian.
'So, how ya gunna fund it?'
The Citadel Project could be funded in its entirety by the closure of any or all of our offshore Gulags or continental detention centres or son-of-apartheid jails.
It could be funded by charging for quarantine services, and by the cessation of misdirected political donations.
It could be funded by the release of an equitable amount of grants from the bushfire recovery fund or the pandemic stimulus package or any decent proportion of our fair share of resources, with an apology for the oversight and delay.