Councillor moves to condemn work to remove colonial-era box drains

Hawkesbury Council has condemned the start of work to remove colonial-era box drains from Windsor’s Thompson Square.

In a matter of urgency brought before the August 14 council meeting, Cr Danielle Wheeler said work to remove the drains was due to begin today (Thursday, August 16) and moved that council “strongly condemn” the move.

Dig: The archaeological dig at Thompson Square earlier this year. Picture: Geoff Jones.

Dig: The archaeological dig at Thompson Square earlier this year. Picture: Geoff Jones.

Cr Wheeler said the drains were the “earliest surviving example of public works ordered by Governor Macquarie in 1814” and that heritage experts had prepeatedly called to “conserve, preserve and display the drain system”. 

A report had called for stakeholder engagement prior to the final decision to remove a section of the drains, however Cr Wheeler stated this had not taken place.

“I’ve been contacted by heritage experts over the weekend to highlight the lack of stakeholder engagement,” she told the meeting. “So who are these stakeholders and why is council and its own Heritage Advisory Committee not amongst them?”

Cr Wheeler said the drainage mitigation report clearly stated “a section of the box culvert would be carefully recorded by the archaeologists and removed by conservators for conservation and secure storage prior to future reinstatement in an indoor context”, for example Windsor Museum or a council nominated location.

“In the event that no party is interested in accepting a part of box calvert, a small sample of bricks – 20 to 30 – should be retained with the archaeological collection and the remainder reburied or discarded,” she said, reading from the report.

“’Discarded’. Precious rare colonial heritage discarded This is shameful,” she said.

“The majority of the box drains will be removed. The report makes it clear they’re not even sure how much of the box drain exists, nor is it possible to ensure that the barrel drains themselves will survive. 

“This project is a tragedy, and it’s happening on our watch. we need to condemn it in the strongest possible terms but we also need to make sure that the idea that no party is interested in accepting this precious piece of colonial era infrastructure the fact they haven’t asked us and we therefore haven’t said what we want isn’t taken to mean that we don’t want it. 

“This shouldn’t be happening, but the idea that it could slip through and be discarded is outrageous, and this council needs to be firmly on record condemning this action and we need to ask that our views and the views of our community are taken into consideration before this is lost forever.”

A Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) spokeswoman said “preserving historical artefacts is always a delicate process”.

“The brick box drains will be removed by professional archaeologists and Roads and Maritime Services will ensure the removal is carried out with the utmost care,” the spokeswoman said.

“The bricks which form the box drains will be carefully recorded and conserved to ensure they are available for future interpretation to ensure the history of Thompson Square is further understood.

“The brick barrel drain will be protected and left intact.”

Meanwhile, Macquarie MP Susan Templeman has told Federal Parliament yesterday (Wednesday) she had no response from the NSW Transport Minister or Hawkesbury MP Dominic Perrottet following a request in April to allow the community to see the brickwork before it is removed or covered up.

But shortly after raising the matter in Parliament, a letter was received by her office, refusing to permit the public access to the site.

“This is a piece of history, around 200 years old, which should permanently be on display to show the innovation of our forebears,” Ms Templeman said in a statement.

“But if the NSW Government is so hell-bent on destroying this historic site, for the sake of a single extra lane, rather than a proper bypass, the very least they can do is let the public see what’s there before it’s too late.”

The drainage system archaeologists uncovered, includes a long circular brick drain about 1.5m in diameter and three brick box drains, closer to the surface, which formerly connected to the barrel drain.

“When I raised the idea of allowing the public to view the brick drains prior to them being removed, the archaeologists advised me that it is very common practise, but that the NSW Government hadn’t requested it in this case,” she said..

“I reject the government’s claims as to why it won’t allow a public viewing – much of the site has to be excavated to remove the box drains over the next few nights.

“I think what’s really going on is the Government knows that if people do actually see what’s there, they will realise the benefits of maintaining the convict structures for historical and educational use,” Ms Templeman said.

Comment was being sought from Mr Perrottet’s office.

Council voted to request Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) clearly identify what will become of the bricks removed from their original site, how they will be conserved, what future interpretations are planned for “this priceless part of  Hawkesbury’s heritage”, and what engagement with stakeholders has been carried out prior to destruction of the drains.