Cemetery bid for market garden a greedy land grab  SMH 18 April 2012

Comments by George Passas that ”the heritage value of the gardens was a ‘ruse”’ clearly show he has no understanding of, or respect for, a state heritage listing. Ever since he attempted to grab the whole seven hectares of heritage-listed food-producing market gardens at Phillip Bay, La Perouse, over four years ago, and when not successful decided to then go for 60 per cent, he has attempted to ride roughshod over those whose labour produces food for the local population. What is he doing on land which is not leased to him and why have Crown Lands not advertised the land for lease after the previous tenants retired? Does Mr Passas know more than the general public when he expects government backing?

As far as we know, in Randwick City Council’s draft Local Environment Plan, the proposed rezoning of the whole of the market gardens site is RU4 (Primary production, small lot). We trust the Planning Minister, Brad Hazzard, and the Heritage Minister, Robyn Parker, support this proposal, so food continues to be produced from this flood plain, the dead will not be subjected to a watery grave and the matter can finally be laid to rest.

Daphne Lowe Kelley, President of the Chinese Heritage Association of Australia, Drummoyne

George Passas, cemetery trust chief executive, is incorrect to claim the NSW state heritage listing of the Chinese market gardens site is ”automatically obliterated” if the current farmers, the Ha family, leave (”Dilapidated shack at centre of stoush between cemetery and farmers”, April 17).

Does the Queen Victoria Building lose all its heritage value if shopkeepers go elsewhere or are booted out? No.

Mr Passas’s claim for his neighbours’ land is a simple land grab at the expense of a legitimate, sustainable, small business.

Jake McPherson La Perouse

As we see golf courses and market gardens being overtaken to provide room for the dead, I wonder why we cannot have plaques on memorial walls to commemorate the dead instead of using valuable land, especially in beautiful places. We could say much more on a plaque as well. Do the dead need to have good views?

Christine Stewart Glebe

Why can’t Botany Cemetery and the Chinese gardens co-exist?

Seeing as we’ve been pushing up daisies for years, I don’t have a problem with pushing up bok choy.

John Swanton Botany

Dilapidated shack at centre of stoush between cemetery and farmers

”Shattered if we have to move” … tenant farmer Gordon Ha at the shed on heritage-listed land that has been earmarked for use as burial plots. Photo: Kate Geraghty

A CORRUGATED iron shack has become the latest contested turf between the living history and the demanding dead of La Perouse in Sydney’s south.

The ageing structure serves as a storage shed on heritage-listed Chinese market gardens along Bunnerong Road near Yarra Bay – a seven-hectare stretch of land now firmly within the expansion plans of the neighbouring cemetery, which is fast running out of space.

The Eastern Suburbs Memorial Park proposes that two-thirds of the land – farmed for bok choy, fresh herbs and other vegetables for at least a century – make way for burial plots.

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The decision rests with Randwick Council, which is seeking to rezone the Crown land from residential to rural to protect the historic gardens, and the state government, which must approve any plan to do so.

But the cemetery has come under scrutiny for damaging the dilapidated shed on the westernmost of the three licensed gardens recognised for their state heritage significance. It has been vacant since its tenant farmer retired last year.

A neighbouring tenant farmer Gordon Ha, 44, said the cemetery’s bobcat drove through a wall and knocked a supporting post when granted access to clear out the shed. He saw it as a move by the chief executive of the cemetery, George Passas, to prepare the land as burial space.

”He wanted to clean it up so he could use it,” he said.

Mr Passas, who denied this, said old fertiliser and hazardous materials needed to be cleared from the shed, which a council inspector had deemed dilapidated and unsafe.

He said its loose sheets of corrugated iron were ”causing decapitation possibilities” for the cemetery’s visitors during strong winds, and it would seek permission to remove any such farm structures that were ”beyond redemption”.

A spokesman for Crown Lands, which owns the site, confirmed it had granted the cemetery trust a licence to clear the unused plot of rubbish and weeds ”with a continuing responsibility to maintain the site in compliance with its heritage listing”.

But an Environment and Heritage spokesman said the works, unlike basic upkeep, should have been approved by the Heritage Council. Any future works would require this as well.

Mr Passas, who expects government backing, said the heritage value of the gardens was a “ruse” given their present state, with the cemetery best placed to improve their condition on a smaller section of the site – after first taking away most of the land for burials.

”It’s not tokenism. It’s the only chance that these things will be funded,” he said, adding that Mr Ha’s neighbouring farmers were expected to leave soon. “Once the Has walk off, that heritage listing is automatically obliterated.”

Mr Ha said uncertainty surrounding the site was driving away new interest in farming the land. His family had tended its garden for half a century.

”[I’d be] just shattered if we have to move out of this place,” he said.