We were very disappointed this week to be told that the Foster and District Historical Society has been excluded from making a presentation to the Shire on Tuesday, February 9 regarding the proposed sale of the land at 2 Berry Street Foster.
This is an extremely important site of a former Chinese market garden, as explained in the attached letter, which we have sent to each of the shire councilllors. We are sending it to you so that our voice will be heard in the community – feel free to use it in the Sentinel Times.
Open letter to the South Gippsland Shire Council:
I am writing to you on behalf of the members (numbering over 75 people) of Foster and District Historical Society to express our concern at the proposed sale of the parcel of land at 2 Berry Street Foster.
As President of the Society, I wrote to the Shire on 17 December 2015 to register our objection to the sale, but we have been refused permission to present our objections at the hearing to be held on Tuesday. February 9. We are appalled that our voice is being silenced by the shire officers on this important issue and are writing to you today so that you are aware of our objections to the sale.
Our main objection is based on the heritage associations of this piece of land, which played an important part in the history of South Gippsland as it is the site of a Chinese market garden in the fledgling goldfields of Stockyard Creek.
As you are no doubt aware, the goldfields at Stockyard Creek preceded the development of other towns in the district, including Toora, Meeniyan and Leongatha. The importance of these goldfields cannot be understated in opening up all of South Gippsland for settlement. It was the Chinese market gardeners who, to a large extent, fed the people who joined the rush to the diggings. We refer to Dr Cheryl Glowrey’s excellent article in The Mirror of Wednesday 13 January 2016, p.8.
For some time now, we have had plans to erect appropriate interpretative signage on this site, similar to the recently-installed signage at The Landing. We also intend having an archaeological dig on the site as it is of such great historical interest. Rather than sell the land, with appropriate signage it will become another important cultural tourism site in Foster.
We feel fully supported in our objection to the sale of this block of land. Prior to Christmas, a petition was circulated in Foster and nearly 1000 people signed it. Since then, we have had a copy of the petition at the Foster museum, and together with additional copies in the town, several hundred more people have signed it. In a population of approximately 1600 people, it is apparent that the vast majority do not support the sale of this land. We note that in the Shire CEO’s open letter to the community he states that ‘the evaluation matrix [of the Strategic Land Review] were [sic] developed in consultation with the community’. We are unaware of any person who participated in this consultation, yet in a petition of less than a month, approximately 1300 people in the population of 1600 have objected to the sale. Surely this is the community speaking with a very strong voice!
But it is not only the local community who sees the importance of this piece of land and seeks to have it withdrawn from sale. The historical society has received letters of support from the Gippsland Network of Historical Societies. We believe the secretary, Graham Goulding, also wrote to the Shire, but his letter was not accepted as it was deemed too late. We would question the timing of the notification of this sale as there has simply not been enough time over the Christmas period for people to properly address this important issue.
Similarly, Bernard Bloch of the History Victoria network has written in support of our objections, and also Professor Don Garden, President of the Royal Historical Society of Victoria. We hope that these letters have been received by Councillors as they add weight to our objection. Indeed, if people outside South Gippsland see the critical heritage importance of this site, it would be an aberration if South Gippsland Shire closed its eyes to our heritage and did not listen to these voices of people who understand the importance of cultural heritage.
While other Chinese market gardens did exist in Gippsland goldfields, the Foster site is of paramount importance as it has not been built over, as have the others. Furthermore, as it adjoins an existing park, it is very difficult to understand why the Shire would want to reduce this amenity, an important feature at the entrance to our town.
These arguments are, of course, all in addition to the evidence Jim Wilson possesses which indicates that his family donated this piece of land to the Shire. The CEO’s argument that the land was not gazetted as public land needs addressing by the Shire, who are responsible for ensuring that public lands are properly gazetted, and we request that this step is undertaken as soon as possible so that the land is secured as public land for future generations.
[The Foster & District Historical Society is a member of the South Gippsland Historical Network, an affiliated member of the Royal Historical Society of Victoria, has been appointed by the Public Record Office of Victoria as a Place of Deposit for non-permanent public records and is an accredited museum through Museums Australia (Vic)].
Meg Rogers, President Foster and District Historical Society