Local, Opinion/Comment

The history and future of City Hill, Coffs Harbour – Part 1

Sometimes people think history is not very interesting. When you hear this story, however, you may think differently.

You will see how you can be involved and how your city will benefit.

by Margaret Beckett

Older residents know the story. They will be happy to share it. Newcomers could be surprised at the facts. People with children should be delighted that something really good should start to happen. The magic is that the power is with the people; democracy in practise.

The History

In the early 70s, the Regional Galleries Association of NSW was formed and Coffs Harbour Shire became an inaugural member. At the end of 1984 Council decided to form the Friends of the Regional Gallery and to this end a public meeting was held on 14 Feb.1985. At this meeting it was decided to form the Regional Gallery Steering Committee and Mr Bob Bosler was elected Chairman.

City Hill from the Racecourse side

The Committee was charged to advise Council on all aspects of establishment of a Regional Art Gallery.

The supper room of the old Civic Centre had been proposed for a temporary Art Gallery. However, the Chairman recommended against this idea and suggested that instead a search be initiated immediately for a dedicated site. It was also suggested, at this time that a unique theme be identified and the Steering Committee recommended that this should be “Australia’s Wood & its Products”. Council agreed to pursue the acquisition of a collection of fine wood art and craft as the specialisation for the proposed Gallery. It was also decided to approach Forestry who were searching for a home for their Henry Kendall Collection.

In early April Mr Bob Bosler arranged a meeting with Councillor John Smith to discuss a suitable site on which a Cultural Heart for the City could be developed rather than a stand-alone Regional Gallery.

The first site suggested was opposite Council Chambers. A concept plan was prepared but council rejected it and in Mid 1986 appointed the Regional Art Gallery Development Committee to search for a suitable site.

Now it gets interesting. Council’s brief to the Committee was to look after all aspects of establishing a Cultural Precinct with an up-market museum, art gallery, entertainment centre, playhouse and restaurant.

Seventeen sites were considered , including the old Allen Taylors Sawmill, MacLean St Oval, MacAuley’s Headland and DCA Hill (the current City Hill) . The selection process was based on a very extensive matrix process; DCA Hill was the clear winner.

City Hill from the west looking along Albany Street

“Let’s Sell City Hill”

During the period of site selection, the Federal Government decided to sell the Hill and offered it to the City’s Town Planner. He rejected the offer with no reference to Council.

The land, some 22 acres, was then offered to the State Govt. which accepted on behalf of the Housing Commission. When Council discovered this, representatives were sent to try to save the land for the Shire.

As luck would have it the Director of the Housing Commission was a staunch Lion’s Club member and saw the benefits of a Cultural Precinct for the community of Coffs Harbour and the public housing idea was dropped.

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Margaret Beckett is a long time resident of Coffs Harbour and she has been active in the Friends of City Hill group. The group has a strong desire for there to be a centre for multi-cultural activities and place for visual and performing arts at City Hill.

In Parts 2-4 the background to how a caveat has been placed on the land to secure it as a cultural centre for successive generations is discussed. Also covered is what that means given the Coffs Harbour City Council has now announced alternative cultural centre plans for Gordon Street.

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