Council takes next step towards hut restoration

Council takes next step towards hut restoration

Cowra Council has approved a budget of more than $94,000 to begin work on restoring the stone hut at the Cowra Prisoner of War Camp site.

In July, council had approved a DA allowing work to commence on restoration of the western wall of the building by Bathurst heritage stonemason, Lief Hummelshoj, with a budget of $15,000.

However the report presented to council on November 23 stated that Mr Hummelshoj was "now not able to do so".

The report went on to state that council had been able to secure a quote from another stone mason and that they should "secure this stone mason for the entirety of the works".

Councillor Bruce Miller said it was fantastic to find a stonemason who was willing to provide a full quote on the work.

"Initially we were looking at doing this almost in pieces, bit by bit," he said.

"It's really important that we get it to a stage where we'll need a roof and we'll have to talk about that quite soon after."

Cr Miller acknowledged that the report stated council had not complied with its obligations as per Divisions 5 of the Heritage Act 1977 in maintaining the building, but said it had been a difficult task.

"In supporting it (the recommendation) I almost go to some of the comments, or inferred comments from the heritage council," he said.

"Where there's an expectation that we have a responsibility to maintain these things under the Heritage Act.

"We're not happy to see this thing fall to bits, we recognise how important it is as far as the Cowra community is concerned and indeed as part of Australia's war effort, this is the only remaining relic of all that infrastructure built up there over that period of time.

"So it's really important that we do maintain it. But you would have thought that there would have been some acknowledgement of that from the state government body as far as the Heritage Council is concerned, to lend a helping hand.

"They imply that they impose strict restrictions and have an expectation that this will be built in a manner that is reminiscent and reflects the time, yet there is there is no dollars attached to it."

Echoing his colleague's sentiments, Cr Peter Wright said some community members had told him it would be a simple fix but failed to realise the heritage requirements placed on council when completing the repairs.

The report noted that council had "approached over 20 businesses or individuals over a number of years to undertake this project, with little success".

Cr Miller said it was important to recognise the specialist skills needed to complete the repairs.

"Whilst for one person to think, 'oh that's pretty easy, we don't need to have the right expertise or the right experience to be able to do it', in every walk of life, when we're going to hire someone, we expect them to actually hold the relevant certificates and have the relevant experience.

"We don't employ bricklayers that haven't got a bricklayers licence, we don't employ carpenters that haven't got a carpenter's licence, we don't employ tilers that haven't got a tilers licence.

"This here is a specialist area, quite rightly in my view.

"Not only is it really important as far as the heritage is concerned, it's really important we get this structure back to pristine condition using expert people."

Cr Ray Walsh said council should "capitalise" on the opportunity the new quote had given them.

"It's certainly the comments that I've heard over at our Visitor Centre about Cowra's place in the Second World War," he said.

"Also I'm aware that some more Italian mementos of their time here in Cowra are coming back, so I think that having the hut being rejuvenated will only fit in with having these extra mementos and articles coming back.

"To actually show people what these people were able to do when they were here."

Cr West agreed, saying it was an exciting project for council.

"When I first looked at this years ago, I might of said 'it's only a bit of old stone falling down'," he said.

"But I had an aunty who was very keen on it and that got me a little more focused and when you stop and think about it, it is something very important in our history and our heritage.

"The fact that 5000 Italians went through the Prisoner of War camp is a fact that a lot of people don't pick up on, in fact so is the 13 Indonesians buried in the Cowra Cemetery. So I think these stories are very important.

"I'm sure that the Italian family members of the builders would be absolutely ecstatic about this.

"There's really a significant story to tell and I would say to the director on this well done, I know it's been a bit of a drive for you but it's worth the reward, I do fully support it."