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Thursday, 17 March 1966


Mr COCKLE (Warringah) .- I make no apology for taking 10 minutes of the time of the House to bring forward a matter which I believe is of considerable interest and importance to the people of Australia and on which I think I will have the full support of honorable members on both sides of the House. On 8th March last, I submitted to the House a petition containing 7,507 signatures which had been obtained from people all over Australia and from a wide cross section of the community. They were obtained from judges, from seafarers, from yachtsmen, from lovers of tradition and from lovers of historic buildings. They all pleaded for the preservation of that historic building, the Customs House at Circular Quay, Sydney, and for its conversion into a national maritime museum.

We have been told that because the Customs House in its present form is too small to provide adequate accommodation for the requirements of the Department of Customs and Excise, the building will have to be demolished and new accommodation found for the Department. The petitioners to whom I have referred do not want the Customs House - this impressive sandstone monumental building of classic dignity with its Italianate facade and handsome coat of arms, this elegant, historic and charming building - to be ruthlessly demolished. It is felt that such an act of demolition would be nothing more than wanton vandalism on the part of any developer involved in the project. Its replacement by a rectangular monster of glass and concrete would be a heinous crime. I recall that Sir Robert Menzies said recently that the giant glass houses of modern architecture are robbing great cities of their character. I, and many thousands more, would heartily agree with him.

The Customs House is 82 years old. It was built in 1883 so perhaps it is not, in itself, historic. Two previous Customs

Houses were built on the same site or close to it. Historically they have housed officers of the Customs service who waged war on early smugglers in Sydney Cove. The site of the Customs House on the shore of Sydney Cove is beside the spot on which Governor Phillip raised the Union Jack on 26th January, 1788. It is, therefore, a site of great historic significance. In fact - this is most important - it is the birthplace of the British settlement in Australia and for that reason I believe that this is a matter which should have the attention and interest of all honorable members.

Britain has a National Maritime Museum which was founded in 1934 at Greenwich on the Thames. Some honorable members may know of it. That Museum is now a tremendous tourist attraction. The museum which I have suggested on behalf of the petitioners would be of great interest and a tremendous attraction to tourists, not only Australians from other parts of our country but also for tourists who are and will be flocking here as a result of the developing incidence of tourism. It is time that we took steps to retain something of our heritage. We are an island continent but we have no national museum to preserve our maritime lore. We believe that the proposed museum would be a live and useful place, a place of education. We envisage a garden square in front of the Customs House. I am sure those honorable members who know Circular Quay will have in their mind a picture of the area to which I refer. The square that we envisage could feature trees and perhaps provide a place for rest and relaxation. It would add to the charm of the famous Circular Quay and it could provide a worthy approach to the famed Sydney Opera House to be.

The people of Sydney have been very critical of the Commonwealth Government because for the accommodation of newly established departments and departments to be moved from other locations it has constructed buildings of unimaginative architectural design. One building in this category that comes to mind is the Commonwealth Centre in Sydney. We do not consider that that structure is of outstanding design. Honorable members will be aware, furthermore, of our great concern about the despoliation of the Sydney Harbour foreshores by various installations and in one location by the construction of houses for members of the Army. The people of Sydney believe that the actions of this Government in relation to the foreshores and in being party in recent years to the construction of buildings deficient in architectural merit would be to some extent compensated for if the Government could see its way clear to consider favorably the proposition that I now put forward and to retain the Customs House in its present charming form and convert it to use as a national maritime museum.

At this point. Sir, I would like to pay a tribute to three gentlemen with great foresight who have been responsible for putting forward the idea of preserving the Customs House at Circular Quay in its present form. The first is Mr. Doug. McBurney of Kirribilli, a retired engineer. The second is a man well known in sporting circles, I refer to Mr. Fred Lane of Mona Vale in Sydney, who has the honour of being Australia's first successful Olympic swimmer, having won two medals in 1900. The third of these gentlemen is Captain Clive Henderson, President of the Ship Lovers Society. There are also legions of others whose names I could mention, but time will not permit me to do so. The gentlemen whom I have named have been leaders of the campaign to preserve the existing Customs House building and use it as a national maritime museum. The project is strongly supported by the New South Wales Government and the Sydney City Council. I hope that members of this House who love all things dear to Australia's traditions and history also will support it. In conclusion, I plead with the Government to spare the Sydney Customs House from demolition and make it available for use as an Australian national maritime museum.







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