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The Red Tape Roundabout


‘Red tape’…simple words, yet capable of striking terror into Aussie’s across the land.
These words have the power to make shoulders of the strongest men sag.  Ensure the most optimistic hippy’s smile disappears.  And, as we all know, once the term is uttered, hours, days, even months suddenly get sucked into a frustratingly futile, time-wasting void.

Steiglitz State School as it is today    Photo Lindy Allinson

You can tell the victims.  They laugh knowingly at that cartoon dog.  You know, the one chasing its own tail around and around…and around?   Infact, if you listen closely you may even hear them mutter, “Know what that feels like.”

A tiny not-for-profit group, the Back to Steiglitz Association (BtS), know that feeling only too well.

This handful of passionate volunteers have been fighting red tape for over 6 years now…and still chasing their own tails.

Why?  The BtS are trying to save part of Australia’s heritage; an irreplaceable school building.  
It’s the last left standing in, what a 2013 Heritage Report refers to as ‘one of the most important early gold rush towns in Victoria,’…Steiglitz.  Amongst the best ghost towns in the country, it’s also the last town in Victoria without electricity.  Over 60,000 tourists enjoy its serene bush setting annually.  Steiglitz boasts a handful of historic buildings, one designed by renowned architect Henry Bastow.  Although once beautiful, this schoolhouse has been neglected so long it’s now derelict. 

So why are BtS having trouble saving it?                                                                                   They can’t convince the town’s custodians (Parks Victoria) to support them.

Parks are the official protectors of everything Steiglitz; including its public buildings.  Yet increasing budget cuts mean they’re basically broke.  They do what little they can, though without money they simply can’t fulfil their custodial obligations.

That’s why, years ago, Parks and BtS joined forces.  Their aim?  To keep Steiglitz from disappearing.  It was a ‘you-scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours’ type of relationship.  BtS worked their tails off, and Parks provided them with Public Liability Insurance (PLI) for their fundraising events. This co-operation enabled event proceeds to increase, year after year.

Hold on, what’s the story with this BtS group, I hear you ask?  

Once upon a time (over 100 years ago), a group of ex-Steiglitz residents held a reunion. Throughout the years, this group evolved into the modern day BtS Association.  Along the way, they met many community needs.  The past 30 years have seen BtS focus solely on raising funds for maintenance of the town’s historic buildings, which were falling into a state of disrepair.  

To date, BtS have raised tens of thousands of dollars, donated the entire contents of St. Paul’s Church (including its bell), held working bees, obtained grants, manned the Steiglitz Courthouse each weekend for years, attended copious meetings, and staged award winning events. 

A great effort, considering none of it is the responsibility of these volunteers!

Now, back to our story.

BtS created two bi-annual community events - the Back to Steiglitz Festival & Reunion, and Steiglitz Airing of the Quilts.  Both, fabulous fund-raising celebrations.  Both, covered by Park’s PLI.

Until recently that is.  Here’s where the tail chasing begins…

Not long ago, Parks told BtS to find their own insurance…they’d no longer cover them.  Though naturally they’ll accept event proceeds!

However, every dollar BtS raise goes towards maintaining Parks-managed buildings.  The little group simply can’t afford PLI.  Yet without insurance, events can’t take place.  Without events, there’s no money. They definitely can’t save the school.  And without BtS money, Parks can’t fulfil their duties of conserving this culturally significant town. 

Yet Parks still want BtS to spend their money on insurance?  

Some of you may be saying, “Why should Parks help?  They can’t support every little group around the country.”  Fair enough, they can’t.

Though the BtS, along with numerous historical authorities, see Steiglitz as a special case.   Nobody’s asking Parks to fund the relocation, or finance the school’s long-term maintenance.  BtS doesn’t have to.  They have a long history of fundraising capabilities.  Not forgetting passion, drive, shire support, and a continual social connection to both school and town.  This school is part of their community.  

A myriad of historical authorities agrees with BtS - this building is special.  Their detailed management plans, academic papers, and reports confirm the importance of this town.  Filled with facts, figures and citations, their expert opinions add weight to the worth of every building in Steiglitz.  Especially the school.

You’d think this would convince the cash-strapped custodians of the sense in helping BtS, wouldn’t you?

Apparently not.  For this is where red-tape ridiculousness escalates.

This school needs more than just TLC, it needs relocating.  Presently in an isolated location, it’s continuously vandalized.  BtS believe the school won’t survive where it is.  Parks acknowledge the situation is dire. That they don’t have the money to repair it.  Yet they want it left insitu.  Choosing to completely ignore the fact it doesn’t even sit on Park’s land.

That’s right.  The building was moved in 1880 to its present site.  To land now owned by the Department of Environment, Land, Water & Planning (DELWP).  DELWP gifted the school to BtS a few years ago. Though on one proviso; it be moved.  For they want to sell the land.

So BtS began searching for a new site.  Everyone jumped on board – Shire, Engineering Consultants, local land owners, a renowned Doctor of Architecture, even politicians.  Finally, after three years, BtS struck gold.  Right in the heart of Steiglitz was the perfect site – an old, unnamed dirt track.  Big enough to put the school on.  Eureka!

Sounds like the perfect solution, doesn’t it?  However, to date, Parks refuse to allot that empty land, or any land, for relocation.

So what are BtS to do?  

This historic school’s survival is under threat.  Put at risk by the very body charged with its protection; Parks Victoria.  BtS events have saved other Steiglitz buildings, and they can save this one.  Everyone agrees, drastic action is needed…and needed now.  

Parks have the ability to help, yet continually refuse to.  Their PLI cover would enable BtS to continue raising money for repairs to all Steiglitz buildings…not just the school.   While, assisting relocation means they’d play a major role in saving part of Australia’s history.  Yet rather than provide such essential support, Parks proffer BtS years of insurmountable obstacles; all wrapped in red tape.

Where is the sense in this?

Dr. Fiona Gray (of Deakin University’s Faculty of Science Engineering and Built Environment), in her recent paper on this very school, offers one explanation.  Her work discusses the difficulties faced when protecting historic buildings.  How complications, such as cost and planning, can make custodial inertia an easier option then conservation. Dr. Gray asks whether this plays a role in the severe state of disrepair seen in many historic sites today.  Posing an interesting question: should such custodial neglect be viewed as a form of demolition? 

A question this red tape roundabout has the BtS asking as well.

Obviously there’s much more to this tale.    Visit the BtS webpage to learn more, or to offer your support   www.backtosteiglitz.org.au   or contact me at lindyallinson@gmail.com

With thanks, Lindy Allinson.

 

Steiglitz School in the 1890's 

photo supplied by Jack Boardman of SheOaks