Heritage and Heretics

I have been fortunate to have just had three weeks studying heritage properties in France. I have stayed in many of them, including Chateau de la Flocelliere, pictured here, south of France’s biggest river, La Loire, along which many fabulous heritage properties can be found.

I particularly wanted to stay with the owners of Chateau de la Flocelliere, because owner Vicomte Patrice Vignial is chairman of the organisation Bienvenue au Chateau, which represents hundreds of chateaux in France. His heritage property is one of the few in France to have been continuously inhabited for ten centuries. Yes, ten centuries. It is a stunningly beautiful mix of 11th century castle, and Renaissance style later additions. The bedroom I stayed in is pictured also.

Vicomte Vignial and his wife breathe history and culture, and like many owners of large heritage properties, have to open their property to the public to help with the running costs. There is no doubt that larger heritage properties anywhere cost a lot to maintain, and that necessary money is often hard to come by. The fraud perpetrated by the Heritage Council of Western Australia recently in listing half of the original West End without allocating a single extra dollar to actually keep the precinct in good shape has fooled many people.

Where is the money?

If the heritage of a nation is to survive it needs a listing system that means something, advocates who can protect and enhance that heritage, and more money, not just for reports and salaries, but for the buildings as well.

The Heritage Council offer $1 million a year for all the heritage properties in WA. The annual $100,000 available from Fremantle Council disappeared after one year because staff could not be bothered with the paperwork and a new council was elected. Even the City of Perth, with relatively little heritage, give away $40,000 a year to help heritage property owners. Meanwhile in the UK, $600 million a year is awarded to heritage properties from lottery proceeds.

The White Shoe Brigade

The biggest challenge in recent years has been the infiltration of developers into the very organisations that should be helping our heritage. The Heritage Council of WA is basically a developers’ club, and is run by the former head of the Real Estate Institute of WA. The Fremantle Society has suffered efforts to reduce its focus, but the greatest tragedy has been the failure of the National Trust to do its job.

National Trust No Longer to be Trusted

The greatest concentration of National Trust listed properties is in Fremantle – directly the work of Fremantle Society members over 30 years ago who photographed thousands of Fremantle properties to provide the Trust with the basis for their listings. But, the National Trust has been almost invisible in Fremantle, and treated with contempt by the local council.

When Mayor Samson died he bequeathed his home and contents to the community. It is managed by the National Trust and disgracefully is rarely open to the public. The Fremantle Society met with the National Trust last year and offered to help open the place for a substantial number of hours each week. The offer was refused. Since then the National Trust has not attended one event organised by the Fremantle Society and refuses to take any interest or action regarding the serious heritage issues facing Fremantle.

Whereas the National Trust in places like New South Wales believes strongly in advocacy, in Western Australia the National Trust only believes in ‘education.’ The National Trust (WA) under its current leadership has utterly failed to be an effective advocate for heritage. One life member of the National Trust has been so appalled with them, he instructed his lawyers to redraw his will and remove the $1 million bequest allocated therein.

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