The vandalising of Sydney’s Domain

Ski ramp- a 16-storey version is heading for The Domain

How Sydney’s Domain was vandalised by neo-con barbarians from corporate Australia … Royal commission hammers some banks and dusts others with a feather … Russian double agent wiped off media news lists … Israeli writer supports Gaza protests

The Domain, an envelope of green space in central Sydney, is as famous as London’s Hyde Park, New York’s Central Park, the Tuileries Garden in Paris, Rome’s Villa Borghese or the Tiergarten in Berlin.

Although not on anything like the grand scale of overseas gardens, The Domain is shrouded in history, memorialised in poetry, literature and painting and a living part of first European settlement on Sydney Cove.

The Domain in the 19th century

Families picnicked in The Domain on their days off work and school, on Sundays they arrived in their hundreds to listen to rebel orators spruiking from soap boxes, couples became betrothed on romantic walks through the lawns of The Domain (and often consecrated their feelings for each other under warm blankets and in sleeping bags) and children played games and kicked footballs.

This week The Domain, as generations of Australians knew and treasured it, was killed off.

The Domain’s board of trustees has agreed to hold a Winter Sports Festival on the historic site. It will entail the construction of a 16 storey-high ski jump and a 135-metre snow-covered ramp. A company called Bells Pure Ice will supply 850 tonnes of ice so that ski-ers and snowboarders can perform their tricks. Giant speakers will belt out “music” capable of reaching people living as far away as Potts Point and frightening the birds and animals of the neighbouring Royal Botanic Gardens. There will be a giant disco dance platform as well.

For the record, the parkland site above the Sydney Opera House has been eroded by corporate chisellers and private commercial interests since the Sydney Olympics in 2000. The gang who ran the Olympics – the Labor Cabinet, Sydney City Council, NSW Treasury, SOCOG, the developers and the banks – stole the area for their VIP guests and corporate entertainment. They covered their tracks by claiming the area was needed for “athlete training” and the confiscation was only “temporary” anyway. It wasn’t to be.

After the Olympics, the private sector moved in big time: opera on the harbour, an outdoor cinema, followed by toilets, food outlets, then the whole area was opened as commercial space to New Year’s Eve revellers for a tidy admission fee.

Independent. Never!

Reaction to the Winter Sports Festival to be held on August 3, 4 and 5 has been furious – except at The Sydney Morning Herald (“Independent. Always”) where editors and reporters have welcomed the theme park atrocity.

Reporter Amy Coffey’s article, “Sydney a ‘no-brainer’ for Shaun White’s winter sports festival”, May 15, was hailed by fellow reporter Caitlin Fitzsimmons who messaged: “I’d definitely be up for skiing from the halfway point – the top part looks a bit steep when there’s not a snowy valley to slow down in at the bottom!”

But some SMH readers were furious. “Frank” said: “Only in Sydney could such an important green space in the city be open to this ugly, over-sized and inappropriate commercial venture.”

Another wrote: “This must be the ultimate abuse of a public asset. How much will it cost? Who will foot the bill? Most likely it will be muggins.”

“Robertino” remarked, “Please tell me this is a joke”, which drew the reply: “Sorry, it’s not April.”

For those interested, the Liberal-National Coalition merged the Royal Botanic Gardens-Domain Trust with the Centennial Park and Moore Park Trust in 2014.

The merged body, now called Botanic Gardens and Centennial Parklands, is responsible for managing seven precious sites on behalf of the public, which it signally fails to do. They are: Centennial Park, Moore Park, Queens Park, Royal Botanic Garden, The Domain, Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan, Blue Mountains Botanic Garden Mount Tomah.

Opera in The Domain

Head of the trustees is Ken Boundy, former head of Tourism Australia who is part-owner of Corinna Wilderness Experience, an eco-tourism destination in Tasmania; board members include Maria Atkinson, a member of the Global Executive Team with Lend Lease; David Saxelby, a former CEO of Lend Lease described as “one of the most experienced infrastructure executives in Australia”; Philip Marcus Clark, a former CEO of law firm Minter Ellison and now a member of the Wall Street-based J. P. Morgan merchant bank board; and Sandra Hook described as a “professional non-executive director” with “a passion for place-making and the visitor economy”. What on earth is that?

Some of her previous employers have been Rupert Murdoch, Kerry Packer, John Fairfax, so it makes sense in a bizarre kind of way.

By the way, Lend Lease is Sydney’s premier developer, currently building James Packer’s casino-hotel-apartment monstrosity at Barangaroo, the Liberal Party’s shabby answer to Neville Wran and Laurie Brereton’s Darling Harbour development.

Vandals invade gardens!

An even worse fate awaits the historic site if the Berejiklian Cabinet goes ahead with its crazily pharaonic plan to build the Sydney Modern Project, aka the Art Gallery of NSW, over another precious part of the Botanic Gardens and Harbour foreshore space.

They won’t be happy until the whole space is carpeted with duty-free stores, takeaway cafes, bars, a BP service station with a Big Mac outlet and a Westfields shopping centre.

The original Royal Botanic Gardens Trust was founded by the colonial governor Lachlan Macquarie at the urging of his strong-willed wife, Elizabeth, in 1816. The board’s current website says: “It is the oldest scientific institution in the country and is home to an outstanding collection of plants from Australia and overseas.”

Many activists from Friends of the Botanic Garden are stunned and furious by the “winter sports festival” barbarity. But they can do little; these days their advice is rarely sought or followed.

Most have decided their only option is to vote against the Coalition at the State Election next March. As far as they are concerned the current government is nothing more than a tow-rag for private vested interests and No 1 enemy of the public interest.

It would also be useful to get a pledge from NSW Labor to return the Domain and the Botanic Gardens to their former glory – fully funded and dedicated to science, education and free recreation.

And please! can someone banish those sweaty, over-weight bankers and brokers grunting and pushing pedestrians out of the way as they play soccer and touch rugby on the publicly-owned lawns of The Domain? And no more “no brainers” from the government-appointed “trustees” either!

Reviewing banks royal commission

People everywhere like to see rich bastards being humiliated and that’s why the Australian public has thoroughly enjoyed a procession of bankers being shamed by the royal commission.

Macquarie Bank – not mentioned

There have some notable omissions, however. For example, have you noticed the way ANZ Bank has received light-fingered treatment while Macquarie Bank, aka the millionaires’ factory, has received no mention at all?

Chairman of ANZ Bank is David Gonski and Macquarie Bank CEO is Nicholas Moore, both friends of former Goldman Sachs banker, Malcolm Turnbull.

AMP’s Catherine Brenner was forced off the board after royal commission revelations but no one has suggested ANZ’s chairman Gonski should fall on his sword. Why not?

I might add that the outpouring of concern for Ms Brenner seems somewhat misplaced. While a carefully designed media campaign is underway in The Australian and Fairfax Media to make it look as though Ms Brenner was oblivious to the shenanigans at AMP, she seems unable to shake off the commission’s allegations.

Meanwhile she is still enjoying remuneration from her other directorships which bring in a tidy $300,000-a-year and her career continues to receive flattering references – “She sees herself as the David Gonski of her gender”.

Her husband, Phillip Brenner, is doing less well. His career as a leading Sydney urologist is on hold after he was banned from practice after being caught using prescription opiates (painkillers) allegedly to overcome pain from a ski-ing injury.

Phillip Brenner’s sister, Maxine, is a well-connected company director who is married to Jodee Rich, founder of the failed OneTel network which crucified the early entrepreneurial careers of James Packer, Kerry’s son, and Lachlan Murdoch, Rupert’s son.

“Double, double, toil and trouble; Fire burn and cauldron bubble.” – W. Shakespeare

How politicians waste our money

On March 23 this year Premier Gladys Berejiklian staged a worthless and useless one-day “Arts 2025 Summit” in Sydney.

It was such a stunt that she didn’t bother to attend. Instead, she appeared on screen to deliver a two-minute video taped message.

Minister Harwin at the Arts Summit

Held at Carriageworks in Redfern, the fake “summit” was a clumsy attempt to give the Liberal Arts Minister Don Harwin a morsel of good publicity before the next state election.

By inviting supporters to an arts knees-up Ministers hoped to draw attention away from their atrocious policies on the Art Gallery of NSW, the Powerhouse Museum and the trashing of arts projects in anywhere but Western Sydney where the Liberals desperately need to win seats to hold onto power.

Labor’s shadow arts minister Walt Secord and his Upper House team have used picks and shovels to dig out some astonishing figures on the “arts summit”.

It cost $190,000 to stage, amounting to $423 a head for the invitation-only guests.

“The royals didn’t spend that much on Meghan and Harry’s wedding reception,” said Secord, adding: “But arch-monarchist Don Harwin did for this event. It is indefensible.”

Red colonel loses front-page status

While many people were drowning in tears watching the live broadcast of the English royal wedding, Soviet double agent, Colonel Sergei Skripal, was quietly released from hospital in Salisbury.

His recovery is miraculous. When he was rushed to hospital on March 4, Prime Minister Theresa May’s Tory government and the British media said he had been poisoned by the deadliest nerve agent known to man.

The poison would take fatal effect within 30 seconds to two minutes, we were told.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson claimed “there’s no doubt” Moscow was responsible and resurrected the Cold War by blaming Russian President Vladimir Putin who was in the midst of a re-election campaign.

Johnson escalated his anti-Russian campaign by expelling a record number of diplomats and drumming up support for expulsions across Europe, America and even Australia.

Skripal has been effectively removed from the British media as its attention is drawn to more important matters – Meghan’s wedding dress. As “rogue journalist” Caitlin Johnstone said in this week’s blog: “The Skripal case is being pushed down the memory hole with Libya and Aleppo”.

What puzzles me is the number of people who have adopted the May government’s propaganda and accepted it is fact. Yet any excursion through evolving official statements casts a significant element of doubt over the current narrative.

Yulia and Sergei Skripal in Salisbury before their collapse

For example, the world was told Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned on a park bench after enjoying lunch (untrue); then it was claimed Russian agents put the poisonous agent in Yulia’s suitcase at Moscow airport and she had unwittingly poisoned her father and herself (untrue); then the poison was administered from a drone flying overhead (untrue); then the door handle in his car had been painted with poison (untrue); then the front door handle of his home became the instrument of toxic transmission (interesting); then it was claimed poison had been added to the colonel’s favourite breakfast cereal (untrue).

How Skripal and his daughter survived for four hours – walking to a restaurant lunch, having cocktails and beers before dining and then going to a nearby park to talk – after the deadly nerve agent had been administered was never explained.

The fiery Caitlin Johnstone observed: “Time and again we’re fed these deceitful narratives to manufacture support for the agendas of the Western war machine.” She described the Tory Government’s case as “a mountain of lies and cover-ups” and added: “This one isn’t going down the memory hole, guys. There are some turds that just won’t flush. This one’s staying around forever.”

An Israeli peace activist writes

Palestinian protesters flee Israeli tear gas in Gaza

Uri Avnery is an Israeli writer, former MP and peace activist with Gush Shalom (Peace Coalition). When Palestinian protesters were being killed and wounded by Israeli soldiers during demonstrations against Israel’s military occupation and the US Embassy’s move to Jerusalem, Avnery wrote:

“On Bloody Monday, when the number of Palestinians killed and wounded was rising by the hour, I asked myself: what would I have done if I had been a youngster of 15 in the Gaza Strip?

“My answer was, without hesitation: I would have stood near the border fence and demonstrated, risking my life and limbs every minute.

“How am I so sure?

“Simple: I did the same when I was 15.

“I was a member of the National Military Organisation (the Irgun), an armed underground group labelled ‘terrorist’.

“Palestine was at the time under British occupation (called ‘mandate’). In May 1939, the British enacted a law limiting the right of Jews to acquire land.

“I received an order to be at a certain time at a certain spot “near the seashore of Tel Aviv in order to take part in a demonstration. I was to wait for a trumpet signal.

“The trumpet sounded and we started the march down Allenby Road, then the city’s main street. Near the main synagogue, somebody climbed the stairs and delivered an inflammatory speech. Then we marched on, to the end of the street, where the offices of the British administrations were located. There we sang the national anthem, ‘Hatikvah’, while some adult members set fire to the offices.

“Suddenly several lorries carrying British soldiers screeched to a halt, and a salvo of shots rang out. The British fired over our heads and we ran away.”

On blackmail and whitemail

If we criticise the dictatorial and corrupt regime of President Denis Sassou Nguesso of the Republic of the Congo because of the arrest, detention, torture and assassination of opponents, are we all racists? Maybe some are but the majority of us are not.

By the same token, if we criticise the Israeli regime of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu because of its arrest, detention, torture and assassination of opponents, are we all anti-Semites? Maybe some are but the majority of us are not.

Question for discussion: Should criticism of human rights abuses and murder in the Congo and Israel be stifled by abusive name-calling?

As South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu once famously said: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

Professor Stuart Rees, founder of the Sydney Peace Prize, has launched a petition to the Australian government to support Palestinian human rights. Yu can sign the petition here.

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