St George Greek Orthodox Church at Rose Bay to be heritage listed

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A proposal by Woollahra Council to list the St George Greek Orthodox Church and war memorial complex and setting, including interiors and moveable heritage at 90-92 Newcastle Street, Rose Bay, as a local heritage item was finally approved by the Council on Monday, August 14, after an extended community consultation process, including a site visit.

On 19 July, 11 (of 15) councillors attended the church, together with Council staff, and were shown around the church and the grounds by Father Gerasimos Koutsouras and six members of the Parish Board.   

In the heritage officers’ report to council following the site visit, it was stated that the orientation provided an informative update as to how the Church building has changed and evolved over time to positively respond to the community’s changing needs (both internally and externally). Indeed, it was noted that the alterations and modifications made to the Church building had responded to the changing needs of the congregation and were sympathetic in nature and did not appear to have obscured original elements of the building.

In response to the community feedback regarding moveable heritage, Council staff did however recommend that a Moveable Heritage Schedule be prepared for the site containing an assessment and inventory of moveable items within the Church such as the iconoclasts, furniture, altar elements, and entombed relics, which were identified as important religious elements.

As the report also noted, some members of the Church had expressed a desire to be free to adapt and expand the building as required by the congregation and were concerned that the proposed heritage listing would serve as an obstacle. In response, Council staff presented the planning and approval pathways that are inherent with local heritage listing and explained that development is a necessary part of heritage conservation but that with a local heritage listing there is an additional “lens” of consideration that must be applied to ensure that the proposed impact to significant elements can be managed and applied sensitively.

St George Interiors – Iconoclasts

These sentiments were echoed by Councillor Lucinda Regan at the Council meeting when she moved for the proposal to be carried (with the support of Councillor Nicola Grieve). Councillor Regan noted that there was a lot of support from the wider community for the proposed heritage listing and that a heritage listing will not stop future development applications. She also emphasised that the historical significance of the building is tied with the Greek migration and the wider recognition of the important contribution of the Greek community.

Councillor Toni Zeltzer spoke against the proposal, claiming that the community did not want the heritage listing.

In general discussion the point was made that the council’s own detailed heritage report had identified that the church satisfied six of the seven mandatory heritage criteria, but that no actual planning issues were raised by those who oppose the heritage listing. 

Those heritage considerations were identified as follows:

Historical Significance – a church built as a war memorial commemorating Australian soldiers of Greek heritage, as well as Australian soldiers who have died on Greek soil.

Associative significance – associations with Australia’s migrant communities, as well as its association with Australia’s defence history.

Aesthetic significance – the church is a fine example of the work of the prominent Inter-War architectural firm Fowell, Mansfield & Maclurcan. Joseph Charles Fowell is recognised as a prominent twentieth-century Australian architect, particularly renowned for his ecclesiastical architecture. It incorporates elements of the Byzantine style typically associated with ANZAC memorials, with the traditional Greek Orthodox Church style. Within its residential setting, the church has landmark qualities.

Social significance – although social significance has not been formally assessed, it is assumed the St George Greek Orthodox Church is held in high esteem by members of the Parish and the broader Greek Orthodox community of Sydney. It also has social significance as a war memorial specifically recognising members of the Greek community in Australia that served in WWI and WWII, as well as Australians that served and died on military campaigns in Greece.

Rarity – is a rare example of a Greek Orthodox Church that is also a war memorial (there is only one other in Sydney – St Spyridon, Randwick).

Representativeness – the St George Greek Orthodox Church is a fine and representative example of the ecclesiastical buildings designed by architectural practice Fowell, Mansfield & Maclurcan.

It was further noted that there was no correspondence received from the church after the site meeting and according to at least one of the councillors it appeared that there had been a warming to the idea of the heritage listing of the St George Church.

It was noted in the report to Council that in response to the community engagement, Council had received 17 individual submissions, with 12 submissions (70 per cent) in support of the heritage listing.

One of those who made an individual submission was Nick Andriotakis, a parishioner and prominent member of the local Greek community and Secretary of the Joint Committee for the Commemoration of the Battle of Crete and the Greek Campaign. 

In a further written submission tabled before the Council on the night, Mr Andriotakis noted that in his experience many parishioners were actually supportive of the proposal to heritage list the church and submitted that an online petition initiated by the church which had attracted over a thousand signatures should be ignored because it was negatively framed and the church did not present both sides of the argument when urging petitioners to sign. 

As Mr Andriotakis commented: “The heritage listing will protect the integrity of the vision of the founding members of the parish and would ensure its continuance and respectful way should any future modifications, alterations, additions be proposed.”

When the vote was finally called, the motion to endorse the preparation of a planning proposal to list the St George Greek Orthodox Church and war memorial complex and setting as a local heritage item was narrowly carried by 7 votes to 6, with a couple of councillors abstaining.

As the Greek Herald’s opinion piece in April this year declared, the St George Greek Orthodox Church provides a sense of place that is worth preserving and now, as a result of the Council vote, this heritage item will be preserved.

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