Awabakal Land Council seek to save Newcastle post office owners with $150,000 heritage grant

THE beloved, decaying former Newcastle Post Office will receive a $150,000 heritage grant from the NSW government, but the building’s owners, the Awabakal Aboriginal Land Council admit they don’t know how much more will be needed to save the historic landmark.

The government’s parliamentary secretary for the Hunter, Scot MacDonald, announced the funding on Thursday as part of a $5.4 million state-wide heritage grant fund.

The money will go towards “stabilising” the building, which, as the Newcastle Herald has previously reported, is seriously dilapidated

“Our local heritage speaks to our history so it is important to protect, promote, and celebrate it,” Mr MacDonald said.

“But it is in the hands of the local Aboriginal land council, it is their responsibility, we're there to assist where we're asked but this will stabilise the [building] for now.

“They [the land council] will determine the building's future, it is a very old building, it looks good from the outside but of course it needs a lot of work on the inside.”

Mr MacDonald made the announcement with Rob Russell, the new chief executive of the Awabakal Local Aboriginal Land Council.

The land council has been in administration since October last year after the NSW government claimed an investigation had committed “substantial breaches” of the Land Rights Act.

Mr Russell, who said he had not yet been inside the post office because “it's not safe to go in there”, conceded the funding would only allow the council to begin looking at the whole extend of the building’s problems.

We believe the basement is full of water so we need to find out where that's coming from, how much structural damage has been done, there needs to be a fair bit of work done. 

“Once we assess what sort of damage has been done and what sort of work needs to be done then we’ll be able to put together a plan about what other funds we might require,” he said.

“We believe the basement is full of water so we need to find out where that’s coming from, how much structural damage has been done, there needs to be a fair bit of work done.”

Sale of post office still on the table

HAPPY DAYS: Parliamentary Secretary for the Hunter Scot MacDonald with Awabakal Land Council chief executive Rob Russell.

HAPPY DAYS: Parliamentary Secretary for the Hunter Scot MacDonald with Awabakal Land Council chief executive Rob Russell.

Mr Russell said the selling the post office, which has been in the land council’s hands since 2014, was an option.

“There are no plans to give it back to the government, we’ve considered putting it on the market to sell it in the future but again we need to see if that’s a wise course of action and until we have a better look at the asset we can’t make those sort of decisions,” he said.

However Mr Russell said a proposal made before the land council was placed into administration to hand over Awabakal’s land holdings, including a potential subdivision at Warners Bay, to developers in exchange for the redevelopment of the post office was no longer on the table.

“We haven’t looked toward private funding,” he said.

“From my perspective, those deals are not going to go ahead.”

Mr Russell, who has been the chief executive since February, revealed that the term of the government-appointed administrator Terry Lawler has just been extended for six months, and admitted the land council faced a number of issues.

“We have a large number of legal obstructions we need to attend to primarily going to be Terry’s field of expertise,” he said.

“There's a lot of work to be done, I’m not in a position here to be taking pot-shots at people who have been in my position in the past, I bring a really positive attitude to it.” 

Burwood Colliery claim could be ‘invalid’

Mr Russell revealed he had been told that the land council’s claim over the former Burwood Colliery Bowling Club.

“I’ve been advised our claim may even be invalid because of the way contracts for the old bowling club has been returned to the state government [so] I’m waiting on legal advice to see how we move forward,” he said.

However he said he had been in contact with Jodie Harrison and the Burwood Commons Group.

Despite its problems, Mr Russell insisted the land council would be able to use the Whitebridge site and the former bowling club site at King Edward Park, which is also subject to a claim.

“I think we will be in a position to do something positive with those assets if we are given the opportunity,” he said.

“We need to slowly work toward making this happen, it won’t be an instant success.”