IN the film Apollo 13, NASA flight director Gene Kranz breaks up his bickering engineers by stating: “Let’s work the problem, people. Let’s not make things worse by guessing.” This is great advice in dealing with our very own ‘‘Apollo 13’’, the former Newcastle Post Office.
Our city’s ancestors created this magnificent building, and fashioned it so structurally sound and beautiful to the eye as to last us over a century. This glorious building has been bestowed to us, as heirs, and it is part of our collective cultural heritage, of which we should be very proud.
But unfortunately, it’s falling to pieces before our very eyes, and we don’t seem able to do anything but squabble like red-assed monkeys.
We are now at that point where we need to take a leaf out of NASA’s book and ‘‘work the problem’’ and stop blaming the Awabakal people, the Liberals, ‘‘Crackers’’, Jodi, Save Our Rail, naysayers, Jeff, and anyone or anything else including the red-assed monkeys.
There has been hope in recent days with the State Emergency Services offering to help, saying that they can secure the roof, just call them.
I would like to see some real leadership here. For the CEO of the Awabakal Co-op to get together with our federal and state representatives and the lord mayor, along with business leaders, building and heritage experts and devise a plan.
It’s about time that people who can do something just do it, and not let money, or self-interest, dictate your every move.
The people who know how to seal a roof have to do it now, the people who know how to stabilise asbestos will have to do it soon, the people who know how to make a building structurally safe need to do it ASAP, and the rest of us people who want to lend a hand need to get their ‘‘pigeon poo’’ shovels ready.
I’ve just recently returned from beautiful Italy. They have an enormous amount of beautiful buildings, history, astonishing ornamentation, architectural details, layer upon layer, hundreds and hundreds of years old. They have social and economic problems just like us, if not worse; huge debt, 40per cent youth unemployment, they take in all refugees, and yet they still cope. Their cultural heritage never comes second. They treasure it.
I wish I could say to them that Australia treasures its heritage as well, but unfortunately I can’t. I would love to show them our local ancient Aboriginal heritage and more recent European historical achievements, beautifully displayed, in house, and out there in the landscape, but where would we go?
We set our bar so low, and we can’t even seem to reach that. We give up so easily.
‘‘Where’s the money coming from?’’ There is always plenty of public money around, we just don’t always spend it on really wonderful worthwhile things.
We could have a Post Office Lottery, just like Sydney had with the Opera House. With the sale, (sorry ‘‘lease’’) of the Newcastle Port, and the millions made there, I’m sure the state of NSW could handsomely contribute, as could the federal government that got us into this mess by selling it in the first place.
Perhaps when saving things, such as lives, and beautiful things, we shouldn’t ask such questions, perhaps we need to just save the life.
All these things could be done; whether Newcastle will ever do them is another thing.
Watching Struggle Street, the SBS series on the Mount Druitt community, reminded me of what many parts of Newcastle and the Hunter Region are fast beginning to look like; cultural deserts.
It’s not the physical poverty (that is, lack of money or possessions) we have to really worry about; that’s easily fixed. The poverty we have to really fear is the poverty of heart, mind and spirit. That intellectual ‘‘poverty’’ that makes for coarse human beings who don’t care about anyone or anything. That kind of poverty takes generations to heal, and causes untold damage along the way.
Yes, those NASA people had a much more dire situation with three astronauts stranded in outer space.
We also have our collective Novocastrian cultural souls stranded out there in dire peril, and we need to also get them home safely.
We can do this by pulling together and bringing this beautiful symbol of Newcastle’s achievement fully restored and back home, serving the community again.
So, I hope our answer when people from afar laugh and say this is Newcastle’s worst cultural disaster ever, we can reply, as Gene Kranz said in Apollo 13:
“With all due respect, sir, I believe this is going to be our finest hour.”
Gionni Di Gravio is a University of Newcastle archivist and chair of the Coal River Working Party