Does Heritage for local government end before the 20th Century?
Alistair McLean
Category: Heritage

Alistair: Posted on Sunday, 5 February 2012 10:56 PM


A small, but architecturally significant building of the mid-twentieth century risks demolition by the same council who erected it to celebrate the 50 anniversary of their own council. The Hornsby’s Country Women’s Association (CWA) Building as it is now known was completed in 1958 and was then known as the Women’s Rest Centre.  It is a modest community building, small and residential in scale, and largely untouched since it was built.  It was originally built to help celebrate the 50 anniversary of the establishment of Hornsby Council (1906-1956) during the time that Harold Headon was Hornsby’s Mayor.

The National Trust of NSW listed the CWA Building on the 27 July 2011.  However being listed by the National Trust is not enough to save a building from demolition.  The National Trust says that the listing of a place in the Register, known as “classification” has no legal force, however it is widely recognized as an authoritative statement of the cultural significance of a place.  The National Trust does encourage owners of listed places to respect their heritage significance.


From the ArchitectureAU website  26 Sept 2011“Designed by NSW architectural practice Ross Aynsley & Partners in the postwar International style, the building was erected in 1958 to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the local government in Hornsby. Its architectural significance comes from its being a representative example of rest rooms built by the CWA throughout Australia in the mid-twentieth century. It is especially significant due to its suburban location and its relatively late construction. The Tea Room, within the building, is designed to take advantage of the views through the glazed timber-framed walls to the park, and to the (now grassed) sandpit. The interior layout and the majority of the finishes are original, and include timber veneer doors, ball-shaped ceiling lights, venetian blinds, sandstone hearth, timber floors and skirtings and the toilet tiling.”


Over time, the CWA has operated a tearoom, raised money for charity and housed clean and safe public toilets for the community.  With the operation of the CWA from this building it has become known as the CWA building, instead of the Women’s Rest Centre.  However, according to the CWA’s letter to the community this council building is “currently used by a number of small community groups, such as environmental, political and religious associations, a disabled adult support group and a women’s assistance/spiritual group.”  To see the letter from the CWA to the Hornsby community that was first published in the Hornsby Advocate of 15 December, entitled “Hornsby CWA breaks its silence.” follow the link below:


In addition, it has provided a safe refuge for breast-feeding mothers and according to local wheelchair users is the only publicly accessible disabled toilets on the western side of Hornsby.  While there are some disabled toilets in the war memorial hall, Secret Design Studio understands that these are only accessible during community events. While disabled facilities will be included in the new aquatic centre when it opens, Secret Design Studio does not know if they will be available for public use without paying an entrance fee to the aquatic centre first.

The building was carefully designed by a small architectural firm of the period, Ross Aynsley & Partners, and it demonstrates many of the typical features of the period.   A sweeping flat roof is supported by slender, elegant, steel pipe columns, and a beautifully textured sandstone three-quarter high, free-standing wall defines the entry. The large full height glazing acts like a grid over the side elevation, and it looks like the trim colours are original. Perhaps the only exterior change over the period is the replacement of a children’s sandpit, surrounded by a diagonal pattern wrought iron balustrade, with a small lawn.  This area has a chunky beam structure over the top which flows into the roof structure.


One of the reasons that this modest structure has remained largely untouched for 60 years is that it has been a community building, shared by a number of small community groups, and owned by Hornsby council, who have never had the funds or the power to “modernise” it to contemporary standards. The Hornsby Women’s Rest Centre has also suffered from a lack of ongoing maintenance and now has a leaky roof and need for a repaint, which the community groups that use the centre are not in a position to fund.


Unfortunately, this unloved building typifies the problems in the preservation of mid century modernist buildings, especially if they are community buildings, and a bit run-down. Secret Design Studio believes the building is worthy of preservation, simply due to its original condition, its social history, its public accessibility and its well designed mid century modern flair.

In addition to the heritage value of the Womens Rest Centre, there is also the question of the commemorative pine tree (Allepo Pine planted 1937) which it is claimed was grown from seed taken from the original Lone Pine on the Anzac Peninsula. The commemorative tree is fenced within the swimming pool enclosure.


Local architect, Mark Cambourn, has offered an alternative single lane loop accessway road that preserves the Womens Rest Centre.  This is instead of Hornsby Council’s proposed two-lane road that would were it to be adopted require the demolition of the Womens Rest Centre.  Hornsby Council has claimed that the alternative is too expensive.

In Secret Design Studio’s view the CWA building is worth preserving for the benefit of the people of Hornsby and ideally that could be achieved by:

1)    Replanning the access way to avoid the CWA building, along similar lines to Mark Cambourn’s suggestion.
2)    Employing an appropriate heritage consultant/architect to look at restoring the CWA building to its original glory.
3)    Undertaking a maintenance program to fix leaks and repaint.
4)    Paving the unused grassy patch (ex sandpit) into a groovy, sandstone, crazy paving terrace so it becomes a usable and accessible, outdoor space.
5)    Rebadging the building as a community centre, not solely as the CWA building, and open it up for more community groups to use -possibly even some community groups associated with the new aquatic centre, as the new centre does not appear to contain community meeting rooms?

Secret Design Studio wonders what old Mayor Harold Headon would be thinking of the current Council demolishing Hornsby Council’s 50 Anniversary commemorative building just a few years after Hornsby’s Centenary to make way for a road?

Secret Design Studio would like to thank and recommend Mick Carrick, Partner of Carrick Gill Smyth Lawyers, for his kind assistance with this post.