Should history stand in the way of van park ‘progress’

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Walpole caravan park history
The Rendezvous Guest House was one of the first buildings in Walpole. PIC: Walpole and Nornalup Historical Society/ABC

While grey nomads generally applaud communities which seek to offer them greater accommodation options … the plan to develop a new caravan park in the WA town of Walpole is likely to divide opinion.

The local council has approved a developer’s request to build a $12 million caravan park to accommodate the seasonal influx of tourists … but it will mean the demolition of two timber guest houses dating from 1926.

There has already been a strong reaction, with some vowing to fight the move to bulldoze the town’s first buildings.

The ABC reports that the Manjimup Shire gave the go ahead to Summerstar, the operator of Rest Point Caravan Park, in August last year but no-one had thought to consult the community about the proposal.

The Walpole and Nornalup Historical Society wants the council to put a stay on the demolition.

“Just immediate halting is our first step,” the secretary of the Society, Jennifer Willcox, told the ABC. “We are in a state of disbelief that such a major project is not only planned but well underway without so much as a whisper from the powers that be.”

At the centre of the storm are two wooden guesthouses built by the Swarbricks, one of the founding families of the tiny community.

“These buildings were built before Walpole started,” said Don Burton of the Walpole Historical Society. “So they are by far the oldest in the town and need to be somehow restored and somehow kept for the future, it’s a very important part of Walpole’s history.”

One possible solution is that the timber buildings could potentially be moved from their site at the Rest Point caravan park, and transported five kilometres to be relocated in the town’s Pioneer Park. However, this would not be a cheap operation.

The Walpole Historical Society says it has so far been unable to contact the developer, John Layman, to discuss the possibilities.

Following the backlash from the community, Manjimup Shire President Paul Omedei now agrees that the building should be saved for posterity.

“I’m very, very strongly of the view that we should retain our natural heritage and our history, there’s so much of it that is going,” he told the ABC. “All is not completely lost even though those decisions have been taken, there’s still an opportunity for the historical society to talk to Mr Layman and I would certainly support them in that process.”

The buildings are not on the State Heritage List, but only have a ‘C’ classification as having only local heritage significance, thereby allowing the Shire Council to approve demolition.

The developers argued in their proposal that the buildings had been extensively modified since they were built 92 years ago and therefore were not original any more. Under the terms of the approval all that is required of the developers is to take photographs of the buildings before they are demolished, and to set put up a plaque in the park outlining the history of the area.

  • Should historical sites like this be retained or is their demise the price of progress? Comment below.

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