Monday, 21 June 2010

Building community - not empires

Carlton's Kathleen Syme Centre would be a great community facility

Kathleen Syme was a journalist and editor with The Age - the newspaper founded by her grandfather David Syme.

For many years Kathleen worked for the welfare of others - particularly women. She served on the board of the Royal Women's Hospital for decades, and in her honour its education centre (former Faraday Street State School No 112) is named the Kathleen Syme Education Centre.

The Women's Hospital has now moved to the corner of Grattan Street and Flemington Road Parkville, and Melbourne University wants to acquire the old hospital site.

Fair enough.

But will the university also be permitted to acquire the Kathleen Syme Education Centre?

Carlton has no public hall and no library. The Kathleen Syme Centre would be an ideal location for these services.

It is true that Melbourne University has a library, but it is not for locals. There is the State Library in the city, but that serves a rather grander function than a local library. There is a library in Rathdowne Street North Carlton, run by the City of Yarra. But for those in Carlton there is nothing.

Nor does the community have anywhere to meet. Meetings are often held at Melbourne University, but members of the public generally can't book space there - unless they are prepared to pay top dollar. Otherwise we have to go to the back rooms of pubs or to a church hall - such as St Jude's or the Church of All Nations - when public meeting space should be basic public infrastructure.

Carlton has a long and wonderful history - I lived for years next door to an elderly Italian couple, she having come out to Australia as a mail order bride in the 1930s. The football club (I confess I am not a supporter!) also has a proud history. Wouldn't it be great to have a place in the heart of Carlton to celebrate this heritage?

Carlton's postcode - 3053 - has the highest poverty rate of any postcode in Melbourne. It is an area that needs more community services, not less.

Carlton has never had its own local government, and it falls within the City of Melbourne. The City Council is willing and able to buy the Kathleen Syme Centre for a community space to meet the needs of Carlton residents. It has already done the same for Southbank and East Melbourne.

So what's the problem?

The problem is that the State government keeps blocking the acquisition. Formerly part of the Royal Women's, the Centre is currently under the control of the Minister for Health - Daniel Andrews. He and his Department don't want to sell one of their assets for community use.

It's empire building instead of community building.

When dealing with government assets, our government must take seriously the needs of the community.

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