Cottages on Chinaman’s Island may be saved from demolition after moves were made to have them listed as having historical significance recently.
Shoalhaven City Council’s development committee voted to add the cottages as a heritage listing in the Local Environment Plan (LEP) on May 8. However, the process could take up to 12 months.
This comes after the Lands Department told owners of the cottages they would be demolished, and requested a $30,000 bond from each occupant to pay for their removal.
Council’s move to have the cottages included in the LEP alone will not stop the Lands Department from being able to demolish the cottages.
“This heritage listing will not protect them from demolition,” a report to the development committee reads.
“Upon demolition of the cottages, council would also be required to prepare a planning proposal to remove the listing of the cottages from the LEP, which is resource intensive.”
There were originally 12 cottages on the island, but only seven remain and just one is permanently occupied.
Michelle Innes, whose family has owned a cottage since 1966, said it had been an “uphill battle” to save the buildings from demolition.
“We are relieved and feel like we finally have backing and reinforcements,” she said.
“It has been an uphill battle until this point. To have the support of the council and the community is amazing.”
“We first requested this heritage study in December 2016.”
Her mother Glenda Milhlem previously told the Times she hoped to have the cottages “heritage listed before they were lost forever”.
“To those of us that grew up or spent time at Lake Conjola, the cottages on Chinaman's Island have played a part in the making of our memories and to see them demolished would be tragic,” she said.
“These cottages have been in our family for years and we would like them to remain so they can be used by the generations to come.”
Following the development committee meeting, Shoalhaven City Council will write to South Coast MP Shelley Hancock “seeking support” for the preservation of the cottages. The council will also outline it’s decision to heritage list the items in the letter.
Mrs Innes said the department had “not paid a cent to maintain the cottages, or the island”.
“The department was trying to say there is a lot of costs and resources to upkeep the cottages,” she said.
“If the cottage continue to be there, they would still not have to spend any money.”
Using the cottage for holiday purposes, Mrs Innes admitted some maintenance works had been placed on hold while they await the outcome of the demolition.
“They are well maintained,” she said.
“There are some maintenance issues that we have placed on hold while awaiting the outcome of these meetings. Nothing is in a dangerous of dilapidated condition.”
The cottages are an icon in the coastal hamlet, Mrs Innes said.
“Everyone in Conjola knows them, they are part of the fabric of the community. There is a lot of history of Chinaman’s Island,” she said.
“They are very unique to the area and being built the way they were was an unusual situation and there are very few examples of post war cottages like those in NSW.”
Not just the cottages will be included on the council’s local heritage listing, with “archaeological remains of a timber railway” also set to be listed.
Glenda Milhlem’s parents and Michelle Innes grandparents bought the family cottage on Chinaman’s Island in 1966.
“My mother was two years old when it was built. It was built by my grandparents as their retirement,” Mrs Innes said.
“When the blocks of land were balloted, they were able to secure one and spent their entire life savings to build the cottage.
“Every nut and bold, tool, material had to be taken over by boat. To this day, everything has to be taken by boat.”
Mrs Innes said her grandmother was a permanent resident for more than 30 years, only leaving the island when she was 87.
“The people that built these cottages were told it was swampy land that would never be required. They built homes with the view to pass them through the families,” she said.
“Within 20 years of those homes being built, the Lands Department wanted these houses destroyed.”
It is believed Chinaman’s Island was named after a Chinese man Ah-Poo who lived at Lake Conjola and harvested wild tobacco from the island.
The first European occupant was William Hilder who leased the whole Island in 1916 and later the Crown Lands Department offered 12 lots for lease by ballot on a permissive occupancy.