“We like to say Callan Park is the undiscovered jewel of Sydney, but it’s certainly been rediscovered by the people,” Mr Greenland said. “Some afternoons and mornings it’s as busy as George Street used to be.”
He joined Balmain MP Jamie Parker in urging the government to exhibit the draft landscape structure plan commissioned by the former Office of Environment and Heritage in 2018.
The design would see more open spaces created through the removal of disused decades-old buildings, removing unnecessary vehicle access to the waterfront area (where people use the crowded Bay Run to jog), and the creation of a network of paths throughout the park.
The 2018 proposal emphasises creating new waterfront paths and knocking down structures that impede views of Iron Cove, allowing for continuous green space along the water. None of the heritage listed buildings are slated for removal.
“The NSW government is committed to keeping Callan Park in public hands, preserving its heritage and protecting public access,” a government spokesperson said.
The Department of Planning, Industry and Environment is still progressing the draft plan, which is expected to set out its vision for the future of the park and maintain buildings of heritage significance, for public exhibition.
Mr Parker said the project amounted to “little more than a pipe dream” until it was actually put to the public and funded. He said it understood it would cost in the realm of $20 million.
“The government can show that it hasn’t abandoned this site by immediately exhibiting and funding the landscape structure plan that has already been developed,” Mr Parker said. “The longer the government delays this funding, the bigger and more expensive the job gets.”
But the proposal does not address unoccupied buildings that have fallen into disrepair. They include the park’s convalescent cottages, which were built with local sandstone in the 1880s but are now boarded up.
Inner West Council Labor mayor Darcy Byrne has started an online petition to establish a Callan Park Trust, a promise floated by Labor during last year’s state election campaign.
He said the grounds had the potential to be the “Centennial Park of the inner west”.
“But the jewel in the crown of the inner harbour is instead becoming ruined,” Cr Byrne said, adding that he feared the Kirkbride complex would suffer the same fate as the other buildings that had suffered “demolition by neglect” if it was not put to good use.
“It’s an extraordinary waste to have these amazing building sitting empty and becoming decrepit,” he said.
Cr Byrne said Kirkbride would be ideal for the arts community, which has been financially crippled by the effects of the pandemic. A public school taking over the site was another option that had been discussed, he said.
Alcohol and drug rehabilitation organisation We Help Ourselves, which already operates in Callan Park, is one organisation rumoured to be interested in taking over Kirkbride.
Angus Thompson is an Urban Affairs reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.