Parramatta Female Factory Precinct to be assessed for National Heritage List

The Female Factory was where “the most depraved held sway”. Photo: Fairfax Photo Library The Female Factory, pictured in about 1938, was built to house female convicts. Photo: Fairfax Photo Library
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Australia’s earliest female convict site, the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct, is being eyed for inclusion on the National Heritage List.

Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt will announce on Friday that the three-hectare site next to the Parramatta CBD will be assessed for the highest heritage listing in the country.

The precinct has been at the heart of a battle waged by heritage advocates against the NSW government’s property development arm, which aims to build thousands of apartments in area.

The Female Factory was established in 1818 and was the first destination of all unassigned convict women sent to colonial Australia.

The colony’s second governor, John Hunter, described convict women as the “disgrace of their sex”, saying they were “far worse than the men” and “generally found at the bottom of every infamous transaction committed in the colony”.

The prison is within a largely neglected and inaccessible precinct that includes a collection of historic buildings that reflect the formative years of the NSW colony.

Among them is the former Roman Catholic Orphan School, which was established by the government in 1844.

An orphanage later became the Industrial School for Girls and then the notorious Parramatta Girls School through which about 30,000 young girls passed before it was closed in 1974.

The precinct has been nominated for heritage listing previously, but has now been selected for a two-year assessment.

“The inclusion of the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct in the Australian Heritage Council’s work plan is an important first step towards possible national heritage recognition of this remarkable place,” Mr Hunt said.

Australian Heritage Council former chair Tom Harley said it was highly likely that the precinct would be added to the National Heritage List. He could not think of an example where a site had been knocked back after being nominated for assessment.

The precinct is on the state heritage register but being add to the national list would afford it much greater protection as well as access to a bigger pool of funds and grants. The listing would require the creation of a management plan to set out how the heritage values of the site would be protected.

“What it means is that this is one of the most significant places in the country,” Mr Harley said.

Parramatta Female Factory Friends president Gay Hendriksen, who has nominated the site to be added to the National Heritage List two times, said the news was “absolutely brilliant”.

The group has been calling for the site to be preserved and turned into a living museum, similar to the World Heritage listed Port Arthur convict settlement in Tasmania.

But those rallying against UrbanGrowth NSW’s North Parramatta Urban Transformation Program may be disappointed if they hope the possible listing will change a proposal to create 3900 dwellings in buildings up to to 30 storeys in the area.

A spokeswoman for the agency said the project, which is being considered by the Planning Department, would not change and restoring and adaptively reusing the heritage buildings was one of its primary concerns.

“The process of assessing the precinct and potential National Heritage listing will not set back UrbanGrowth NSW’s plans for North Parramatta,” the spokeswoman said.

The assessment of the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct is due to be completed by June 2017. The National Heritage List contains 103 sites, including 23 in NSW.

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