Friday, April 13, 2012

Across the Border: Kings Cross: History: Hensley Hall

You may remember, back in May last year, I invited you along on a tour of Hensley Hall, the 1912-built former private hotel and boarding house on the corner of Bayswater Road and Ward Avenue.
At the time, caretaker-resident, Barry Minhinnick, was about to be evicted after 20 years of living in the 36-room residence.

Well, almost a year later, Barry the bower bird is gone and a big padlock keeps the front door shut tight. The lettering, Hensley Hall, has been removed from the front facade.

Cyclone fencing has been put across all the window to keep out unwanted guests.

And the entire building has a horrible locked-up, dormant feeling. 
All life has left Hensley Hall. 
It is a building in neglect.
And where is Barry? He says he is happily settled in another inner-city suburb, but I have the impression that after a generation of living in Kings Cross, he misses the old neighbourhood dearly, despite his apparent optimism for his new home. 
And I also think his old neighbourhood, and Hensley Hall, too, miss him  - and need him.

Since Barry left Hensley Hall, the building has been in steep decline.
 Squatters moved in for about three months, using a garbage bin as a ladder to climb over this fence out the back. The police were called and the trio were kicked out about three weeks ago.

But the saddest aspect of the building's decline is the vandalism of Barry's "Simple Garden", which was once a curious paradise of found objects and plants that was bursting with joy and life.

The fence palings have been kicked in, rubbish litters the garden and thieves have taken anything of value, proving that dormant or neglected buildings become easy targets for vandals and their pointless destruction. 
I heard along the grapevine - and I don't know how accurate this is - that the owner has accepted a $100,000 deposit on Hensley Hall, conditional on the building being given development approval from the City of Sydney. 
Apparently, a development application for a 24-room apartment building on the site was approved in 2007. The new would-be owner wants to push that to 54-rooms. 
Apparently the original DA was approved on the condition that the facade of the building, which is an important historic feature of Bayswater Road, be kept if the development proceeds.
But as I said, I have no idea of the truth of any of this, and it's possibly just gossip.

In the meantime, and for the future, I would hope that someone steps in - the City of Sydney, perhaps - to ensure that Barry's garden is maintained now, and also kept in place if the development proceeds. 
The garden is not just part of Barry's legacy or a lesson in reuse and recycling, but it is part of the heritage of the site and a reminder of the life and lives that came before. 

I hope it doesn't disappear from neglect and ambivalence.


Lucy - Royston st Turret resident said...

That is so sad, I loved seeing Barry's garden evolve.

Glad to have found your great Blog

Anonymous said...

Christine - Tewkesbury Ave resident:
Truly sad day for our area. It's not just the local characters and personalities that are going but so too are the buildings and the memories.

Mike Kennedy said...

Yes, it's sad, but that's what the Cross is all about - amazing people coming and going - giving their best...and their worst.

If you remember,before Barry moved in, Hensley Hall was an empty shell with a murdered caretaker. We used to clean the Bayswater Brasserie and saw the wasted space that that sad place was.

Then Barry moved in. His first act was to scrap the paint off the ground floor walls at the front. My business partner went across to ask what he was doing and Barry told him that he was beginning a work of art. And he was.

It was Barry's creativity, vision, philosophy and hard work that made the difference and the magic that that place became.

It is Barry's life and contribution that is marked here in your blog, probably as much as the Pyramids were a legacy of the people who built them and lived around them.

We are so lucky to have your blog document this moment in time with your beautiful pictures and researched words. You have honored this old girl beautifully.

In Barry's culture, the building is seen as a person, with a spirit and a link to the people who live within,

The Cross has always been about the people, clamoring over and living in the shells of buildings built by our ancestors.

I say it is the people that are important. It is the people to remember. It is the people who make the history. It is the people who have made the Cross.