I am about to talk about heritage. It means some of you are already rolling your eyes and some of you are eager for more.
Either way, all of us sat up a little straighter this week when a train hurtled through the heritage railway gates on Lydiard Street at the Ballarat railway station late on Saturday night.
The fault did not lay with the gates. It was clearly with the speeding train that failed to slow, stop or do anything it should have at that location.
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In truth, the damage could have been so much worse. V/Line and VicTrack know this story could have been calamitous.
Some of my councillor colleagues have already stated their position that the 135-year-old heritage gates should go and be replaced with boom gates.
I don't share the view, and I'm not alone. If it were any other street in any other town the argument to get rid of the heritage gates might be the obvious solution. You wouldn't think of doing anything else. But this isn't any other street in any other town.
Lydiard Street is one of the prize jewels in our heritage panorama. The gates are part of the bricks and mortar of our memoire that UNESCO is now viewing with particular interest for our region.
People are drawn to live here - and visit here - for the heritage chronicle forged over time. They don't move here for the white noise of generic shopping centres.
They come here - and we live here - because Ballarat is a special place. It does offer more. It offers difference. It provides a sense of place, a sense of home, a sense of purpose built up over more than 170 years.
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You cannot just snap your fingers and buy it. It takes time. It takes effort. It takes care and it takes protection.
It might seem simple enough to use this renegade train as an excuse to get rid of the heritage gates and replace them with efficient, sparkling new varieties. But do that, and we lose something of us.
Think of it like a wave crashing on a beach. One wave takes a little bit of sand away, then comes another and another.
Soon enough the beach has diminished and we realise all too late that those little grains of sand added up to something much, much more. Heritage is like that.
Take away a little thing here, a little thing there, and suddenly it is no longer that same. Gone. The tangible has become intangible and we start wondering where it all went wrong. It starts with decisions like these.
It is why I believe that now may be the time to initiate a masterplan review of the area - including the developments on the north side of the rail line where the Pellicano-built hotel, the bus interchange and the northern good shed are all reshaping an integral part of our CBD.
The vast railway precinct changes are happening concurrently with the revamp of the Bridge Mall and Bakery Hill area, the Mair Street upgrades and the Sturt Street revamp to intersections and bike paths.
Clearly, a lot is happening in our CBD. Change is everywhere.
It is why a deep breath now might be appropriate to ensure these plans all marry, make sense and protect what is important.
Clearly, a lot is happening in our CBD. Change is everywhere. It is why a deep breath now might be appropriate to ensure these plans all marry, make sense and protect what is important.
The umbrella to this is the interconnectedness of our city - how it presents and functions for locals and visitors.
Last year, the City of Ballarat took back control of our tourism marketing. Ballarat Regional Tourism - trading as Visit Ballarat - was controversially returned inhouse. I well remember facing a room full of anger as the antichangers took aim at the decision.
Given the COVID-19 shutdown of the tourism industry, we may never fully know the genuine success or failure of that decision. The before and after figures will not be comparable, even though early signs were validating the change.
But we must now refocus and refine. We need to ensure that Ballarat constantly reminds itself what people come here for - to stay or play.
The answer is of course many things - including outstanding schools, health services, parks and gardens, arts facilities, location, businesses, fresh air. But is also our sense of place and heritage - the thing that separates us from others. This stuff cannot be erected overnight, surrounded by scaffolding, or acquired with a government grant.
The heritage rail gates symbolise a lot. They symbolise our past. They may well symbolise our future.
Cr Samantha McIntosh is a Ballarat councillor
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