The Melbourne Greek Community (GCM) joined calls to preserve the Fairfield Park amphitheater complex on the north bank of the Yarra River, which was built by the then town of Northcote with support of the local Greek community.
The town of Yarra, which took over responsibility for the complex in 1994, is now proposing to redevelop the locker room facilities for use by a rowing club which has shared the facilities since the construction of the amphitheater complex in 1985. Critics of the plan say it will compromise the unique architectural integrity of the bluestone buildings.
The site which was first used as an open-air theater by the Greek community to host the Epidaurus festival in 1983 and 1984, precursor of the Antipodes festival.
The success of the Greek festivals showed the potential for a permanent structure on the site and inspired the design of the amphitheater which was carefully modeled after the ancient Greek theater of Epidaurus. The accompanying facilities providing changing rooms and storage space for sets and props have made this a unique and professional-grade outdoor facility in Australia.
Melbourne Greek Community (GCM) President Bill Papastergiadis said Neos Kosmos that the GCM opposed any action affecting the integrity of the existing infrastructure that supported the amphitheater.
âOur community recognizes the importance of this theater to the cosmopolitan fabric of our state. Likewise, it also represents the ancient Hellenic part of our heritage. The Greek community was one of the driving forces behind this project.
The amphitheater buildings were designed by Melbourne’s top architectural firm, Edmond & Corrigan, and constructed using bluestone salvaged from the gutters and lanes of Northcote.
READ MORE: Campaign to protect the ancient Greek-inspired amphitheater of Fairfield
Athenaeum Theater producer Greg Hocking AM, who is also conductor for Melbourne Opera and who for four years was intimately involved in the management of the Fairfield Park Amphitheater for the city of Northocote said that at its peak, the resort hosted large productions but its use has declined. after passing to the city of Yarra.
âIt’s a great site and it was very popular. It was a fantastic (show) place. It was innovative and required imagination on the part of the bureaucracy.
âI run the Athenaeum Theater and am well aware that the concentration of funding (for the arts) is for the entertainment ghetto south of the Yarra,â Hockinig said. Neos Kosmos.
âThe Fairfield Park Amphitheater was a local initiative of the local council and was very carefully constructed to reflect the design of Epidavros, but on a smaller scale. It took a while to build it, but it was built by the community.
âWe were going to the Northcote board meetings on the amphitheater which were chaired by Brian Howe, who was Bob Hawke’s deputy at the time. “
“We used to do six to eight week productions there, now the town of Yarra barely uses it for one or two performances per season.”
Mr Hocking said the facilities were of a professional standard which would benefit a theater company. He could have a role to play in helping revive Melbourne’s performing arts maimed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
âI have conducted operas in Italian amphitheatres in Rome, Florence and Taormina in Sicily and although it is on a smaller scale the acoustics in Fairfield are just as good.
âIt’s fully wired, has professional grade facilities and a fantastic view. It’s right there, ready to be used, but it needs to be freed from bureaucratic inertia.
He said when the amphitheater was first set up the agreement was to share the facilities with the rowing club and any changes to the buildings for this reason were not warranted.
“It has a strong history in the artistic heritage of the city and I cannot believe that Heritage Victoria recommended not to preserve it,” said Mr Hocking.
READ MORE: Fairfield Theater, part of our multicultural heritage
Helen Madden of the Stork Theater, who launched the campaign to stop the town of Yarra’s plans to redevelop the amphitheater’s changing rooms, collected over 1,700 signatures and took the case to the Victorian Heritage Council on October 12 .
Neos Kosmos contacted the town of Yarra and a spokesperson said in a statement, âFairfield Park is protected under the Yarra Planning Scheme’s Heritage Overlay HO147 as a major recreational facility. The Fairfield Park Statement of Significance, however, does not include any specific reference to the amphitheater, kiosk or pavilion.
âLast year, Heritage Victoria received a nomination to include the Fairfield Park Amphitheater, River Pavilion and Kiosk in the Victorian Heritage Register. This issue is currently with the Victorian Heritage Council; an independent statutory body responsible for determining whether or not a place should be entered in the Register.
âA hearing on the inscriptions was conducted by the Heritage Council a few weeks ago and their decision is expected in January 2022.
âThe Yarra City Council is awaiting the decision of the Heritage Council regarding the inscription of the site on the state list and has not requested the officers to do so before undertaking any further assessment regarding its local heritage significance to it. stadium, “the statement concluded.
The Victorian Heritage Council will announce its decision 90 days after the hearing.