Crown Sydney Casino in Barangaroo: The Cultural and Economic impact.

“Then and now of Barangaroo” (Image taken by NSW Infrastructure).

I would like to recognise and acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora nation. The First People and Traditional Custodians of the land upon which the Barangaroo area is built upon. I offer and pay respects to the Elders both past and present.

Barangaroo is an inner city suburb of Sydney, New South Wales. It is situated on the western side of Sydney’s Central District. It is a place known for their beautiful parklands, enticing harbour views and innovative designs. Barangaroo was the home for the Indigenous Gardigal people.

Dr Andrea Connor from Western Sydney University conveys how home is much more meaningful than just a “physical spare”. It’s something that society invests “meaning, memory, cultural value and social significance”.

The name of Barangaroo is extremely meaningful as it was named after an Indigenous Cammeraygal woman. Her husband was Bennelong, a Wangal man, influential and very well known. Barangaroo lived around the North Harbour and Manly. NSW Infrastructure describe her to be “independent” and “strong”. She also dealt with the early settlers through her own ways. Associate Professor of History and Philosophy at UNSW suggests that “Barangaroo’s power came from her role as a hunter and provider”. Therefore, this land has historical and cultural importance, as it was once the home for the ‘First Peoples’.

However, the memory of Barangaroo as a fertile, natural and cultural landscape is fading. The land was paramount to Aboriginal life as it provided the community with a sense of meaning. Barangaroo was important for both fishing and hunting, which is considered central to Aboriginal culture and personal/communal needs. Currently, the place of Barangaroo has now transformed into something else. It has become a rich financial district. As Chris Johnson conveys, it has become “a global centre of financial trading and in moving the city into the next generation of its built form”. At the root of this topic is the Crown Sydney Casino being constructed in Barangaroo, which is estimated to cost $2.2 billion and is expected to open in 2021.

The real question here is whether the memory of Barangaroo regarding its rich Indigenous heritage is being properly commemorated? And whether economic benefits and private interests should be favoured over the public interests?

According to Professor Walter Benjamin, “memory is the scene of the past as well as the medium of what has been experienced the way the earthen realm is the medium in which dead cities lie buried”. The area of Barangaroo illuminates historical memory, due its rich indigenous heritage. The Indigenous history is a fundamental element that provides the city with character and liveliness. It is a memory that is ongoing. Thus, many residents and public icons argue that a Crown Sydney in Barangaroo is a clash of values and beliefs since in no form, does it acknowledge any historical or cultural context.

The Lord Mayor Clover Moore states, “It’s outrageous that the precious public land along the foreshore of the global city has been sacrificed so private interests can profit from selling apartments to millionaires. Both NSW Government and Opposition supported the proposal to build this tower, cannibalising our planned parkland and continuous harbour foreshore. This remains an outrageous betrayal of the community’s trust, an abuse of power that places private profit ahead of the public interest.”

On another occasion, The Lord Mayor Clover Moore also recently stated in May, “Profit and private interests are clearly being put ahead of public good. Barangaroo is public land owned by us all, but the Liberal/National Government is bending over backwards to install a casino, multi-million dollar apartments and parking that will only benefit developers”.

In 2018, BLAK BOX was premiered at Barangaroo Reserve in Sydney. The program allowed individuals to experience “The First Peoples concept of Deep Listening in a surrounded, art and listening space”. It conveys the oral histories of Barangaroo before 1788. Curator of BLAK BOX, Daniel Browning recently told Western Sydney University (School of Communications) that, “Barangaroo has become a beautiful theme park that has just been planted on the western foreshore of Sydney harbour”. He also sates, “it has become a pleasure ground for the rich”. Moreover, Mr Browning conveys that “even with all of the rehabilitation and revegetation of the site, it still has become a made creation. It is difficult to pretend that the site has not been scarred or damaged or just invented”.

In a sense, Barangaroo has lost its natural character. Mr Browning states how one of his first guests who attended the BLAK BOX program conveyed that, “Barangaroo itself was a wound, it was empty and hollow. It is a hollow space underneath the cutaway”. Moreover, Mr Browning also discusses how many Aboriginal people will not visit Barangaroo as it is considered to be a curse.

Another question to ask is how the name of Barangaroo is living on?

Dr Heidi Norman from the University of Technology answers this thoroughly. She states, “the naming of that site opens up a whole new conversation about women, Aboriginal women. So often women are left out of these early colonial stories because the colonisers, they assumed a kind of patriarchal society. On one occasion the Europeans, thinking that they could offer gifts, they hauled in something like 4,000 Australian salmon and gave that as a gift to the Eora men. Barangaroo was really angry about that. She was wanting to maintain and reinforce the position of women in their clan group as powerful providers for their mob”.

In addition, as inferred by the mayor, the construction of Crown Casino is favouring private interests in order to gain economic benefits. Dr Ann Holmes states, “Australia will look to maintain and build upon the trading partnership it has had with China in recent years”. Subsequently, Australia’s partnership with China will also be pivotal in promoting tourism in Australia, since studies shows it has been declining.

The Allen Consulting Group have conducted a Crown Sydney Proposal: An Economic Benefit Assessment which has been prepared by Crown Melbourne. This report highlights that “annual tourism balance of trade has been in deficit for 7 years and now stands at a record low of over $7.2 billion”. The Allen Consulting Group has also noted that China has “the fastest growth with regard to expenditure on international tourism, multiplying expenditure four times”. Additionally, it will also aid in helping combat Australia’s lack of hotel accommodation in Sydney. Moreover, “the Tourism Association of Australia found Sydney needs 150 to 550 new hotel rooms every year or 5,000 rooms by 2020 to meet the demands of the tourism sector”. Furthermore, other pivotal economic benefits include a boost in business investment of over $200 million and the creation of an additional 1400 jobs per year.

This report also articulates that once Crown Casino is open in Sydney, the gross state product is estimated to increase by $300-$440 million per year. This includes, “the spending of visitors to the complex, especially overseas visitors, and the consequent flow-on effects to other industries in the state”.

Although, it is creating a boost in business, the Crown Casino in Barangaroo is receiving criticism for its height. The Sydney Observatory has stated their concern that views of the city will be obscured by the building. According to the National Trust Submission, “True landmarks … achieve this status through their excellence in design … Height per se is not the yardstick”. The Crown will be the tallest tower in Sydney, which is specified by Crown to be 275 metres. Architect Philip Thalis, recently told the Guardian that, “Barangaroo is a demonstration of everything that is wrong in contemporary Australian city-making”.

Tourist John Simon from the United States of America states how the massive cost of this building could have been spent elsewhere. “Hospitals, schools, parks… this is where the money should have been spent. Or they should invest into solving important issues such as combating homelessness”.

Infrastructure NSW was contacted numerous times, regarding the community’s interests. Questions were asked regarding their powers or roles within this development and what they can do to ensure that the community will have developments that support them.

Their spokesperson responded stating, “On July 1st 2019, the Barangaroo Delivery Authority was abolished with its functions transferring to Infrastructure NSW. Infrastructure NSW is now the NSW Government agency responsible for the development of Barangaroo and management of its public spaces. Upon completion, more than half of Barangaroo will be dedicated public space. This will include a continuous Sydney Harbour promenade, expansive parklands, plazas and coves”.

Infrastructure NSW was also questioned regarding how Barangaroo’s Indigenous heritage is being commemorated.

There spokesperson responded stating, “Barangaroo has a rich and diverse history. Today, Aboriginal contemporary culture is celebrated at Barangaroo through artworks, events and commemorations. In addition, visitors to Barangaroo can connect with Aboriginal culture and the site’s rich cultural history through educational tours through the Reserve. Work on the development of Barangaroo is continuing. Key projects underway include remediation of the old Millers Point Gasworks, completion of the southern precinct, development of Central Barangaroo, upgrade of Hickson Road and a new Metro station”.

As stated by NSW Infrastructure, there is currently Aboriginal Cultural Tours presented by environmental educator, Clarence Slockee. These tours allows individuals to experience cultural ambience through learning Australia’s heritage. The duration is 90 minutes, allowing individuals to witness 75,000 different native Australian trees and shrubs. The ticket costs $36.30 for adults and $16.50 for children. Click here to purchase tickets or learn more about educational tours.

Further, it is also important to discuss the potential for crime in NSW as a result of Crown Sydney Casino in Barangaroo. The Victoria Gaming Regulatory Body and Crown Casino has had constant unfavourable media representation due to constant scandals involving money laundering, Chinese organised crime, fast tracked visas for Chinese gamblers, sex trafficking, and crime syndicates.

Nick McKenzie, Grace Tobin and Nick Toscano recently highlighted in an Age article stating,“police and security agencies are now asking questions about the movement in and out of Australia of Chinese high rollers with links to the Chinese Communist Party or organised crime syndicates”.

There has also been leaked documents which proves that Crown has conducted business with Tom Zhou. He is described by The Age as, “an international fugitive, alleged crime boss and the subject of an Interpol red notice, according to multiple security officials with knowledge of the matter”.

Further, Bill Birtles conveys in his ABC article that nineteen Crown workers, three Australians included, have pleaded guilty to gambling crimes.

Further, other than Crown Sydney’s impact culturally and economically, it is essential to consider important concepts such as collective memory and palimpsest.

Professor and author Karen Till in her book ‘The New Berlin: Memory, Politics and Place, highlights, “places of memory are created by individuals and social groups to give a shape to felt absences, fears, and desires that haunt contemporary society. Traditionally national places of memory were created and understood as glorifying the pasts of a people”.

According to Bridie Jabour, “Rock engravings have been found in the area which date back 6,000 years and the wider area was occupied for at least 14,000 years before European colonisation”. Therefore, this place of memory glorifies the past of the Gardigal people.

Moreover, Motti Neiger defines collective memory as “relations between the individual and the community to which she belongs and enables the community to bestow meaning upon its existence”. Barangaroo’s contemporary culture is acknowledged in the community through their artworks, educational tours and events. Therefore, continuing the relationships between Barangaroo and today’s community. Thus, showing and presenting meaning, and the existence of culture in today’s society.

Further, another important concept to consider is palimpsest. According to Dr Connor “the term palimpsest expresses the idea that places have multiple pasts”. For example, layers of histories, cultural mapping and heritage sites. Barangaroo has various layers of histories, culture and heritage. However, now Barangaroo is forming a different layer, it will now be contemporary and dynamic.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has recently stated that opening Crown in Barangaroo is “consistent with the governments vision for the future”. Su-Lin Tan conveys that with Australia’s growing population, more developments and opportunities are needed for Pyrmont in the future.

References

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