A united approach to heritage - 13 July, 2010

Elizabeth Farrelly has written engagingly of the need for more rigour in assessing heritage buildings ("Stumbling blocks" July 10-11). She draws a sharp distinction between historians and architects, and talks of "an epic battle". These are bleak times for heritage in NSW and battle lines drawn among practitioners would not be helpful.

many skills are needed to understand a heritage site. In the case of Experiment Farm Cottage, Sue Rosen has argued vehemently for a 1790s date based on documentary evidence which she conceded is inconclusive. She does not test her hypothesis against reputable images of john Harris's cottage in 1804 or 1813. Both show a house narrower than the present house without verandahs.

What is needed is a wider, dispassionate reappraisal of the documentary evidence, both for the 1790s and the 1830s, along with the graphic and cartographic evidence, and a new look at the physical fabric of the house. I have suggested that the national Trust, which owns Experiment Farm, that historians, archaeologists and architects should be involved in a collaborative venture.

Ian Jack
President, Royal Australian Historical Society, Sydney.

Heritage value is out of the picture - 15 July, 2010

In my book Australia's Oldest House, referred to by Elizabeth Farrelly ("Stumbling blocks", July 10-11), I analyse a comprehensive array of evidence across two centuries - cartographic, pictorial, official and private correspondence, and chemical fabric testing - to conclude that Experiment Farm Cottage was built in the 1790s. In 30 years of debate, no other scholarly analysis has been made public.

The two images Ian Jack says are pictures of the cottage do not pass muster (Letters, July 13). Factoring in perspective and known topographic features, it is impossible to agree with him. To rely on these as incontrovertible evidence does not bode well for a credible resolution of the origins debate. Dr Jack appears to have no evidence not fully considered in my book.

But by all means let's have the debate - the implications of such a sophisticated house having been built in the mid-1790s, and being Australia's oldest house, are too exciting to ignore.

Sue Rosen

Cottage picture still obscured - 17 July, 2010

Sue Rosen (Letters, July 15) says she carried out a comprehensive analysis of evidence to conclude that the existing Experiment Farm Cottage was built in the 1790s. The two images referred to by Ian Jack (Letters, July 13) show a house on the site which is markedly different from the house that is there now.

The first was painted by George Evans in 1804 and the second is after a work by John Eyre published as an engraving in 1813. Both are panoramic views of Parramatta, thus enabling the location of the cottage to be ascertained. Both works show other buildings in the town accurately.

Rosen's book, Australia's Oldest House, fails to mention either work, let alone demonstrate why they cannot be accepted as evidence for dating the house. The omission of this important evidence seriously negates any claim that Rosen has established a 1790s construction date for Experiment Farm Cottage.

Ian Stephenson
University curator, University of New England

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