National Trust of Victoria sales anger Maldon locals

Sale of town's most historic buildings labelled 'appalling'

LOCALS and heritage experts have criticised  the National Trust of Victoria’s sale of two of Maldon’s oldest and most significant public-owned buildings.

In the Trust’s first property sale in Victoria in five years, the 1856 Penny School and the 1863 Welsh Congregational Church sold for more than $700,000 combined.

Heritage architect Nigel Lewis, a heritage adviser to Maldon from 1977 to 1990 who organised the state government-funded restoration of the school in the late 1970s, said it was an ‘‘appalling decision’’. 

He said the Trust  had failed in its heritage responsibility to the goldfields town.

The school was ‘‘perhaps the most important building in Maldon’’, he said.

‘‘I question what their priorities are,’’ Mr Lewis said. ‘‘If they can sell this building, which I thought should have been a high priority to retain, then clearly all other Trust properties can be considered to put on the market when it suits them.’’

‘‘These days the state government’s selling everything. There’s a culture of selling assets. I guess the Trust are part of that culture now.’’

Resident  Nancy Whittaker said she felt very sad, particularly for the Penny School, which was ‘‘lost to the community, and it’s a bit of a tragedy, really’’.

Local historian Peter Cuffley said the church was sold ‘‘for just nothing, for a property they didn’t have to spend much on at all, that meant a lot to the town’’.

The 1856 Penny School, built of stone, brick and weatherboard as the Church of England Denominational School No.413, overlooks Maldon in Church Street. It was acquired by the National Trust in 1979. For the last 12 years it was  privately leased to a  couple as an art gallery and function centre.

The couple also  leased the red brick Welsh Congregational Church across the road, where services were  held in Welsh until 1893. It  was last used as a church in 1977,  and was later given to the Trust.

National Trust of Victoria chief executive Martin Purslow said he had written to local Trust members about 15 months ago informing them the Trust would sell the two properties to the tenant couple, ‘‘and there was no objection or complaint’’.

But when  the sale fell through,  the properties were sold at auction last Sunday for $496,000 and $225,000 respectively to separate private buyers. 

Mr Purslow denied that raising cash was the reason for the sale. 

He said the church was ‘‘classified as of local significance’’ and the Penny School is on the state heritage register. A National Trust covenant applied to the title of the buildings. ‘‘So no one can do anything to them without permission from us.’’ 


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