National Trust commits to help save historic Coptic Church at Sydenham

National Trust NSW

The Australian Coptic Heritage and Community Services (ACHCS) organisation led by Miss Hanan Ghabour have forwarded the following letter from the National Trust’s, Mr Graham Quint. We have published it as we believe it is of great importance to the Coptic and Egyptian community Australia wide. The Australian Coptic Movement Association has also been assisting ACHCS and writing direct to government departments and the NSW Premier. We thank Graham Quint and the National Trust for their support.   



30 March 2017
Ms. Hanan Ghabour JP
Australian Coptic Heritage and Community Services

Dear Hanan,

St Mary / St Mina Coptic Orthodox Church – 24a Railway Road, Sydenham

I refer to your phone message with me yesterday regarding a scheduled meeting with officers of the
Department of Environment & Heritage regarding St Mary / St Mina Coptic Orthodox Church at 24a Railway
Road, Sydenham. I am pleased to provide the full support of the National Trust of Australia (NSW) to your
efforts to save from demolition this building of exceptional heritage significance and your group’s proposals for
funding the building’s stabilization and conservation.

Attached is a copy of the National Trust Register Listing Report for the Listing of “St Mary / St Mina Coptic
Orthodox Church formerly Tempe Park Methodist Church” on the National Trust Register in October, 2016.

The National Trust wrote to Marrickville Council in December, 2015 –

The Trust has now been able to acquaint itself in greater detail with the history of this church since its
purchase by the Coptic Orthodox Congregation in 1968 and the involvement of Marrickville Council and
the Federal Government. In particular the Trust has examined the Heritage Impact Statement prepared
by Ruth Daniell (October 2011) and the Heritage Assessments prepared by Graham Brooks and
Associates (13 December, 2011) and NBRS+Partners (2 October 2015) and the 2008 Alternative Uses
Report prepared by Clive Lucas Stapleton and Partners. These documents were viewed in the context of
the report to Council’s Development Assessment Committee of 10 November, 2015.
The National Trust does understand and appreciate the range of difficult issues relating to the
conservation options for this Heritage-listed building. However, the common thread through all of this
documentation is the extraordinarily high social heritage significance of this place to the Coptic
Orthodox community and the efforts of that community to fund the retention of this building as a vital
part of their history in Australia and their first emigration from the Nile Valley.
An equivalent example is the Broken Hill Mosque in Buck Street, Broken Hill listed in 2010 on the State
Heritage Register for its rarity as the first mosque in NSW and for its social significance at a State level
for its religious association for the Islamic community in NSW and Australia. In the Trust’s view, being
the church of the first Coptic Orthodox community in the world outside of the Nile Valley, makes this
place rare and nationally significant.

The Trust can understand the reluctance of the community to be able to commit considerable funding
when it has competing needs in other areas throughout Sydney. It is unfortunate that the building has
degraded since the departure of the Coptic Orthodox Community. Since the 1960s the National Trust
has operated a tax-deductible restoration scheme to assist communities in restoring such buildings.
Given the considerable and growing community concern it does appear reasonable that funding will
become available to ensure the retention of this building and the Trust would be pleased to assist in
such a fundraising effort through its tax-deductible appeal system.

Again, the National Trust strongly urges Marrickville Council not to implement its decision to demolish
this building.

The National Trust strongly supports the making of an Interim Heritage Order by the former Minister for
Heritage, the Hon. Mark Speakman to allow for a proper evaluation of the heritage significance of the church
and to determine whether it met the criteria for State Heritage Register Listing.

You invited me to attend a reunion / information day on the 6th August, 2016 in the park adjoining the Coptic
Orthodox Church of St Mary and St Mina, at Sydenham.

When I arrived you showed me a letter that you had just received from the Minister for Heritage indicating
that the nomination for listing of the church on the State Heritage Register had been refused at the State
Heritage Register Committee meeting the previous Wednesday.

I indicated that the National Trust would have put in a submission supporting the listing had we known that it
was being considered. Also, I understand that your group, the State Heritage Register Listing nominator, were
not given an opportunity to present to that meeting before the decision was made.

At the Information Day I experienced, first hand, your massive disappointment. My understanding is that the
Heritage Act does allow a place to be listed based on satisfaction of one criterion only, if of sufficient
importance. The first church purchased by the Copts outside of the Nile Valley, their first church in Australia
must surely meet this criterion.

The National Trust had spoken with the former Minister for Heritage, Mark Speakman and his staff several
times about reinstating the Heritage Council’s Religious Properties Advisory Panel. Had that Panel considered
this proposed listing I have little doubt that it would have formally supported the Listing Proposal.
The Afghan Mohammedan Mosque at Broken Hill was listed on the State Heritage Register in April 2010, even
though it was a simple galvanised iron building with little interior decoration.

The arguments against listing of this place on the State Heritage Register appear to be another example of
putting too much emphasis on architecture and built fabric and not enough weight on cultural and social

The opposition of the Inner West Council to the State Heritage Register Listing is, in the Trust’s view,
extraordinary as the former Marrickville Council allowed the building to fall into disrepair while under Council’s
ownership even though it was a listed Heritage Item on the Council’s Local Environmental Plan.
It does appear that there has been a failure of process and a denial of natural justice in this instance, which
does not augur well for the public’s understanding and appreciation of heritage recognition and protection.
The National Trust would strongly support a review by the Heritage Council of this decision with a proper
opportunity for presentations by the Australian Coptic Heritage & Community Services, the National Trust and
other interested parties.

Such a review should be essential as an independent Heritage Assessment by Dr Sue Rosen commissioned by
the Department of Environment & Heritage following the placement of the Interim Heritage Order found this
church to be of State Significance due to its social significance (Criterion C) and its historical significance
(Criterion A) (page 62 of the Heritage Assessment).

Yours sincerely,
Graham Quint
Director – Advocacy



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One Response to “National Trust commits to help save historic Coptic Church at Sydenham”

  1. sylvie pagna says:

    they started the demolishing this afternoon….
    I am shocked at this happening to historic trust monuments
    shame on Marrickville council


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