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Bulldozing famous backyards


Richie BenaudNo doubt it seemed like a good idea at the time. Sometime in 2007–8 Michael Younes was looking for a development opportunity and felt he had found one at 5 Sutherland Road North Parramatta. For $689,000 Younes took over the property from previous owners David Borger and Paul Barber and applied for a demolition order that would allow him to replace the venerable suburban, bungalow-style house with what was variously described as 'a two-storey duplex', 'town houses' or 'a dual occupancy residence'.

Younes might have recognised that there were potential complications in the deal but these seemed to have been defused when the demolition order — the most vulnerable and perhaps controversial part of his program — was successful. Knocking buildings over had become in recent decades a highly fraught endeavour in all of Australia's capital and regional cities.

But, as Younes would discover, the devil was not so much in any particular detail of his plan as in certain events and characters which his seemingly straightforward developmental bid resurrected from the past. David Borger, for example, was no ordinary vendor.

Borger had been Mayor of Parramatta — the youngest in the council's history — from 1999 to 2007. He left local government to become the Labor member for the state seat of Granville and in that capacity served as a minister in the Rees and Keneally administrations.

Not only as a vendor but as a concerned, informed citizen, and Member of the NSW Parliament, Borger might have been expected to be very conscious of the cultural provenance of the property at 5 Sutherland Road and its claims to being worth preserving. It would not have been difficult for Borger to recognise that, when in 2003 he paid $600,100 for the house, he was dealing, as Younes would be some years later, with 'no ordinary vendor'.

The house was sold to him by the Benaud family. It had been in their possession for some 65 years and had been the boyhood home of Richie and John Benaud.

It was the house to which, for example, the boy Richie and his father, Lou, returned on Saturday 13 January 1940 after a day at the SCG where they saw Clarrie Grimmett dismiss, among others, Arthur Chipperfield and a young up-and-coming Sid Barnes. Both these wickets fell to Grimmett's newly perfected 'flipper'.

In that Sheffield Shield game between New South Wales and South Australia the spinners took 34 wickets but one day's worth was enough for Richie. He was hooked.

The young Benaud was enchanted by the sight of the spinners weaving their magic and was up early on the following day bowling at a brick wall. Lou, himself a fine cricketer and a handy spinner, tutored the boy in the art of the leg break. Richie bowled and bowled — prefiguring as a mere boy the awesome capacity for work, attention to detail and physical and mental stamina that would distinguish his approach to the game as he matured — and by the end of that Sunday he was bowling a passable leg break.

The flipper was another matter. Grimmett would have no opportunity to bowl the flipper in a Test match but he taught Bruce Dooland how to bowl it and Dooland later taught Benaud who was the first to use it in a Test.

It was on to this historic back yard that Younes was going to land a few hundred tons of rubble before obliterating it entirely. The Daily Telegraph was only one of many newspapers that were shocked: 'He grew up practicing his googly and top-spinners in his western Sydney backyard but developers want to bulldoze Richie Benaud's family home' it proclaimed incredulously.

As the debate heated up, Younes offered to build a sandstone monument to the Benaud family on the site after the demolition was complete, but Parramatta Mayor Paul Garrard rejected this proposal. 'We can't have developers coming in and saying "we'll do this if you let us knock it over"', he said while conceding Younes's right to proceed. 'He can knock it over today if he chooses to,' he admitted, knocking over his own argument in the process.

Great sports men and women have emerged from Australia's suburban backyards and the tutelage of their parents on the rapidly wearing lawn, with the chooks clucking in the background, the family dog being a nuisance and the collapsing wire around favourite plants failing to stop straight drives or bullet-like passes. Occupants change, the years roll by, and the great Australian backyard 'arena' lives innocently on.

Younes was unlucky: the backyard he had his eye on had become part of history. He offered to build a monument but he didn't seem to realise he was pulling one down. 


Brian MatthewsBrian Matthews is the award winning author of A Fine and Private Place and The Temple Down the Road. He was awarded the 2010 National Biography Award for Manning Clark — A Life.

Topic tags: Brian Matthews, Richie Benaud, Michael Younes, David Borger



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Existing comments

I'm a cricket lover but, really, I think this is too much.

If it's so important, why don't those who want to keep this as a monument buy it from Mr Younes? He bought the property in good faith - why should he be penalised?

I note also that Richie Benaud Oval (as it was in the '60s when I used to play there) is no longer marked as such in most street directories - it's now Belmore Park. I think that says it all.

Erik H | 13 May 2011  

I couldn't care less about this particular block, but a wider issue is that of huge houses on tiny blocks, particularly in new suburbs, where children have no room to play. They are more likely to spend all day in front of computers where there is no backyard, and parents are frightened to let them go to parks. Aesthetically and emotionally, as well as physically, huge houses on tiny blocks are a mistake.

The issue is not the backyards of famous sportsmen (I suspect that sportswomen still barely register) but the well-being of children.

Penelope Cottier | 14 May 2011  

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