An urban oasis in Sydney’s south containing important Indigenous archaeological sites has been protected with an interim heritage order.

Lugarno farm, known to locals as ‘Glenlee’, covers 2.5 hectares of land and is the subject of a development application that would see it transformed into a residential precinct.

Georges River Council applied to Heritage NSW for the interim heritage order for the site, located 24km south-east of the Sydney CBD, after protests from residents, who also complained it was a vital part of the local ecosystem.

[It contains] Aboriginal grinding grooves in the sandstone of the creek bed and a pot hole … constructed to store water and, using fire-heated rocks, to warm food.

“The natural creekline through the Matthei [owners of Glenlee] property has Aboriginal grinding grooves in the sandstone of the creek bed and a pot hole in the sandstone beside the creek is believed to have been constructed by the Aboriginal people to store water and, using fire-heated rocks, to warm food,” a report said.

The order authorises an extensive archaeological assessment be completed in the next six months. Aboriginal heritage on the site will be evaluated by an archaeologist, alongside the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council.

The site is a part of a cultural landscape in Lugarno with evidence of both Aboriginal heritage and early white settlement. As a result, the property is of particular historical significance, according to a National Trust of NSW report.

The property was until recently owned by the Matthei family, who immigrated to Sydney in late 1891 from Germany. The family first visited the suburb in 1905 on a Sunday school picnic. Later that year, the family patriarch Otto Emil Matthei became the caretaker of the site for the City Bank. By 1908 he had purchased the land and built Glenlee along with a small orchard in 1910.

WATCH: CLICK BELOW TO LEARN MORE ABOUT GLENLEE 

The family were also very active in the community, with Emil’s sons Hans and Will making a living from fishing and oyster cultivation. They ran fishing parties in the Georges and Woronora rivers. Moreover, the family held the German Zither Club in their home, and participated in the Lugarno and District Progress Association. Hans was treasurer and his mother, Marie, the secretary.

Locals say the site has the ‘potential’ to unlock more information about the suburb’s ‘cultural and natural history’.

The Heritage NSW order was made  after a unanimous vote in late July by Georges River Council calling on the office of Aboriginal Affairs and Heritage Minister, Don Harwin MP, to protect the site.

This is the result of residents being prepared to stand and fight for what is right and challenging authorities to accountability.

“Georges River Council has authority to consider IHOs under the Heritage Act 1977. HNSW [Heritage NSW] has advised Council on Aboriginal cultural heritage matters which should be included in any additional heritage assessments,” said a Heritage NSW spokesperson.

Glenyss Barnham, a spokesperson for community group Save Glenlee, told Central News: “This is the result of residents being prepared to stand and fight for what is right and challenging authorities to accountability… we must continue to fight until the saving of Glenlee is a reality.”

The council also passed a unanimous motion to call upon the NSW and federal governments to provide funding to purchase Glenlee for the community.

Both the selling agent for the property and the developers were contacted by Central News but were unavailable for comment.

Photos by Alexander Bahn