Willow Grove is more than a building. This Italianate villa on Philip Street, Parramatta, was built in 1891 by draper, Annie Gallagher. It is a site of much controversy at the moment because of decisions to move the building from its’ current site to make way for new developments.
Willow Grove itself is not the only important aspect of this site. Before it was Annie Gallagher’s home, it was and always will be Dharug land. The Parramatta area is home to the Burramattagal people of the Dharug nation and, as a river site, is home to many important places that have provided for generations long before European invasion and after. The Willow Grove site is likely, a resting place for Dharug ancestors – their cultural belongings will definitely still be found in this area.
During the time that Annie Gallagher occupied the site, she was one of the few riverside property owners who allowed Dharug people access to their own country and river. This provided important respite for Dharug community in a landscape now dominated by prisons and other sites of colonial violence. Because of Gallagher’s allyship, Willow Grove was able to be maintained as a site of continued connection to Country, skies and water – making it extremely important to Dharug communities in the area today.
After Gallagher’s time, from 1920 – 1953, it was a maternity hospital which accommodated many single mothers, Dharug and other First Nations mothers were not excluded and it was a place of much joy, but also much tragedy. In a time when motherhood was hard, and incredibly taboo if done alone, Willow Grove provided support to mothers and never turned a woman away. Birthing is a sacred event to many cultures and the memories of trauma and joy that linger in this building add to its’ significance.
This site has a complex and deep history and is an incredibly strong site for continued connection to country for Dharug elders. Because of it’s history, this site holds much Dharug Nura and culture. In April 2020 an Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Assessment found that there are multiple cultural belongings and objects in the ground on the site of Willow Grove and it’s surrounds. This is only an estimate of the cultural importance of what is in the ground at Willow Grove, there may be much more. During development plans, the whole site will be excavated, with no guarantee that objects found will be treated with care, or passed on to the Dharug community.
In 2017, the heritage classification assigned to Willow Grove was “high”. Just before the arrangement of a $140 million sale of the site, the heritage classification was lifted. Consequently, future developments threaten the cultural integrity of the Willow Grove site, with plans to move the heritage building to another site in North Parramatta. This perpetuates colonial displacement and disregard for consultation in good faith with Dharug communities.
Information + Cultural Exchange supports the Traditional Owners, the Dharug nation, in its opposition to the removal of the Willow Grove site. We value the importance of cultural and historical sites, especially those that enshrine the world’s longest living culture, and honour a place that represents a rare story of respectful reciprocity and acceptance amongst a history of long and violent occupation.