The sculpture has been approved by Bellingen Shire Council.
The sculpture has been approved by Bellingen Shire Council.

Generous gift or ‘indulgent imposition’

THE controversy surrounding a modern sculpture proposed for Dorrigo's town centre shows no signs of fading away.

Recently Bellingen Shire Council Mayor Dominic King spoke about his reasons for supporting the bold vision.

The wealthy benefactor behind the plan, Nick Wright, also spoke to the Advocate, saying he was a bit surprised by the backlash.

FULL STORY: Sculpture donor expecting controversy but not this

Local sculptor Glen Little has been a vocal critic of the proposal going so far as protesting outside Council Chambers when the matter was last up for debate:

RELATED: Storm brewing over modernist sculpture.

He has written the following letter to the editor:

When does a generous 'gift' become an indulgent imposition?

Last week the Mayor, Dominic King finally made a public statement in the Coffs Coast Advocate on the seemingly implausible idea of imposing the unpopular 'Water Cloud' personally-funded monument on Dorrigo.

Nick Wright, as described in the Coffs Coast Advocate, questioned our assertion that 89.6 per cent of consultation participants were opposed to the proposal.

This overwhelming result should have been the end of the matter but both men and their unquestioning disciples, some within the Dorrigo Chamber of Commerce and Arts Council of Dorrigo, put their personal preferences before those of the community at a time following the fires when $400,000 could have been spent in an actually useful way without disenfranchising the community along the way.

Our primary initial interest in the proposal was one about how the heritage streetscape would be compromised by the totally inappropriate and personally driven pet project. The pictures of the huge shiny 'WC' (Water Cloud) reminded me of a woeful 70s TV program 'Lost in Space' type of a spaceship.

The sculpture has been approved by Bellingen Shire Council.
The sculpture has been approved by Bellingen Shire Council.

You know - a large (large is important apparently) polished aluminium ring with hundreds of programmable lights around its circumference hovering above the street arriving to save our economy from certain ruin. Dorrigo isn't being economically subdued because we don't have a spaceship.

The closer I looked at this bluntly ill-conceived proposal I saw a range of issues, including serious safety concerns, that were studiously ignored by the council.

Despite the obvious problems it was actually Bellingen Shire Council's response, in disregarding its own community consultation that motivated me to draw attention to the unethical and unjust nature of this Slam/Dunk five-star fail.

Council has conveniently overlooked its own 2012 Heritage Study for the last eight years that recommended identification and protection of a CBD Heritage Precinct as a safety mechanism to protect Dorrigo from precisely this type of ridiculously reckless brain fart of an idea.

Nick's amused comment in the newspaper article dismissing heritage concerns by suggesting "the heritage landscape would be the bush" indicates little interest in the heritage values of the town and a self-centred view that suits his present paradigm.

Mr Wright gave some revealing and frank insight to the factors motivating him by explaining in the article: "Maybe it was temporary insanity or visions of grandeur".

His own words! This flamboyant, 'off the cuff' careless attitude comes at the cost of a polarised community that feels totally betrayed by Bellingen Shire Council.

The historic war memorial in Dorrigo was destroyed after a car smashed into the iconic monument in May this year.
The historic war memorial in Dorrigo was destroyed after a car smashed into the iconic monument in May this year.

Previously in promotional documents Nick was described as an art lover and collector but in the recent article acknowledged himself as a "philistine" saying he had no confidence in his ability to choose an artist.

If that's the case the BSC Public Art Plan's requirement for local artists should override his preference for a West Australian artist that has never even been to Dorrigo. What a stupendous shemozzle.

Although 89.6 per cent of nearly 1000 people legitimately rejected the proposal the council, in full denial mode, forged ahead creatively recommending to the proponent, six months later than the closing date, he run his own personally run 'survey' that was undertaken on private property populated with his cronies and that saw a proponent in control of the information provided, questions asked, scrutineering and counting of the ballots.

Even down to the areas of the township invited to comment, it was a tightly controlled operation.

Dorrigo National Park.
Dorrigo National Park.

Although a respected and honest local vicar counted the votes supplied, there was no transparency at all of the botched process created at Mr Wright's insistence.

Despite these very amateur bungles council accepted, with no questions asked, a 177/174 vote as a clear mandate to approve.

How can they sleep at night?

Even ignoring the many flaws of Nick's private and biased 'survey', at very least, both consultations should have been combined and then the decision made based on that finding.

Mayor King's poorly unconvincing explanation to approve the sculpture was equally damning.  The only councillor who voted truly representing the community's wishes was Steve Jenkins so don't blame him.

In effect the proposal was always going to be approved because it would offset BSC's poor financial accountability when it comes to funding Dorrigo. It was a freebie. It's as simple as that.

This is why I have a sign on my van stating 'BSC fudges numbers'. BSC is in no moral position to challenge proven facts.

Dominic King's view that "it was going to be controversial whichever way we went" and that "we made a decision based on the best information we had and our own feelings on the matter" is indefensible Trumpian behaviour and a telling admission to be remembered come the election.

Arguing that Council determined the outcome based on the 'best information available' begs the question, where did that said 'best information available' come from?

Why wasn't, with the funds offered, a study undertaken of what would attract visitors and stimulate our economy?

Why hasn't the 2012 Heritage Development Control Plan Study recommendations been seen as relevant?

Why ignore the many comments tourists made about what made Dorrigo an attractive destination on the council's own 'Create' portal?

This is authoritarian and sloppy politics and a clear denial of 'natural justice'.  No present councillor, except for a lone Steve Jenkins, is fit for re-election when they have already disrespected, for no good reason, the community they are supposed to represent and without a micron of remorse.

The Mayor's statement about 'doing whatever we can to help Dorrigo' is a hollow and struggling excuse to blow $400,000 with no indication it will achieve economic justification. At the end of the day the un-liked monument doesn't use local talent, has no local narrative that can be understood without written explanation and isn't appreciated by the community.

You might ask, why worry about the 'WC' now as the decision has already been made? The answer is that the council is already planning for additional 'art installations' all the way to Dangar Falls and, again, are only consulting with the privileged few they can count on.

This is the same approach that will see 'Water Cloud' become a bitter permanent symbol of monetary influence overcoming community, fairness and plain logic.

Gee, thanks for that Bellingen Shire Council.

Glen Little


Dorrigo Heritage Defenders