THE Friends of Anzac Cottage has walked away from the historic building following a simmering spat with the leaseholder.
The volunteer group has been running open days and educational events at the cottage since forming in 2006, but says the Vietnam Veterans Association Australia (WA) has been slow to communicate and isn’t looking after the building or its grounds adequately.
The veterans restored the 1916-built cottage in the 1990s and have a peppercorn lease with Vincent council.
The friends put an offer to take over the lease to the VVA in October, saying they’d take over the $3000 annual running costs and rent it back to vets for meetings, but that was rejected.
A second offer including free meetings was only on the table four days – not enough time for the vets to convene a meeting – before FOAC president Peter Ramsay announced his group’s shock withdrawal.
“This situation has been simmering for some time,” Mr Ramsay said.
“We have been concerned about the lack of communication between the groups, poor maintenance of the building and its grounds, and the scant regard the VVA seems to hold for the significance of this irreplaceable memorial.”
Mr Ramsay, a life member of VVA and past president, was involved in the restoration of the building in the ‘90s, but hasn’t been able to broker peace with his comrades.
FOAC member Anne Chapple is the granddaughter of wounded Gallipoli veteran Private Cuthbert John Porter, who was the first resident of the community-built cottage.
It’s been her life’s work and she said she wouldn’t step away easily.
“It just got to the point where it wasn’t sustainable,” she said sadly.
“There is a lot of bitterness … my health has suffered.”
Some of her concerns are small but hold sentimental significance: including the lawn dying off nearly every year.
“I guess it just really resonates with me because my grandmother nurtured every blade of grass on that place, she took great pride in it,” Ms Chapple says.
“I always equate it to the Kings Park memorial: How would people feel if the lawn died around that?”
VVAAWA president Richard Williams says communications were slow but never bitter; he needs to run decisions past his members for a vote.
Mr Williams says the building’s in good nick (and structural maintenance is the owner’s responsibility), but acknowledges the lawn has been a casualty of the heat and water restrictions.
“I’m working on it,” he says. “A few years ago for a period we actually had participants from the Wandoo Reintegration Facility at Murdoch coming here, and it looked quite good.”
He says the vets are still willing to work with the Friends, noting he and Ms Chapple were the prime movers behind the cottage’s 100th anniversary in 2016.
Vincent mayor Emma Cole says the council has been trying to help the two groups come to a resolution.
She says keeping Anzac Cottage open to the public was a priority for the council.
Ms Cole says the council’s was unaware of any maintenance issues apart from the lawn, but she’s asked staff to double check.
The VVA ran the cottage’s monthly open day solo on the weekend, and Mr Williams says they’ll continue the community engagement side.
“There might be a little bit of disruption in the short term, but we’re certainly aiming to have a similar program and to try to fit in the school visits. We’re certainly intending to have a full calendar of events for the year.”
A new Anzac Cottage community group might be formed to work on the open days, and Mr Williams says anyone’s welcome.
by DAVID BELL