Council workers arrived before dawn to swiftly demolish the controversial iconic Emerald bus shelter and erect a new heritage-style shelter by sunrise on Tuesday morning.
“I got a call from my husband at 6am that it was happening,” Emerald Community House manager Mary Farrow said.
“It was pitch black. The community house had no notification whatsoever. We were surprised that they were allowed to do works before 7am.
“I was surprised in that moment, but nothing surprises us with this council.
“It took a lot of men and a lot of time to take down the shelter which was apparently about to fall down anytime.”
This came soon after demonstrators had agreed to call off the protest when the terms of an arrangement over the fate of the shelter were discussed at a meeting between Emerald Community House committee members, Cardinia Shire Council officers and Councillor Leticia Wilmot on Thursday 21 July.
But Ms Farrow said the agreement was still being negotiated and details were yet to be finalised at the time of dismantling the shelter.
She said it was important to note that the community house felt it was necessary to hire a lawyer who was present at the meeting and acted on the group’s behalf during the negotiation process with the council.
“Emerald Community House (ECH) understood that after the meeting’s terms were agreed upon, a joint statement between council and the community house would be issued, and we were patiently waiting for that,” Ms Farrow said.
“Instead, the council went ahead and released a public statement that carried inconsistencies with what had been discussed.
“We’re insisting on going forward with dispute resolution. We were satisfied with the final outcome, but we have had to hire a lawyer because we have trust issues with this council.
The community house is an incorporated independent business. The council doesn’t own us and they don’t run us.
“The community house will continue the discussion of various community issues like refugee policy – not because of me, but because it’s what the community wants to talk about. The council is not in the place to censor us.”
The panels of mosaic artwork were removed before demolition and all but one of the hand-painted portraits were saved at Ms Farrow’s request.
The community house is yet to determine the relocation of the artwork.
“There’s nothing pleasant about being out there in the cold 24/7, but the protest paid off because we didn’t get a new glass shelter like the council had intended as recently as June.
It’s a butter-coloured heritage-style shelter to help it blend in with the community house.
“Once the council had condemned it, this was the ultimate outcome.
“The new shelter is going to seat three people and there are going to be bench seats erected where the old shelter was, as well as a community noticeboard.”
The council’s statement indicated that an “agreement has been reached”.
“The seating in the new shelter will… be located closer to the bus stop for improved accessibility and visibility,” the statement read.
“Both parties agreed to the mosaic artwork being removed from the existing shelter. Further discussion will be held with ECH to determine the future location of the artwork.
“It was agreed that the council will own and maintain the new shelter and ECH will maintain the artwork. The two parties agreed that the new bus shelter would not be used as a community noticeboard.”
Originally published at Pakenham Gazette.