The Yeomans Real Estate Stoush


The above video documents a community meeting up near Richmond, in north-west Sydney, a couple of years ago. The meeting was held to try and halt development on the piece of farmland that Yeomans had designed and set up with his trademark series of interlinking dams.

Bob, the farmer we met yesterday, said that the development application which the locals were fighting in the video (a proposal to build an aged care facility) has by now been passed. However, it didn’t seem from our visit that any work had begun yet.

The video has some interviews with PA Yeomans’ son, Ken, who is a strong advocate for his fathers’ farming philosophies; and with Prof. Stuart Hill. It’d be great to be able to meet and chat with these fellows.

I like what Stuart Hill says:

[Yeomans’ method] is the only landscape system that builds landscape capital to the maximum amount.

Obviously, what we’re talking about here are two different systems of “landscape capital” – one which is about improving the quality of the soil, and the other involving subdividing and selling off the land as “real estate”…

From what Ken says in the video, the two systems could work together, if the subdivisions were sensitive to the water flows and storage on the land. But it’s hard to imagine that actually happening in Sydney…

2 responses to “The Yeomans Real Estate Stoush”

  1. Lucas Avatar

    This stoush was featured on ABC TV in late 2009. Here’s a transcript of the programme:


    A lovely thing that Percy says, which is quoted in the programme is this:

    PERCIVAL YEOMANS (archive footage, Nationwide, 1981): As soon as you’ve got the right attitude and the right feeling for land, it sorta tells you its secrets.

    And this is a particularly telling statement:

    TRACY BOWDEN: Heritage expert Stephen Davies was asked by Buildev to assess the heritage value of Yobarnie. He says while PA Yeomans’ Keyline work is important, the property has deteriorated over the years.

    STEPHEN DAVIES: It’s no longer a good working example of it. There’s some remnants of it and particularly in the dam systems and in the landscape, but not as an operating system. And so the costs involved of restoring it, actually putting back to the way Yeomans had it in the 1950s, is now considered prohibitive for the return that one might get out of that land.

    TRACY BOWDEN: However, Buildev has agreed to retain some of the elements of Keyline in its development.

    This sounds a bit like demolishing the heritage building and keeping the facade.

    To retain some elements of the “look” of keyline is not really capturing what it was all about. It was, rather, about a very particular functionality (which, for sure, resulted in a certain look.) To destroy the functionality is to destroy the spirit of the heritage elements of Yeoman’s work.

  2. Ian Milliss Avatar
    Ian Milliss

    In all my early descriptions of Yeomans I described him as the Australian equivalent to the great 18th century English landscape gardeners like William Kent, Capability Brown and Humphrey Repton.

    As it happens, Yeomans’ comment “As soon as you’ve got the right attitude and the right feeling for land, it sorta tells you its secrets. ” has a wonderful 18th century precedent in a poem by Alexander Pope, himself not only a poet but also a gentleman gardener whose garden at Twickenham was an early example of the naturalistic style. In his Epistle IV To Richard Boyle, Earl of Burlington he castigates the vulgarians who build extensive formal gardens in a nouveaux riche show of wealth and instead advocates a naturalistic landscape gardening based on classical precepts, a sort of Poussin landscape brought to life.

    He says:

    Consult the genius of the place in all;
    That tells the waters or to rise, or fall;
    Or helps th’ ambitious hill the heav’ns to scale,
    Or scoops in circling theatres the vale;
    Calls in the country, catches opening glades,
    Joins willing woods, and varies shades from shades,
    Now breaks, or now directs, th’ intending lines;
    Paints as you plant, and, as you work, designs.
    Still follow sense, of ev’ry art the soul,
    Parts answ’ring parts shall slide into a whole,
    Spontaneous beauties all around advance,
    Start ev’n from difficulty, strike from chance;
    Nature shall join you; time shall make it grow
    A work to wonder at—perhaps a Stowe.

    “Consult the genius of the place in all” was to become the great catch cry of the landscape gardening movement and it is still endlessly quoted as the basis of good landscape design.

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