Australia's goalie faces a late penalty at home

Neighbours object to footballer's plans for Sydney writer's house

Sometimes called Australia's "lost" novelist, Christina Stead went long unrecognised in her home country, and even had one of her books banned as too salacious. So when the US best-selling author Jonathan Franzen wrote a lengthy essay in The New York Times last year, calling for her to be included in the Western literary canon, he sparked a massive resurgence of interest.

Stead's most famous novel, The Man Who Loved Children, which Franzen called "a masterpiece", was based on her own childhood, part of which she spent in a house overlooking Sydney Harbour. Now her former home has become the focus of a bitter dispute between local residents and its current owner, the Fulham footballer Mark Schwarzer, who is also goalkeeper of the Australian national team.

Schwarzer and his wife, Paloma, want to carry out extensive renovations to the five-bedroom Victorian house in the historic suburb of Watsons Bay, which they bought two years ago for A$10.2m (£6.63m). However, their neighbours say the plans – which include building a three-car garage and a glass pavilion – are out of keeping with the area, and do not respect the house's literary heritage.

The Watsons Bay Residents Association has launched a petition which has been signed by Franzen himself, and also by Fay Weldon, who wrote a screenplay of one of Stead's novels, For Love Alone. Residents have lodged 13 objections to the Schwarzers' plans, which the local council is expected to approve or reject later this month.

Stead, who died in 1983, was born in Sydney and returned to Australia in later years. However, she spent much of her adult life in Europe and the US. The author of 15 novels, she was unpublished in her own country until 1965, more than 30 years after her debut novel, Seven Poor Men of Sydney.

Franzen – who has written an introduction to a new edition of The Man Who Loved Children, about a dysfunctional family – describes it as "one of the truly great novels of the 20th century". The author of Freedom and The Corrections says that although Stead's original US publishers insisted that she set it in America, "its heart is clearly in Watsons Bay... Her childhood home therefore seems to be a literary heritage site of the first order."

The house, which dates back to the 1880s, has had a series of owners over the years, and undergone numerous facelifts. According to a heritage consultant engaged by the council, very little of the original fabric remains, other than floorboards, ceiling panels, and concealed timber framing. The Schwarzers want to install a swimming pool and home entertainment room.

Roger Bayliss, the convenor of Watson Bay Residents, said last week: "We don't think that the additions and alterations are consonant or sympathetic with the structure or with the area. The house is highly significant because of its history and its associations with one of Australia's greatest literary families."

However, the Schwarzers' architect, Nick Tobias, defended the plans, saying they had been praised by six heritage experts. "The site has been treated with the utmost sensitivity since we were first briefed on it. Although it's not a heritage listed building, we've always treated it as if it was." The Schwarzers, Mr Tobias added, had "fallen in love with the property because of its historical charm".

In a letter to The Sydney Morning Herald, one of Stead's nieces, Elizabeth, said that while she admired "the efforts of Jonathan Franzen and so many others... to stop ugly changes" to the house, it should be remembered that Christina had spent much of her childhood in another area of Sydney.

Another niece, Margaret Hanks, wrote that the house "bears little, if any, resemblance to the house in which she [Christina] grew up". She suggested that a commemorative plaque be put up – which, according to Mr Tobias, is part of the Schwarzers' plans.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there