Boardwalk now a permanent blight on the landscape

p2348 Annie Myers Hill wide

 

COMMENT by KIERAN FINNANE

 

It’s visually imposing for all the wrong reasons. A completely unnecessary boardwalk now defaces the base of Annie Meyer Hill which plunges into the Todd River just south of the Stott Terrace bridge.

 

Before its construction you could stand on the bridge and look south towards Heavitree Gap for a fine view of the river, the surrounding urban areas all but invisible as our photograph shows. The river is a key natural landscape feature for Alice Springs, albeit much abused and neglected over the years.

 

Now, even as efforts are being made to reduce in this section of the river the invasive feral grasses, buffel and couch, this ill conceived structure creates a permanent blight on the landscape.

 

The choice of materials, its heavy form and clutter of lines means it cannot sit lightly, surely a bottom-line criterion for a structure like this. It might pass in a suburban shopping complex but must achieve a low point in design for a natural setting.

 

The Alice Springs News Online has previously reported on the sacred sites issues involved. The hill is an important sacred site for the Arrernte, who know it as Tharrarltneme. Senior custodian Doris Kngwarraye Stuart spoke out strongly against the boardwalk’s construction at the time tenders were being sought, and especially against the sacred sites clearance provided by the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority (AAPA).

 

Now, as it takes form, she describes it as “a monstrosity”, serving only the “lifestyle choices of people who don’t connect to the landscape”.

 

If at all possible she avoids going past, as the sight of the boardwalk “sickens” her and leaves her feeling “spiritually weakened”.

 

She and her family fought hard through AAPA for the protection of the site, with a court case finding in their favour in 2006 (as previously reported).

 

“We didn’t expect something like this could come back at us,” she says.

 

What makes worse the boardwalk’s affront – to the natural landscape and to the Stuart family as Arrernte custodians – is that it is completely unnecessary. Walkers and cyclists wanting to reach the Telegraph Station have to cross the river anyway, at Schwarz Crescent, just a little to the north.

 

For this exemplar of political pig-headedness, of lack of imagination and of generic design, the town has paid a price much greater than the $825,000 of public money allocated by the Giles Government to the structure.

 

GOOD DESIGN INCLUDES ‘DO NO HARM’

 

Alice Springs News Online also sought the views of local design professionals.

 

Architect Susan Dugdale did not want to comment on the design, for which she was invited but declined to tender. She said she was not satisfied that the correct consultation process with traditional owners had been undertaken, so did not want to be involved.

 

Andrew Broffman, senior architect with Tangentyere Design, said the boardwalk ticks some boxes, but fails others.

 

“Contribution” is one of the measures of a good design process and in this measure the project may be seen to succeed: “Most residents would likely agree that cycling, tourism opportunities and support for local businesses is a good thing. The bike path will undoubtedly satisfy the desire for a linked network of cycle paths in Alice Springs, it will contribute to tourism, it will support local businesses, and it will no doubt give pleasure to the many who will use it.”

 

However, there are other measures in the process equally involved: “The project will have failed the measures of ‘appropriateness’, ‘process’, ‘procurement’ and, therefore, good design,” he said, going on to explain these measures in more detail.

 

On appropriateness: “Not every site in Alice Springs will be appropriate for inclusion in a cycling network. There are a range of considerations (social, cultural, climatic, topographical, ecological, economic to name a few). These can only be teased out through wide conversations.”

 

On process: “Meaningful consultation/engagement/involvement of the traditional custodians is essential to the success of any building project on Aboriginal land. Without a credible process of listening, it does not matter what the design is, it will have failed.”

 

On procurement: “The NT Government should insist on strong design processes and meaningful consultation in all of its projects. This is particularly important when it comes to visible and sensitive sites. This means allowing enough time to have the necessary conversations, and a willingness to abandon a project found to be wanting. In the end, ‘do no harm’.”

 

On design: “Good design will transcend arguments of taste, and must operate from a position of doubt. Good design comes out of interrogating the social, cultural, climatic, topographical, ecological, and economic considerations, as well as an understanding of material, structure, form, detail, construction methodology, site opportunities and constraints, and a sound method for communicating this information to a range of audiences.”

 

In conclusion: “It seems to me that the bike path around the base of Annie Meyer Hill falls short on a number of these criteria; though, it is conceivable that all of these criteria could have been satisfied,” said Mr Broffman.

 

 

 

RELATED READING:

 

Custodians’ faith in sacred sites authority destroyed

 

Whittling away at sacred sites protection

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19 Comments (starting with the most recent)

NB: If you want to reply to a previous comment, start your comment with this notation: @n where n is the number of the comment you want to reply to.
  1. Karen
    Posted August 25, 2016 at 12:53 pm

    It’s a Shocker.

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  2. No Comment
    Posted August 23, 2016 at 11:11 am

    @ Maths: Aanger and sadness is going to rot your guts!

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  3. Maths
    Posted August 23, 2016 at 7:24 am

    Take it down and investigate how it went up in the first place.
    Who did AAPA consult with? Why didn’t they consult with the senior custodian they used as a witness 10 years ago?
    While we are on the subject why is AAPA consulting with an intoxicated person from the north east about issues in Mparntwe? Why are they relying on a self appointed apmereke artweye to assist with this when they would know from their own records that he has no connection?
    And they know who the correct people are. Is AAPA there to protect sites or to advance developers’ wishes?

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  4. Linda Wells
    Posted August 22, 2016 at 9:35 pm

    I am with Sue Fielding. Take it down. It is wrong on so many levels and right on none. It is shamefully ugly and inappropriate. It’s removal would be money well spent by the incoming government.

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  5. Mike Gillam
    Posted August 22, 2016 at 3:30 pm

    It’s my long held belief that the presence of sacred sites in the urban environment of Alice Springs saves our town from appalling mediocrity. Clearly our community’s gain comes at huge personal cost to those Arrernte people trying to defend their special places from very ordinary decisions, rammed through by temporary governments. Occasionally, the benefits of a different approach are revealed, an approach that requires particularly strong, mature and imaginative leadership on all sides. It’s a bit like planets lining up and I’m sure it’s advantageous if politicians choose not to be involved in such a process.
    When social and cultural conditions are favourable, this destructive push-pull may cease for a time. Winning the argument seems less important than achieving an outcome that hurts no-one, an outcome that the whole community can be proud of. One example is the Sadadeen connector road that curves through the coolabah swamp known as Ankerre Ankerre. The road alignment was largely influenced by Arrernte custodians and their duty of care to minimise tree loss and damage. The road acquired some curves and more bitumen was needed. Those people, custodians, engineers and public servants did us proud and created a superior scenic drive in the process. This expensive and unnecessary cycle path is not such a project, it’s simply not worth the gain. Meanwhile, the management of crown land including the Todd River is abysmally underfunded and we’re still waiting for a real bridge at Taffy Pick. Yes, I do realise that $825,000 (and counting) might be a little short for a bridge given the reported $4M being spent on the Lovegrove/Larapinta Drive roundabout but it doesn’t change my view of the waste. How many giant red gums, hundreds of years old will be lost to grass fires this summer and the next, short-changed by our government’s lack of commitment to land management?

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  6. Maya
    Posted August 20, 2016 at 5:04 pm

    Shall we ever learn and leave things as they are? Nature knows best.
    Do we need a second Harbour Bridge on the Todd?
    This monstruosity is yet another reason to change those who take silly decisions in our name.
    My favorite walk to the back of Olive Pink at 7am is now out of question.

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  7. Fred the Philistine
    Posted August 20, 2016 at 4:31 pm

    I can’t see what thè fuss is all about. I know where the eyesore is, is the new mall.
    You only have to look at the rusty rubbish in the mall, if that is the best we can do, God help us.

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  8. Julie
    Posted August 19, 2016 at 2:28 pm

    it looks like a conga line of shopping trolleys…..

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  9. Scott
    Posted August 19, 2016 at 10:46 am

    Not only looks totally alien, out of place and costs a small fortune, but takes all the fun out of mountain biking.

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  10. Joel Olzomer
    Posted August 19, 2016 at 6:58 am

    Driving past this every day to and from home, I am rather disappointed by how this stands out on the landscape.
    A building can never be truly beautiful compared to nature, the best we can aim for is to do nature justice. Clearly we have failed.
    On a side note, I wonder if dogs can be walked over the steel structures or will their feet get stuck?

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  11. Ian Sharp
    Posted August 18, 2016 at 6:10 pm

    It was possible to walk / run / ride this route prior to this construction, narrow foot track. For those who wanted a proper cycle path there was a good option on the other side of the river. Given the fiasco of “Broken Promises Drive” decades ago, this seems like another kick in the guts for traditional owners and those who think we show a bit more respect for the landscape.

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  12. Observer
    Posted August 18, 2016 at 10:00 am

    The galvanized finish is indeed the end product. No painting or anything further to come.
    I have always been uncomfortable with the notion that a sacred tree can have a price tag attached to it. However in this instance, I suspect the TOs (and the general population) would have been better of having a tree or two removed or cut back to allow the construction of a discreet, flood proofed footpath rather than the eyesore which has now been constructed.
    A few other notes of interest: The project was designed in Darwin, according to a local structural steel worker the boardwalks were apparently manufactured interstate (good local support to our local steel fabricators) and it appears as if the boardwalks failed to avoid the sacred trees, requiring a costly rework. How much did this cost the taxpayer? $70,000? $90,000? A request to the appropriate department would provide this information.

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  13. Dr Wrongo
    Posted August 17, 2016 at 9:33 pm

    It’s hard to imagine an uglier or less appropriate structure. Who the hell designed and signed off on this monstrosity?

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  14. Posted August 17, 2016 at 7:33 pm

    @ David Woods (Posted August 17, 2016 at 11:25 am): I’m delighted at the irony of your comment, David – hands up all those who remember the pedestrian crossing that was constructed on the south side of Heavitree Gap late in 2013 and dismantled early the following year at considerable cost to the taxpayer? There seems to be something about bureaucrats devising capital works projects for the benefit of pedestrians in Alice Springs.
    Mention of which reminds me of an attempt in the early 1970s to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists in Heavitree Gap by the construction of a concrete path on the bed of the Todd River. I kid you not. No prizes for guessing what happened with the first flow of the river after that project was completed.
    A question posed by Mark Wilson in the story linked above asked: “Can there be no end to obvious stupidity?” It appears this latest disaster along the base of Meyers Hill demonstrates the obvious answer is no.

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  15. David Woods
    Posted August 17, 2016 at 11:25 am

    In the meantime, the pedestrian and cycle path through Heavitree Gap offers no protection to pedestrians and cyclists from cars, buses, road trains and whirling winds … a fatality just waiting to happen.

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  16. Harold
    Posted August 17, 2016 at 9:47 am

    Can’t be finished. Must be some colour coming which will ensure it blends in with the surrounding landscape. If it is finished, then it’s an absolute eyesore and an embarrassment to whoever commissioned the works.

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  17. Sue Fielding
    Posted August 16, 2016 at 8:40 pm

    Take it down. If it doesn’t meet the approval of the custodians of Tharrarltneme, it doesn’t meet mine.
    I am a ratepayer. I ride a bicycle. There is already a bike path south along the river. This is unnecessary, and creates hurt and division. Where’s the good sense in that?

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  18. Posted August 16, 2016 at 10:31 am

    From the heavy rains of January 2000 onwards I’ve documented this side of Meyers’ Hill with photographs and have frequently walked and cycled on the track that wound its way around the base of the hill on the Todd riverbank. I’ve come to know this vicinity intimately.
    I worked at the Olive Pink Botanic Garden a decade ago when the initial project began to construct a cycle pathway around Meyers’ Hill (a part of the “Alice in 10” scheme begun by the previous CLP administration), that was halted after damage was done during the process of dismantling the boundary fence of the garden. However, whatever damage occurred on that occasion must surely pale into insignificance compared to the abomination that’s being imposed on that site now. It’s astonishingly over the top, as if inspired by the infamous Sydney monorail of the 1980s.
    Surely the structure being built there now wasn’t envisaged in the original Alice in 10 project.
    In my opinion there’s no reason why a far more low-key pathway sympathetic to that site could not have been constructed, something akin to the Wills Terrace footbridge that has stood the test of time (and every flow of the Todd River) since 1957.
    This is disgraceful, and an indictment against everybody involved in this monstrosity. It clearly shows those involved have no idea of what they are doing. It’s so sad – this is the vicinity where Olive Pink used to sit in the 1930s writing up her anthropology notes and gained the inspiration for establishing a native flora reserve on the land adjacent to the south side of the hill.
    I can only hope that in due course this structure will meet the same fate as the Sydney monorail and be torn down; but of course we the taxpayer will as usual be paying for it.

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  19. Gunno
    Posted August 16, 2016 at 9:44 am

    And to think Adam Giles wants to do something like this near Mt Gillen

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