Have a look at what’s being demolished

Above: The 1950s balustrading and stairs are a great feature of the site.

 

COMMENT and PHOTOS by MIKE GILLAM

Last updated 28 October 2019, 12.37pm. Photos added.

 

Unless we can overcome the inertia, timidity and politeness that pervades our community we are rewarding and encouraging mediocrity in government.

 

Put simply, it’s imperative to call out bad behaviour, it’s critical to honestly evaluate and review disasters, whether it’s a destructive bush fire on a national park or the loss of an important heritage building. Unless we face up to and own our failures we are doomed to make the same mistakes over and over again.

 

It’s exceedingly weak to say, it’s too late because the contract to demolish has been awarded and the machines are on site.

 

In light of recent and ongoing reviews by ICAC and NTCAT the NT Government is obliged to call an immediate halt to the demolition of a major public asset at Anzac High.

 

I’ll even draft the email for our Minister: “Dear McMahons, good corporate citizen that wants to be on the right side of history, let’s talk.

 

“We’re calling off the Anzac High demolition and want to negotiate a new contract for refurbishment to the value of the existing $1.8m contract + reasonable costs for losses incurred at this early stage.

 

“So you won’t lose any money or endure corporate embarrassment. Quite the reverse. It’s not in anyone’s reputational interest to indulge in a lengthy court case so please meet with our contracts people asap.”

 

For whatever reasons, errors of judgement, political expediency or poor advice the NT Government has failed our town by preventing the public exhibition of a detailed and highly worthy nomination of the Anzac High precinct.

 

The decision to demolish is an outrage. I realise that a great many people are not aware of the scale of this loss and most locals have not had the opportunity to look over the site. Alex Nelson has certainly highlighted the heritage values of the site and has been vindicated by ICAC who obtained independent and confirming heritage advice.

 

For those who don’t know Anzac High, I’m posting a few photographs taken earlier today.

 

Clearly much is boarded up so this is just a glimpse and I trust people can see past the rubbish to appreciate the quality of the public buildings under threat.

 

I was reminded of the huge scale, diversity of spaces and quality of the complex; of light filled halls, performance stage and beautiful stairs, tall columns and wrought iron balustrading.

 

I could well imagine an education hub with creative incubator featuring film venues, performing and visual art studios, artist in residency spaces dovetailing with expanded youth services.

 

I thought of the existing youth centre and Totem Theatre bursting at the seams.

 

I thought of all those small NGOs that spend an inordinate amount of time writing grant applications so they can get enough money to pay the rent.

 

In its day, Anzac High was a remarkable achievement, representing years of construction mostly with Federal government funding.

 

Even by today’s standards, opening a place of this magnitude would be a major ribbon cutting ceremony.

 

Demolition is the height of ignorance and stupidity, a shocking, staggering waste of money and resources.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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13 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. Mike Gillam
    Posted October 31, 2019 at 5:19 pm

    Thanks Steve, I really value your opinion.
    It’s a pity our Government is not seeking advice from professionals of your calibre.
    I wish you could walk through the complex, then again you’d probably cry.
    It ticks all the boxes for repurposing with a community focus and room for complementary tourism elements.
    I’m ashamed to admit that an expansive “village / creative hub” with a focus on young people is a low priority.
    We prefer to push this demographic into tiny, highly internalised parcels. I suspect the combined size of our several youth centres is less than a few thousand square metres.
    Moreover, to my knowledge there are no suburban centres apart from the gap (GYC) and that further exacerbates accessibility.
    How serious are we? Alex Nelson’s experience as the nominator for heritage protection of the site has certainly lifted the lid on a process that’s not serving the public interest.
    His persistence and discovery of dodgy procedures gives me cause to reflect on other planning and heritage decisions taken over the past decade or more.
    Fortunately for us Alex is undeterred, taking his complaints to both the ICAC and NT Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
    If he had very deep pockets I have no doubt the site would already have the protection of a legal injunction.
    Alas, justice favours the wealthy and the well connected.
    In this case our own Government.
    A further directions hearing before NTCAT is scheduled for 2pm tomorrow (Friday).
    I’m hopeful that a review of the process might save this government from itself.
    Anzac High could be a win win.

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  2. Steve Thorne
    Posted October 31, 2019 at 2:26 pm

    Mike, you are quite right to point to this foolishness.
    What an amazing waste of resources.
    Your vision of turning this complex into a useful facility where young people would be able to find a vocation and become optimistic is right on the money.
    It is a waste of an existing resource and a terrible waste of an opportunity for the future.

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  3. Mike Gillam
    Posted October 30, 2019 at 12:31 pm

    Craig raises accountability in government, surely a hallmark or is it merely an aspiration of a functioning democracy?
    Based on exhaustive research from the US its an established fact that communities do better economically when they preserve heritage sites.
    Alas, stupidity and ignorance is not a crime and I doubt very much that any politician since Territory self government has read this research.
    Why do we expect so little from our elected leaders? I think we all know intuitively at least, that our democracy is being stolen from us, chipped away and degraded slowly over time.
    On those rare occasions when community and third party interests exercise their limited rights and prevail, when the excesses of governments are actually thwarted, our political leaders have been known to respond by further weakening legislation.
    Truth and justice provide succour to the wealthy and powerful, in this case the government.
    In no way is this a level playing field. A big business entity would hire the best lawyers, seek an immediate injunction and claim all expenses as a tax deduction.
    In a practical sense these options are not available to the common person no matter how compelling their cause.
    Whatever the stated intent of the Heritage Act, the devil is in the detail. This legislation serves the Minister of the day, their whim trumps all. Where will this trajectory take us?
    Before long politicians will stack every board, tribunal and advisory body with compliant friends. Unelected appointees who can be trusted to serve the party. Individuals who won’t rock the boat even when its on the bottom of the lake with a hole in the hull.
    Oversight, checks and balances are already very fragile and sparse. Members of the public who do care are sucked into a disingenuous process where compelling submissions made by third party interests are routinely ignored.
    No-one likes having their time wasted and I only wish we could gaol a few politicians along with the bankers and corporates that set such an odious example for society.
    But our legal processes are skewed to protect them while the youngsters who attract so much media attention are much more likely to get caught and do time.

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  4. Jonathan Pilbrow
    Posted October 29, 2019 at 10:18 pm

    Thanks Mike for your photos and insightful comments. Thanks for being such a strong advocate for so many years. Let us hope that sanity prevails. Let’s renovate not eliminate.
    .

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  5. Craig San Roque
    Posted October 29, 2019 at 8:32 pm

    Can anyone tell us who exactly is responsible for the process and the decision to demolish the Anzac school building?
    By “responsible” I really mean, who is accountable for that decision so that an indestructible plaque can be placed saying: “The demolition of this building was decided by the following persons, then in government, and their friends, as follows …”
    I remember the attempt to demolish the Old Gaol, the bull dozers were ready and expected in the night. Actions by residents, climbing the wall, prevented it.
    Look now how the Women’s Museum is an asset to the town.

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  6. Posted October 29, 2019 at 6:31 pm

    @ Jim and Mardi Cotterill (Posted October 28, 2019 at 5:08 pm): I think it’s fair to say that a lot of us have been “missing in action” until quite recently.
    In part that’s due to the eminently reasonable public expectation that due process ought to have been observed and followed by the NT Government and its agencies; clearly, in the case concerning the former Anzac Hill High School, there is a belated growing awareness this hasn’t happened.
    To give Mike Gillam his due, he was at the forefront of championing heritage and appropriate planning issues in Alice Springs right throughout the 1980s, and was also prominent in the campaign to save the Old Alice Springs Gaol that has been so brilliantly repurposed as the Women’s Museum of Australia.
    Mike has been one of the most forthright public-spirited individuals our town has been blessed to have amongst us for decades, and he brings to bear a formidable intellect combined with many years of experience.
    All the same, one would have hoped that his services wouldn’t be required by now, and it is an indictment against our society that yet again Mike Gillam has picked up the cudgels and is found at the lead edge of the vanguard to save the old high school.
    Would that there be a few more like him!
    I’m delighted at the recent turn of events, at least in the sense that Mike is back in the fray with his usual boundless energy and dedication.
    How he has been overlooked for an Order of Australia or some such award is beyond me for he surely has earned it.
    Most earnestly I hope the current campaign will finally achieve that goal of a proper awareness of the value of our history and heritage, set within the context and perspective of the Centre’s ancient cultures and environment.
    And that, in no small measure, would be due to Mike Gillam’s vision and persistence for so many years.

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  7. Domenico Pecorari
    Posted October 29, 2019 at 3:11 pm

    @ Jim and Mardi: Where have we been? With all due respect, we have been locked in a “Catch-22” by a system and legislation that favours the short-term profit of owners and developers over the longer term benefit to the town as a whole.
    There are a half-dozen significant historic buildings and places we could re-nominate for heritage listing in Alice Springs, but to do so could see them prematurely demolished, effectively making their nomination a death sentence.
    The so called Heritage Act outlines an elaborate process of assessment and recommendations, all of which can be over-ridden by the minister of the day because the owner complains.
    Where in the Act does it say that the owner has veto rights?
    Anzac High is where, perhaps, we suddenly realised that we had nothing to lose and that governments need to be held accountable for disastrous decisions based upon gut feeling instead of measured analysis.

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  8. Jim and Mardi Cotterill
    Posted October 28, 2019 at 5:08 pm

    Yes the statistics are correct! Mental illness is much more prevalent, particularly in the upper echelons of Government in the Territory!
    How encouraging it is to know sanity has been exhibited, belated as it seems to be, I hope it may not be too late.
    Thank you Mike for your research and wonderful contribution, but where have you, and all the “educated” and sane people of influence in our community, been before this situation deteriorated to this state?

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  9. P A Bassett
    Posted October 28, 2019 at 4:47 pm

    This futile attempt by local “business” leaders, Alice Springs Town Council and current NT Government to revitalise their previous destruction of our Todd Street CBD precinct by destroying more of our cultural education heritage will result in the same financial and social amenity disaster for all future generations.
    Blind Freddy knows what needs to be done to eradicate the only reason why no new private CBD located tourism development has occurred in the past 25 years.
    All names associated with the demolition of Anzac Hill High School will be etched in solid black ink for ever, and you are all a disgusting group of ignorant fools.

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  10. Posted October 28, 2019 at 10:21 am

    There are a number of significant people who have very serious questions to answer, and I mean more than some ministers of the Gunner Government.
    The fuse, it appears to me, has been lit for an almighty eruption.
    What excellent timing, too, in the lead-up to next year’s NT election campaign.

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  11. Mike Gillam
    Posted October 28, 2019 at 9:49 am


    I photographed several plaques, one celebrating the opening of the secondary wing by Minister for Territories Paul Hasluck in 1954. Further to Rod’s comment, an architect friend estimated that a $5m spend on upgrades and refurbishment would yield a $20m asset for the town. Talk about backsliding.

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  12. Domenico Pecorari
    Posted October 28, 2019 at 8:31 am

    Thanks, Mike, for illustrating so well just what a valuable asset we, as a town, are about to lose. Far from giving Alice a new lease on life, the Gunner Government, by its actions, is destroying our town’s future, it’s very potential.
    Demolishing and re-building is “so 1970s” and such a costly and irresponsible use of scarce government funding as we barrel towards an unavoidable climate crisis.
    We need to value every asset this town has. Far better to re-purpose the old school building to new, much needed services.
    Refurbishing and upgrading existing buildings is far less costly than replacement and represents a significant contribution to energy and environmental conservation.
    It’s very hard to be a Smart Town with such ignorance in our government.

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  13. Rod Cramer
    Posted October 28, 2019 at 7:20 am

    An absolute act of bastardry. Well done Mike. It wouldn’t have cost that much to repair it, and at least that might have gone to local tradies to do with pride. Well done Mike.

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