Residency is at risk, says heritage group


Sir – The NT Government, through the Araluen Art and Cultural Centre, is planning to call for “Expressions of Interest” from the public for leasing the heritage-listed Residency building, thereby opening up the highly likely possibility that the building will put to commercial use, such as offices, cafe or restaurant.
The Residency, built in 1927, represents one of our town’s most important and last remaining intact historic house still open to the visiting public and tourists.  It is of unique heritage significance as the “seat of administration” for the short-lived period (1926 – 31) when central Australia enjoyed legislative independence from the rest of the Northern Territory
Heritage Alice Springs Inc (HAS) has, for the last eight years, kept the place open to tourists and locals alike, holding annual events such as the Annual Flower Show  and our Collector’s Fairs, numerous small public events such as history presentations and book launches, as well as a venue for community group meetings and exhibitions by local arts and crafts.
Although only a volunteer organisation with limited fund-raising capacity, HAS has in the past taken on as many of the expenses as it could to keep the place open, but the Occupancy Lease we were presented with last year could not be accepted, as it demanded our association essentially take on all responsibility and costs for operating the place, something that would have been financial suicide for our group.
Although the NT Government is looking to make savings and raise revenue wherever it can, we believe that converting The Residency to any other use will impact adversely upon the heritage tourism sector and affect the local economy to an extent far greater than the economic benefit the NT Government hopes to achieve.  Its conversion to private use will hurt the whole of the town.
Domenico Pecorari
Chairman, Heritage Alice Springs Incorporated
PHOTOS:  Top – Libby King (red hat) and Lilly Jodson, keen gardeners, dressed up for the flower show in the historic Residency yesterday. Middle (from left): Sue Ride (show judge), Jose Petrick, who announced the winner, and Mignon Williams (flower show organiser).


  1. The Residency, at present, belongs to all the citizens of Alice Springs, and it should remain that way.
    As with Adelaide House, it is one of the last and most important historic places in town to be threatened with “commercialisation”, at a time when our politicians and bureaucrats believe that everything has to “pay its way”.
    The social, cultural and economic contribution that historic places make to our community may be difficult to measure, but they are there all the same.
    I urge readers to write or talk to our Parliamentary members and have this proposal dropped before it is too late.

  2. I often think the heritage crowd exceed their brief. We don’t have very many buildings worth listing. Too many tin sheds, and who really cares. But on this one I think they have it right. The Residency is a keeper, so let’s keep it.
    At the same time, does what it’s used for really matter? As long as its integrity is maintained, so what if there is a cafe in there?

  3. We owe it to the pioneers of Alice Springs and the town to protect and save the little bit of heritage and history that is left.
    So much has been taken away or destroyed. I am appalled and disappointed that government can’t see the historical value of these two buildings and are not doing all they can to protect them. They spend money on minor things, these two buildings are invaluable. We can see that, why can’t the government?

  4. To the NT Government, who are just ‘Johnny Come Latelies’ I say hands off our historical places.
    I, like many others in our town, have grown up with these buildings and it saddens me to see them tampered with.
    We have to keep them in the state they are in now and utilise them for maybe meeting venues, or like the recent flower show etc.
    We definitely don’t want commercial business being operated from these sites.

  5. @ Hal Duell. Sorry to disagree, Hal, but it DOES matter if a building is put to a different use, and even if the walls, doors, windows, floor and ceilings remain the same, its “integrity” is always compromised.
    We have in The Residency a truly authentic presentation, the building furnished as it was when HRM The Queen and Duke visited.
    It’s the “real thing”, one of the few left in town.
    Whilst having a few tables in the verandah areas for visitors to have a coffee / tea and cake would enhance their experience, the full pressure of a commercial enterprise would change the place forever. And, once lost, it will be very difficult to get back.

  6. The real failure is the National Trust! It has failed to protect the Residency by not implementing an income stream.
    It could have been used (as it was pre-National Trust) to sell local art and craft. It has kitchen, it could sell morning and afternoon teas. The entrance area is large enough for small conferences.
    As it is, the National Trust has let it sit for years. They cannot even manage a decent garden.
    If it is to be ‘saved’ and used for these purposes, it needs to removed from the incapable hands of the so-called – National Trust. Some trustees!

  7. I too am saddened to hear that the NT Government is eying off the Residency for “commercialisation”. I used to work at the Residency in the early sixties in the days when we had Mr. McCaffery and Dan Conway as District Officers. It was a great place with lots of character then and is still has now. I love going back to visit and am proud to say that I have some fond memories of the Residency. So I also say to the NT Government: “HANDS OFF.”

  8. I’m sorry DD, but the National Trust is not the organisation operating out of The Residency, but the totally volunteer, non-government funded, non-profit Heritage Alice Springs Inc., of which I am chairman.
    Don’t think we haven’t thought of the ideas you have suggested, and others besides, but ideas are difficult to turn into reality without funding and volunteers, particularly when a good portion of your fundraising goes on electricity and other costs.
    Go on, DD, put your full name up on this post and I’ll check if you have ever bothered to join our association or volunteered to help at any time.

  9. My reply to Domenico Pecorari: I don’t supply my name and never will – my choice.
    I did my share of looking after some of the heritage buildings for the community years ago. My sis once sat the Residency. I loved the buildings and the history, but found the long lonely hours of ‘house minding’ and the politics surrounding them not conductive to happy volunteering. I don’t see many people who are complaining about the present situation rushing out volunteer as sitters. It has always been like this – always.
    The Residency is special, but hasn’t appealed to tourists in the way it should, I’m not sure why. It seems to be dying a slow death, perhaps a caring tenant will give it a new life. It would make a great coffee shop and could sell touristy stuff.
    I am sitting here with my family talking about it and all nine of us would make it our regular coffee shop if it’s to go that way.

  10. At the risk of over-extending my brief again and as someone who has been a lifetime member of Heritage Alice Springs Inc. for the past ten years – who cares about what’s left of old Alice – let me say that if the NT government want to get voted out of office, just continue this ‘commercialisation’ approach to the Residency.
    For those who don’t get it, step inside the Residency or Adelaide House, that other gem in the CBD and talk to the volunteers – when they are there.
    You will experience a gentility not often found and a comforting historical atmosphere which cities around the world have long recongised is a major drawcard.
    We are talking about a lot more than bricks and mortar here, for not even the cost of a gold coin donation.
    When alcohol-abuse reigns supreme as a taxpayer sink, this approach proves what a bunch of mixed up managers the current administration are when it comes to something money can’t buy.

  11. @Domenico Pecorari
    As a counter example I would offer the old Alice Springs Goal which is now a successful tourist venue housing the National Pioneering Women’s Hall of Fame.
    It was about to go under the wrecking ball some years ago, was saved and then put to productive use.
    Unless I am mistaken, the integrity of the old goal has been well preserved. It now has a revenue stream and contributes more to Alice Springs than the Residency in its current inactive state does.
    The location of the Residency is ideal for a really good coffee shop, and the interior could easily be kept as is to provide a unique atmosphere.
    While we’re at it, I also reckon Adelaide House could also do with a bit of new blood and some new ideas.
    Leaving both to wither on the vine is a high price to pay for maintaining a purity of heritage interpretation.
    Can you honestly say that withering on the vine is what the original inhabitants of Alice would have wanted for either the Residency or Adelaide House?

  12. @ DD. I cannot agree with your assertion that The Residency “hasn’t appealed to tourists”, nor would anyone who has made the effort to read the numerous favourable comments in our Visitor’s Book.
    From our experience, the lack of high visitor numbers has been due to a lack of promotion, but those who do visit often express a wish that there were more places like The Residency for them to see and experience in the town.
    They appreciate the authentic, low-key manner in which the place is presented and the chance to “speak to a local”, without the pressure to buy, buy, buy.
    Despite the difficulties, Heritage Alice Springs Inc. has managed to maintain The Residency’s heritage values and has kept the place open to the public over the last eight years, following its closure by the NT Government as a cost-cutting measure. I’m not sure that disqualified us as a “caring tenant”.

  13. @ Hal Duell. I agree that the use of the Old Alice Springs Gaol buildings by the National Pioneer Womens Hall of Fame has helped save the buildings in their intact form, but you are mistaken in pitting commercial success against the “purity of heritage interpretation”.
    Heritage places of the highest level of significance, such as The Residency and Adelaide House, are unique assets to the whole of the town and too important and valuable culturally to be treated as one might a cute little old cottage.
    They are presently full of interpretive material and furnished to give visitors an authentic experience of an earlier time in Alice, something that would be inevitably lost were they to be subjected to commercialisation and adaptive re-use.
    We need to be guided by professional advice in these matters and not let commercial success be our only measure.

  14. @Domenico Pecorari
    I agree with you that The Residency and Adelaide House are unique assets to the whole of the town. Where we differ is how best to keep them that way.
    Our CBD is in the process of rejuvenation, and I am suggesting that both The Residency and Adelaide House become vibrant participants of that process. If this means growing with the times, as opposed to remaining echoing municipal museums, than I think it is in everyone’s interest to allow the growth. This need not preclude flower shows and other events that allow for a bit of period dressing.
    And I do think of the original inhabitants of Alice Springs. For them The Residency and Adelaide House were working buildings. As Alice grows, I imagine they would want them to grow with the town they founded, as opposed to remaining stuck in a time warp like a fly stuck in amber.
    We probably also disagree on whether or not anything would be lost. I guess that depends on which professionals we consult as we proceed. For instance, Ayer’s House in Adelaide seems to have successfully bridged the gap we’re discussing.
    I am not suggesting either building go the way of The Sails, a recently demolished cultural icon. Change is possible without resorting to that level of erasure.

  15. I agree with most on this subject, LEAVE THE RESIDENCY ALONE. It is part of the town’s history and mind you, there is not too many old buildings left, all disappearing under the light of the moon … this is our town history, LEAVE IT BE.

  16. It must be disheartening for the volunteers and committee of Heritage Alice Springs to find themselves under such ill informed attack from both the government and arm chair critics.
    This amazing volunteer organisation re-opened the Residency after Museums and Art Galleries decided it could no longer afford to staff it. Now they’re being pressured by the very department that supported their Residency plan to maintain its period integrity while expanding public access to the place in ways that won’t compromise the site.
    No doubt Heritage Alice Springs could make more of the commercial opportunities on site if not for the demands of its role as advocate for this town’s dwindling heritage, too often under attack from our own government.
    To make matters worse they must respond to those who live vicariously, idly imagining cafes on a site that would certainly need to double it’s onsite parking to meet planning regulations, refurbish the kitchen and find a place for a coolroom to have any chance of commercial success.
    What a great idea – on a site adjacent to the mall where we’ve seen closures in restaurants and cafes in recent years!
    And if cafes are so lucrative why don’t Museums and Art Galleries still operate one at Araluen?
    I suppose the NT Government might accept rent from some cafe hopeful who will go broke after a year or two and leave the taxpayer with a repairs and refurbishment bill that will easily eclipse any rental gained. More likely they will rent the building as private offices and perhaps the critics will back their own judgement and open their own cafe somewhere else.
    On matters of heritage conservation I have no faith in our government. Both Labor and the CLP have demonstrated their profound ignorance, negligence
    and lack of vision on that score. What a pity the budget of NT tourism doesn’t include modest funds to help develop and coordinate the CBD’s heritage assets, something physical and real – like assisting our passionate and knowledgeable volunteers at the Residency and Adelaide House to improve their commercial viability and elevate regional tourism in the process.
    I’m proud to be a member of Heritage Alice Springs and wish them success in their bid to remain as custodians of The Residency.

  17. If NTG is not keen to maintain “The Residency”, the essential question is who will take on this responsibility?
    This raises questions:
    (a) What is current market value of the heritage-listed “The Residency”?
    (b) What is unimproved capital value of the land under “The Residency”?
    (c) Under what lease terms will NTG lease it to the “Heritage Alice Springs Inc.”?
    (d) Can “Heritage Alice Springs Inc.” afford these lease terms?
    (e) IF answer to (d) is NO, then what is needed to change the answer to YES?

  18. In answer to other posts: A properly structured income stream for the Residency (and any other heritage building) would go a long way to securing their future.
    A tea or coffee venue with indoor and outdoor seating along with a small gift shop would not only overcome the perceived problem of viability from some in the community, but would turn it in to a real asset.
    I asked several people today about what should be done and everyone is in favour of the coffee shop idea and most are not concerned about the small changes that may come about if the kitchen is modified. Life is after all, is full of compromises.

  19. If nothing else it’s fun kicking this ball around.
    Two other heritage listed buildings in the CBD have survived. Tho old walk-in theatre is a youth hostel, and Monte’s (not sure what it started out as) is a pub.
    Neither The Residency nor Adelaide House need to be a coffee shop. Both could be a bed and breakfast.
    But looking at it realistically, nothing could easily end up being done. Malanka Lodge was razed to the ground amidst plans to build to the skies. Nothing has happened.
    The old Commonwealth Bank building has been draped with plans. I’ve seen a good one for a five storey office / shop / accommodation complex. Nothing has happened.
    The Green Well was built to architectural acclaim. I understand it remains empty.
    The Sails have come down to make way for a road. As they were falling, I wondered how different things might have been if only the original plans had called for them to look more like butterflies.
    At least olive trees might soon offer shade and help settle the dust at the old General Cemetery on Memorial Drive. Good choice. Like the roses at The Residency. It’s what the pioneers planted.
    Like they built buildings to be used, to be part of a vibrant, growing town.
    The cafes in the Mall get by using the public parking lots. Wouldn’t The Residency and Adelaide House qualify for the same?

  20. @ Hal. I suggest you do a lot more research before posting, as your assertions are not based upon historic fact. And don’t you think your not being sure just what Monty’s was before proves my point regarding inappropriate adaptive re-use of heritage buildings? A fine example, indeed.

  21. @Domenico
    To continue kicking this can down the street, please enlighten me. What was Monte’s before it became one of the most popular venues in Alice Springs?
    Everyone seems to be getting their knickers in a twist over this, and I wonder if it’s called for. As far as I am aware no-one is suggesting demolishing either The Residency or Adelaide House. Nor has anyone suggested ripping out the rose gardens in the former. It sounds like a bit of hyperventilation is being indulged in.
    At the same time, it might be worth noting that an inability to compromise often results in being shunted out of the way. Have you considered that Heritage Alice Springs’ dogmatic approach to these matters contributed to the Old Riverside not being given Heritage listing?
    All that has happened so far, and if I am wrong please correct me, is that the NT Government may be calling for expressions of interest to give The Residency a revenue stream. They may be.
    A coffee shop springs to mind, but that’s hardly the end of it. I threw in the idea of a bed and breakfast just to stir the pot a bit, but that’s hardly likely to happen. The B&B that is. I think I did manage to stir the pot a bit.
    Perhaps offices? Aren’t the buildings along Bath St and Hartley St south of Stott Tce former homes, now heritage listed and mostly offices? Or have I got that wrong? The trouble with offices is then the buildings become inaccessible to the public.
    But again, it’s highly likely that nothing will happen, at least not in the short term. This is also part of our heritage.
    On a more positive note, and one I hope we can agree on, Tuesday was the last day for submissions to be sent to NT Heritage Council regarding their plans to give the original Afghan cemetery off Tuncks Road Heritage listing. This will be a benefit of historical importance to all of Alice if it is accepted.

  22. @ Hal Duell. For your further enlightenment, and because you asked so nicely, Monte’s was first built during WWII as the Women’s Recreation Hut for the Allied Works Council. The feature fireplace constructed by Italian masons that had been interned for the war years. The Country Women’s Association (CWA) took the building over in 1946, using it for their own functions, as well as leasing the place to local organisations, until the CWA closed up in 1978, due to falling membership.
    The place functioned as the YHA hostel from the mid 80s to mid 90s, before being heritage-listed and undergoing restoration by the owner at the time, who set up Dingo’s restaurant.
    That the historical origins of the place is today so difficult to read is not surprising, considering what has been done to the building in the name of adaptive re-use.
    Can’t you see how this illustrates my point exactly: that when a place is re-developed, its historical significance is diminished, sometimes to the point where it is obliterated completely.
    Now, one could argue that there are many other CWA Halls, perhaps of a “fancier” design than ours, throughout Australia, but I would argue that there is only ONE Residency, the place that was for a brief 5-year period the seat of government for the “state” of Central Australia.
    This makes The Residency important not only at a Territory level, but at a national level, don’t you think? And we want to turn this into a cute coffee shop selling cake and tourist trinkets, a restaurant or offices?

  23. Why not a high tea at the residency? A similar venture to how the RFDS coffee shop is run, it is a beautiful setting. High tea would be a perfect fit with the period of the building, and would be right up the alley of the demographic who would visit there. History could be displayed there in a similar vein to the Pioneer Women’s Hall of fame. Naturally it would need to be done properly, but a classy set up like that would allow income to keep the place going, provide maintenance and still keep in the theme of the times in which it existed. A small part of a town like Alice, and a wonderful way to share our history. Cucumber Sandwich, Earl Grey and no grog, right in the heart of the CBD. It would be a beautiful place to go during the flower show.

  24. @Domenico
    Thank you for the history of what is now Monte’s. I will confess that I quite like what the current owners have done to the place. I’m sure there are other similar venues in Australia, but the only one I have any knowledge of is Mario’s in Broken Hill.
    The building and the fireplace have survived.
    About The Residency, and from an article in today’s local newspaper it seems expressions of interest are being sought with only the grounds and the exterior of the building to be off limits. The article also said that Heritage Alice Springs was offered first option, but knocked it back. Is that true?

  25. Hal, where to start…If you peddle misinformation some readers might hyperventilate. But I think you’re ignoring the elephant in the room here…no-one likes their time being wasted and that’s how I feel trying to unravel your torrent of opinion and innuendo. Time prevents me from responding to more of your posts. It’s not simply that you distort reality by describing The Residency as “…current inactive state…” or that it’s preposterous and insulting to say, “Have you considered that Heritage Alice Springs’ dogmatic approach to these matters contributed to the Old Riverside not being given Heritage listing?” What an outrageous example of shoot the messenger by some-one who has not seen the nomination by HAS. But wait there’s more, “…I often think the heritage crowd exceed their brief…” Really? They’re the main reason you can cite the example of the Pioneer Women’s Hall of Fame at its fantastic heritage location. And again, “…We don’t have very many buildings worth listing. Too many tin sheds, and who really cares…” Your regard for vernacular architecture including sheds is out of step with rising national interest and ignores much of the development history of Alice Springs.
    PS Re. leasing the Residency for use as a cafe, I reiterate the issue of onsite car-parking. From memory, 6 parks are required for every 100m2 of net floor area and any alfresco dining areas – so I’m guessing this site would have to at least double the existing parks – this reasonable condition may be waived by the Minister BUT it’s in the best commercial interests of cafe owners to provide viable parking to lessen the impact on the street during periods of peak trade. And no, the idea that a new venture would be allowed to free-load on existing public car-parking is unlikely to win much support. The RFDS has it all, why try to replicate that experience with less at the Residency?

  26. @ Ray. Yes, wouldn’t it be nice? High Teas at The Residency have in fact been considered, as part of our association’s Business Plan for the place. It could work as an adjunct to the “museum” but I’d talk to the other coffee-shop owners in the CBD before thinking it would be a roaring success, no matter which “demographic” you care to look at. High Teas could, I repeat, be a part of an economically viable solution.
    @ Hal. I’m sure you do like Monte’s as it is now, but you must agree it cannot be easily read as an historic building and that interpretation of it’s history has been diminished.
    As for the Centralian Advocate article you refer to: yes, HAS Inc was presented with a new occupancy lease over a year ago, with conditions and cost loadings that, had we accepted them, would have meant certain bankruptcy for our un-funded, volunteer organisation.
    You’ve also mis-read that CA article, Hal, in that the NTG would like to see “continued public access to the gardens and the exterior” of the building, meaning that the INTERIOR of the place may be made “off limits”.

  27. @Domenico
    By “off limits” I meant off limits to development. That is why I worry that giving the Residency over to offices would mean the public would no longer have access to any part other than the gardens and the exterior. Sorry I wasn’t more clear in my phrasing.
    That loss of public access is why I suggest some sort of public venue might be the best option if the concern is to keep as much as possible open to the public.
    Heritage rules have changed. While there will be different opinions as to whether that is good or bad, whether it was necessary or not, the rules have changed.

  28. I too am dismayed at the “Expressions of Interest” being sought to utilise The Residency, on whatever the Government decides is the best money-maker.
    I declare that I am on the Committee of Heritage Alice Springs Inc. (HAS), but these are my personal views.
    Government House in Darwin was entered on the Register of the National Estate in 1980 and declared a Place of Heritage under the NT Heritage Act. Although The Residency is a less grand place than Government House, it nonetheless holds a remarkable history and is worthy of recognition. HAS is the only organisation that will continue to keep it open to the public.
    The Residency will be altered forever if we let the building be used as offices, café or restaurant. Across the road at The Old Court House, visitors are unable to enter the building, as it is being used as offices.
    This could be the future for The Residency if the process of Expressions of Interest is continued.

  29. @Faye Alexander
    I would not bee keen to see the Residency used as offices. However as it does serve hot beverages and food on festive occasions, this has become an accepted practice, and is only one step away from doing it commercially.
    Some of the best times I’ve ever had is enjoying afternoon tea on the Residency Lawns and I’m sure others would get as much pleasure as I did. Let’s bring it back to life, respect it but share the joy as well.
    Asking volunteers to open and then sit the Residency day in and day out, year in and year out is a bit too much of an ask, especially as volunteers are becoming harder to engage in this day and age.

  30. High Tea @ The Residency on Sunday afternoons would be great. No worries with car parking as the CBD is not busy then. There is a place in Darwin, run by volunteers, in the grounds of one of the old houses (Myilly Point I think) that High Tea is served and @ $25/person – it is not too bad. Maybe only about 6 to 8 tables at a time. Domenico, if you hear of anyone running with this idea, I will be happy to volunteer as kitchen hand or whatever.


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