Disconnecting Alice


When people say there was no consultation on the revitalisation of the Todd Mall, when they miss the point entirely of the Rainwater Reflection Pan (describing it as a “puddle” – yes, sorry Cr Steve Brown, that was you), there used to be a website where they could better inform themselves. I tried to log on recently, only to be told: “This website is offline indefinitely”.
It was called www.connectingalice.com.au and was put together by Paul Carter’s Material Thinking – a Melbourne-based “design studio that specialises in creative placemaking” and one of the consultants in the mall’s revitalisation process.
Left: BEFORE the revitalisation work, choked sightlines looking towards the Foundation Tree. Photo by Mike Gillam. Below: AFTER, the space opened up, the presence of the grand old tree honoured.
Navigating the site was like going down a rabbit’s burrow. There were all sorts of byways you could take as you explored what had gone on in the consultation. It suited Professor Carter’s approach, which was focussed on stories – the many stories of place that were given to him, that he unearthed and brought to the fore in interesting ways, to underpin the design work. The website would be their repository – full of the community’s riches and freely available to them.
Alas, no more. Like the records of so many consultation processes and reports this one too is now lost from public view.  Responsibility for the site was handed over to the Town Council and at some point in the implementation of the initial two projects – Parsons Street’s “biodiversity corridor” and the reinstatement of Todd Street North – it was mothballed.
Council’s director of Technical Services, Greg Buxton, saw no need to continue it as it was not being “updated” and council’s own site “would inform the public”.
Of course, there’s nothing of the ‘connectingalice’ sort on council’s website, where the information is basic and tending to the technical. Without the openly accessible repository of stories, it will be all too easy to forget the aspirations and creative ideas of many for making Alice’s public places safer, more welcoming, more beautiful, more meaningful.  And when it comes to tackling the next step in our urban renewal, it will be back to square one – again.

RELATED READING from our foundation archive. The link will take you to the issue, scroll down to find the stories:
Alice to turn fortress mentality inside out
Making Alice safer, friendlier, livelier?
Changing the shape of the town
And from our current archive:
Northern mall and Parsons Street get top priority in revamp of town centre
Revealing the spirit of Parsons Street


  1. A couple of questions come to mind.
    In the two photos, the first is taken from behind and to one side of the old stage and manages to catch as many of the old posts and sight-line impediments as possible. Not an inviting look, no question.
    The second is taken from from in front of where the old stage was and offers a clear view of the Foundation Tree. (A bit twee, that name. How long has the old gum had it?) Would it be possible to show a photo taken today from the same place as was used in the first photo? I am fairly sure it will be an improvement on the old view, but fair is fair.
    Or an old photo taken from in front of the old stage?
    Also, it doesn’t rain all that often in Alice. Will the Rainwater Reflection Pan (AKA puddle) be kept full of water, or will it become a dry dip in the road during the times we do not have rain water to keep it full?
    And I still wonder why a grease trap was not put under the road while the road was dug up. Will the extraordinary amount of egg-on-face that would accompany any new excavation be a factor in Council’s thinking when they consider digging the road up again to install what could have been installed in the first place?
    A bit of imaginative spin might be called for. If a drainage ditch can become a bio-diversity corridor, surely a grease trap can become something green(ish).

  2. Hal, In relation to naming the tree I am taking my cue from Margaret Kemarre Turner OAM. At a local forum in 2007 she was asked how she relates to Todd Mall. In reply she made no mention of the built environment, but spoke only of the “Foundation Tree” which she said “represents the people of this place”. She referred also to the importance of the many other red river gums still standing in the CBD, as well as in and along the Todd River.
    The significance of the tree was also highlighted by Barbara Satour when she did the ‘Welcome to Country’ honours at last July’s official opening ceremony of the revitalised mall. Pointing to the tree towering above her, she said, “That’s our statue, it represents all us Arrernte people of central Australia.”
    As for the the Rainwater Reflection Pan, it takes its cue from the desert where for the most part water is only ephemerally present on the surface. It will hold water only after rain.
    I appreciate its elegant simplicity which acts to honour the presence of the tree without distracting from it. Unfortunately, as I have previously pointed out the installation of the plaque, clearly visible in the middle of the pan, is a blot on the integrity and intention of its design. I hope council will soon rectify this error of judgment.
    As for the grease trap issue, I hope this is already a case of ‘watch this space’, egg on face or not. The important thing is to come up with a solution.

  3. It was wonderful to see the sacred tree being integrated into the overall plan. Personally I don’t understand why we need a reflection pond in the desert despite its meaning. I believe this area could have been designed to create a family friendly area-trees, seats, play area. This would have attracted people to the area. The shade structures unfortunately don’t provide adequate shelter in our high 30/40 degree weather. It is a shame that many of businesses were hit hard by the lengthy 9 months of construction and have yet to reap the benefits. To this day more tradesmen are working in the area-upgrading pipes under the road etc when this should have been done during the revitalisation process, surely these businesses have suffered enough? I applaud you for your design concept but at what cost and is it practical for its use?

  4. Kieran
    Thank you for explaining how the old gum got its name.
    As for the Rainwater Reflection Pan, granted it looks good immediately after a rain fills it, but then it becomes a dry dip in the road. This morning it really is an evaporating puddle.
    I tend to agree with Daniel (Posted February 7, 2014 at 9:54 am) and wish more shade had been incorporated into the design of the intersection between the Todd Mall and Todd St North. What used to be a pleasant meeting area has become an unfriendly area too hot and too exposed for lingering.
    Perhaps along with a grease trap, could Council reinstall a shade structure? Or have shade trees been planted there for future enjoyment? I guess it’s all still a work in progress, so we will see.

  5. Gees what’s wrong with puddles? As a child who grew up in the drought stricken bush of Central Australia I loved puddles and I knew exactly what they were for, jumping in!
    Not standing around in toffy nosed manner having deep and meaningfuls about the reflections therein! “Oh”,and I also knew where puddles belonged on the road in the bush, where I could run through them, not in the middle of main street.
    There is a certain amount of snobbery about reflection pools and sightlines, they are arty speak and serve to exclude, not to include, and there is the essence of the problem not only was there exhaustive consultation on the mall design.
    There was a degree of arty snobbery in to who was listened too, the result. Design by impractical people achieving an impractical outcome!
    What do I mean? Shades that look nice but don’t make shade! Garden beds and plantings that create a version of the bush with all of its hostilities to humanity in a place meant for people! Puddles where people need to walk stand and do business!
    A mall or main street is supposed to be a busy place of commerce not a nice quite spot to sit and reflect, one activity absolutely excludes the other!
    The town of Alice is surrounded and enveloped by the most extensive range of quiet bushy places where one can be part of, and reflect upon, nature and its wonders of just about any place on earth!
    Given that fact don’t you think we could have given over just a tiny speck of it to design a nice shady place with people friendly plants, shades structures and trees that made shade, that was simply for people to do business?
    That’s my point of view anyway and I like to think that its just as relevant as any other, especially when we seem to place so much credence on the opinions of individuals from out of town, who visited for five minutes, and have no intention ever of living here.

  6. Well said Steve…common sense really! The place looks arty farty. Would be interesting to know if any true locals were consulted? We need to fix this before we end up with more closed doors and empty shops. Have any of the designers/consultants actually utilised this area during the middle of the day…sat on those metal seats, under metal shades?

  7. Daniel & Steve, ‘arty farty’ is such a cheap, throwaway criticism. I’m assuming you wouldn’t walk through a plaza in Rome or for that matter a square in Sydney or Melbourne or Adelaide and say, ‘Oh no, too arty farty for me’. So it probably isn’t the intervention of art in the public space that you object to, or is it? Is there something uncomfortable for you about having art in the streets of Alice, a country town? And if so, are you forgetting that part of the town’s national and international reputation is tied to art, as the hub town for the brilliant four decade long Aboriginal art movement out of the desert, and that this indeed, Steve, is the underpinning of a substantial part of the commerce in Todd Mall.
    Further in regard to commerce, cities and towns throughout the world, especially those which market themselves as tourism destinations, trade on physical manifestations of their sense of unique identity, on image and beauty. Alice Springs is situated in a unique and beautiful landscape but had lost of much of its once unique character. The work in the mall has been an attempt to redress that and deserves a respectful discussion.
    It is simply not right to assert, Steve, that a busy place of commerce excludes the possibility of having a place to sit and reflect. Again, look around next time you go visiting another busy city or town. Those that are the most pleasant and exciting to be in are precisely the ones that manage to have these kinds of spaces in close proximity to one another.
    But you seem to want that anyway, “to have a nice shady place with people” at the same time as saying we shouldn’t have tried it in the mall. In terms of shade, I know the shade structures were designed to mesh in with the canopies of shade-giving trees and I hope that will be achieved when the plantings have had time to grow. As for their use of metal, mostly corrugated iron, this is precisely the material long used throughout the Outback to provide human-made shade.
    It’s quite hot today, 36 degrees, and I tried sitting on the metal seats, Daniel, while they were exposed to the full sun and found it tolerable. The perforations in their surface take the edge off the heat gain, well and truly. But Alice Springs isn’t only a hot place and summer isn’t the only season for people to be in the mall. Indeed for tourists the high season is winter and in winter we crave the warmth of the sun. Some of those benches will be well placed to catch it.
    Finally Steve, to your comment on ‘the opinions of individuals from out of town’. If that is a reference to Paul Carter’s role in the connectingalice site, the point about the site was that it was a repository of stories, more than opinions, and they were the stories about the public space – the full gamut, from toilets to emotional attachments – offered to him by everyday residents of Alice Springs, as well as by some who are expert in their fields, including the local designers and artists whose work has contributed to a sense of distinction in Parsons Street and Todd Street North.


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