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.