'Anzac Oval not for sale': govt under pressure on gallery plans


p2519 ASTC gallery deputation 660

Above: Michael Tennant, from the Department of the Chief Minister, speaking at last night’s council meeting.

“Anzac Oval is not for sale, it is not available. The request is to please move it off the table.”
This was Councillor Eli Melky’s starting point at last night’s council meeting, in response to an unscheduled NT Government deputation promoting plans to build at the site the National Aboriginal Art Gallery and create elsewhere a “new home for Rugby League and Rugby Union”.
There is “incredibly strong” feeling about Anzac Oval, said Cr Melky: “It’s overwhelmingly not supported in the community for … any project.”
The community’s attachment is not just about sport, but about its heritage and historical values and as a site for community events, creating many “good memories”, he said.
Supporting his contention was a packed public gallery, with at least 40 extra chairs brought in to accommodate the crowd (although some people present were there on behalf of various organisations, to pick up cheques for community development assistance grants).
p2519 ASTC gallery Driscoll 430In public question time, resident Yvonne Driscoll (in the foreground at left) asked specifically about car parking. Indicative plans for the gallery show that the existing carpark facing Wills Terrace, “where a lot of local people park”, will be removed to become green space.
Ms Driscoll also expressed a more general frustration with little detailed information to date on the project: “We are the people of Alice Springs,” she said. “A lot of people are here because we are in protest of the oval. We would like the support of the councillors in this because we are going to fight for it. What’s the reason? Why aren’t people taking into account what we think? It’s really important to us.”
Cr Melky foreshadowed that there will be applications for heritage listing of the whole area being proposed for the gallery, comprising the old high school site and the oval.
At the end of the session he presented a petition with 1200 signatures rejecting Anzac Oval as a site for the gallery (but supporting the project for elsewhere), as well as another smaller petition along the same lines. He said a Facebook poll registered 1600 against Anzac Oval, 46 for.
There were 649 responses to the government online poll, offering the choice of the Anzac Hill precinct (oval plus former high school) or the Desert Park as locations for the project: 39.1% of respondents voted for Anzac Hill, 32.2% voted for “other” and 28.7% voted for Desert Park.
The government’s delegate, Michael Tennant from the Department of the Chief Minister, remained cool under pressure. He described the government’s consultation as “extensive” although he acknowledged “a range of other people who chose not to have a say” in those processes. (This ignored the criticism by Philip Watkins, co-chair of the Steering Committee, that the online process had excluded many Aboriginal people.)
Mr Tennant presented the project in the context of others the government has for Alice Springs, all with hefty price tags. Apart from the gallery ($50m “downpayment”), and the National Indigenous Culture Centre ($20), they include the Alcoota fossil museum in the mall, originally announced as a $1.5m initiative, now at $4.5m.
Not included, as Cr Jimmy Cocking later pointed out, are projects that may not be “so iconic” but that Alice Springs needs, such as a youth drop-in centre and safe house for young people.
Investing in a new home for the Rugby codes was on the list, but without a dollar figure, which was questioned by Mayor Damien Ryan.
Mr Tennant declined to provide an estimate but gave repeated assurances that the government will pay for this “100%”, including the difference between what council pays now for the maintenance of Anzac Oval and what it will pay at the new facility. The government has promised that ratepayers will not be financially worse off, he insisted.
The Rugby facility will be not only new but better, he said, with two north-south facing ovals, as well as grandstands, change rooms, catering facilities and more.
p2519 ASTC gallery Rugby 430Location options are a greenfield site at Bradshaw Drive and a site adjoining Centralian Middle School. An artist’s impression (right) suggests that the greenfield site is the open area across the drain that runs along the length of Bradshaw Drive.
Cr Melky listed the many recent upgrades to Anzac Oval, estimating their cost at some $6-7m. How can that kind capital investment not have been acknowledged in the government’s considerations? he asked.
The existing infrastructure was part of the government’s considerations, said Mr Tennant. More detailed work will show what can be re-used elsewhere and what can be used to support the gallery project and future community events on the site.
Cr Cocking, who was chairing the meeting, asked about the financial  risk assessment for the project, including the risk associated with having gone against the advice of the Steering Committee (which recommended the Desert Park as the only suitable location).
Mr Tennant’s answer did not include any reference to the Steering Committee, but he did present a logic for the government’s preference for a CBD location: the Federal Government’s City Deals funding is focussed on CBDs (first cab off the rank is Townsville CBD), looking to diversify their economies, including by leveraging and catalysing private investment.
He said since the announcement of the Anzac Hill site as the preferred location for the gallery, there have been enquiries from a range of businesses about additional projects in Alice Springs, redeveloping and expanding existing privately owned sites.
He also dropped this piece of news: that government has given a commitment for the Anzac Hill precinct “to provide the opportunity for colocation of the National Indigenous Cultural Centre”. On the rejigged Arts Trail website, the NICC is now presented as “linked” to the gallery.
This was in response to a question from Cr Melky on whether plans for the gallery could go ahead on the government’s own land in the precinct (the high school site), without the oval, owned by council.
p2519 ASTC gallery public 660

Above: Councillors Eli Melky and Marli Banks speaking with members of the public before last night’s meeting. 

If council decides against negotiating with government on the Anzac Oval site, Mr Tennant said he would have to take that advice back to government.
Deputy Mayor Jamie de Brenni said the government needs to adapt its plans to “the community lifestyle that exists”, suggesting ways for the gallery to go ahead without the oval. As a former Rugby player, he extolled the quality of the oval, saying  “you would never get a surface again like that to play on”, and that “the best [players] in the world” have said that.
Cr de Brenni was also critical of the concept of having two ovals and later said he was “disgusted” with the way the consultation on the whole gallery project had been conducted, including the absence of any detail on the Desert Park option.
Mr Tennant said he had just come from a  meeting with the presidents of the two Rugby codes, consultations have been going on for a number of months and no concerns have been raised about having a new and better home for Rugby at an alternative site.
Cr Matt Paterson wanted a guarantee that Rugby would have its new home completed before any work began at Anzac Oval.
Mr Tennant assured him that would be the case.
Cr Jacinta Price, attending the meeting by phone, said she understood the importance of the gallery project but had concerns about ensuring that the community was taken along. She said she was not hearing anything about how the project  would address the issues in the area of drinking and of misbehaviour by young people. She also wanted to know about the safety and security of artworks in relation to the flood risk for the site.
Mr Tennant said flood risk would be mitigated through design and engineering, and Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) would be part of the masterplanning for the site.
Cr Marli Banks said she was unable to support any site for the gallery that “doesn’t talk to the needs of the broader community”, and that information to date and the time given to digest it  hasn’t allowed the community to see how the gallery project fits into broader plans for the town and region as a whole.
Mr Tennant had said that the government and council had already established the Inland Capital Committee, co-chaired by Chief Minister Michael Gunner and Mayor Ryan. However, councillors seemed to be largely in the dark about this committee.
Cr Banks said it comes across that these plans are “put upon our community”, there is a sense of “this is happening to us, from government, from people that aren’t living in our community”.
The only person last night to express a positive personal preference for the gallery to be located at the Anzac Hill precinct was Cr Glen Auricht. He also said it would be “a travesty” if council did not get involved in an MOU with government to formalise how they work together, another prong of Mr Tennant’s presentation.
The discussion around the MOU by other councillors including the Mayor remained inconclusive.
Meanwhile, Mark Crees, Director of the Araluen Cultural Precinct, began work this week as Acting Director of the gallery’s Project Implementation team.
2531 rugby site OK
A large crowd attended the Town Council committee meeting last night, opposing the use of Anzac Oval as the site for the proposed National Indigenous Art Gallery.
An unscheduled government deputation told the meeting the government would pay for a new home for Rugby in its entirety and that it would be completed before work began at Anzac Oval. Two locations are being looked at, one a greenfield site (pictured) near The Gap, between Bradshaw Drive and the MacDonnell Range, the other adjacent to Centralian Middle School.
However, concerns are not restricted to Rugby.
KIERAN FINNANE went to the meeting. Her report will be published later this morning.


  1. I’m curious of the proposed cost of this relocation to the greenfeild site, $20m? $30m? With roads, lighting, carparks, grandstand, field setup. Money could be well spent in our areas like crime prevention.

  2. A new rugby facility within walking distance of my house would be fantastic. However, I’m somewhat sceptical of it ever happening and can our government actually afford it?
    Gunner has routinely stated that we are in a race with SA to get this done, surely then the most logical option would be an unencumbered site with services already in place that places the least amount of strain on an already stretched budget.
    The ANZAC Hill site requires a new rugby facility to be planned and built (12 months to 2 years at least, maybe $15m), demolishing ANZAC Hill School and the ANZAC oval facilities and preparing the site (another 3+ months and more millions). So we’re looking at least 2 1/2 years before work can kick off on actually building the gallery.
    The Desert Park site, as recommended by the steering committee, can see work start immediately with little to no cost for relocation of existing facilities. Services already exist there (parking, cafe etc) so works could be done in a staged fashion and it would encourage more use of an under-utilised tourism asset.
    The argument for revitalising the CBD is misguided. It’s likely that the gallery will have it’s own cafe and restaurant and the majority of hotel rooms are outside the CBD. Visitors will have very little additional incentive to spend time in our CBD than if the gallery was located at another site.

  3. Has someone really walked and measured the proposed greenfield site (pictured) near The Gap, between Bradshaw Drive and the MacDonnell Range? I have done it with my dogs and the rabbits! Are they serious? Who is having whom on?

  4. On another note … We all know the NT Government is BROKE yet they plan behaving like drunk sailors. Unless of course there is another disgraceful funding scheme like we learn (thanks to the Alice Springs News) funded the Supreme Court.
    Is this the time for any large capital expenditure? Let’s sort out the crime and behaviour problems in town; sort the expensive airfares and tourists will come!
    Then we can plan a demand-driven National Art Gallery! Guess spending borrowed money is a simpler option. It usually is so.

  5. I will simply point out to everyone concerned that the old school complex at the north end of Anzac Oval has by far the greatest heritage value of any school campus in the Northern Territory – repeat, the Northern Territory.
    I have come to this conclusion after months of gathering information, commencing well before the end of last year.
    It would be unconscionable for the NT Government to proceed with any development on this site without first undertaking a properly independent and professional assessment of the history and heritage values of this location, including genuine public consultation.
    This has not happened.
    If this Government decides to proceed with this developnment in disregard of the heritage values of the old school site, it will lose all credibility that it may currently have and demonstrate it cannot be regarded as any better than its predecessors in office.

  6. I write this as an appeal to Chief Minister Gunner to reconsider his choice of the Anzac area as the location for the proposed National Aboriginal Art Gallery.
    Not only did your own steering committee nominate the Desert Park as the optimal choice, but ever since your overriding of their recommendation, the wheels have been coming off what was once a project that had everyone on board.
    Many in Alice recognize the heritage value of the old Anzac High School and the Anzac Oval, and while neither carries official heritage listing, I understand efforts are being made to rectify that.
    Yes, it would be possible to relocate the rugby fields of Anzac Oval, but at what addition to the cost of building the proposed gallery?
    I suggest the final nail in the coffin of public indifference regarding this issue was the published plans to do away with a car park that many who work in the CBD use every day.
    The score so far seems to be the destruction of a still valuable building of heritage value and of an oval of similar value, the cost of a new rugby stadium and the cost of a new car park. And all that before construction on a new gallery can begin.
    I ask you to please reconsider the Desert Park, as that choice would mean no valuable building to take down, and neither a new car park nor a new stadium needed. I suggest this would be a better choice both economically and politically. Not only would the project cost less, but it would not alienate any of your supporters in Alice Springs.
    I will close with a cautionary note to the Gunner ALP government in Darwin: When you next come to town to consult, please don’t repeat your mistake of thinking Central Australia is fly over country.

  7. With a Federal election looming and marginal seats in SA I cannot see such a compromised site (which actually hides the gallery) chosen by a Labor NT government being given priority over a site in SA which now has a Liberal state government.
    We need to be offering a spectacular iconic Australian site like the Desert Park with ranges backdrop and wild landscape that is worthy of a National Aboriginal gallery and will attract overseas visitors and Australians to a unique experience.
    That is what will attract people to Alice, including the CBD.

  8. Still no noise from the Antulye Aboriginal corporation, sorry I mean the Lhere Atepe Aboriginal corporation, the Native Title rep body which is supposed to hold Alice Springs Town Council and the NT Government accountable and responsible about the town’s direction.
    The chairman is a growing joke and so is the CEO.
    Where are all the blackfellas from this country with the balls to get up and have a go?

  9. Let’s forget the whole issue! The way this “govmint” is spending money my great, great grand kids will still be trying to pay off this debt.
    The day must come when the credit card is full. In any event a couple of local students with design ideas would have come up with a better proposal.
    Some clown with a pen and coloured pencil pack has spent five minutes of their day drawing a few lines on paper in an attempt to appease locals. A sad failure at that.

  10. The more I look at this decision the more nonsensical it seems.
    The sporting grounds get an iconic landscape and the National Gallery gets stuck behind a performance stage.
    What is really going on here? Has this been a predetermined decision as part of deals we are not being told about?

  11. It’s obvious there is something they are not telling us a about the location, kick backs or future plans, otherwise why wouldn’t they listen to the people?
    Why was it rushed with minimal discussion prior to the location being selected?
    They had their minds made up well before they “consulted” with the public. Good idea just gone wrong.

  12. Once upon a time, in a council far far away, The Council decided to build a new office, and the commoners said ‘No, no, not needed!”
    So the council put the matter to a local plebiscite.
    With two choices – do you want the new council office in Brown St or White St?
    The commoners got together and all agreed to write “NO NEW OFFICE” on the voting slip.
    So when the votes were counted, there were 105 votes for Brown Street, 220 votes for White Street, and 5430 votes that were informal.
    So the new office was built in White Street AND THIS IS NOT A FAIRY TALE!

  13. All top comments. [Questions are being asked about kickbacks for] making this dumb ass decision.
    Desert Park is the most intelligent decision.

  14. Why would the NT Government announce on 18/4/18 the appointment of an interim director for this project while the applications for the role of director close on 22/4/18?
    Have they already promised former Darwin resident, Crees, the permanent role?
    I’m sure there hasn’t been an overwhelming number of applications for the role, so the recruitment process shouldn’t take too long.
    What constructive effect could Crees possibly have before the permanent director is appointed?
    I suspect there’s a story here – cronyism, nepotism, greed, stupidity?
    Definitely the NT Government rushing through their own agenda regardless of practicality.
    If Gunner wants to leave his legacy in Alice Springs, it’s not going to be a positive one for anyone if he keeps on down this road.

  15. Mabel, Lhere Artepe has nothing to do with the desert park or Anzac oval. Native title does not exist at either site. Not sure about the Bradshaw site though. They may have a say there.
    People need to stop expecting this disfunctional organization to speak outside their authority, and talk to the apmereke-artweye and kwetungurle as a group instead.

  16. @ Gammon: Sorry for my lack of knowledge. But I was under the impression that Lhere Atepe were the rep body of the Arrente people in the municipal area of Alice Springs.
    To provide some clarity, my original comment was aimed at the CEO and the Chairman who both are “Unknowns” in this area.
    Why aren’t the Arrente people saying it through their voice boxes? Can they handle an art centre here or there or nowhere?

  17. Why is it so hard for the Government to realise that the Alice Springs people want their sacred site left as it is?
    This site was the camping ground for the soldiers going up to Darwin in WW2 to protect Australia. The town’s people chose and built this this site for their local games every weekend: Rugby, cricket, the school athletic days, and many more that the people of Alice have already mentioned.
    Plus the planning people have not considered many other features that happen on this sacred site.
    The Totem Theatre, the Community Centre, both have been overlooked in the design of the area.
    This is Alice Springs residents’ Sacred Site, so like other sacred sites please leave it well alone.

  18. I think the government should listen to us, the people who live in Alice Springs, and leave ANZAC Oval alone.
    The oval is an important part of our town and a place where we gather for social and sporting events, it also has historical value.

  19. After walking over the proposed site for the new rugby oval(s) and appreciating again from a close perspective the majesty of the MacDonnell rampart, I wonder the area was not considered for the art gallery in the first place.
    And then with the millions saved by not building a new oval, build a three or four story apartment complex in the Todd Mall. Scotty’s might be a good place to start.
    If life is what’s wanted and needed to revitalise the CBD, people living there will do it.

  20. I can’t help thinking that the development process being followed for the National Indigenous Art Gallery is misguided.
    Let me first state that I firmly believe that Alice Springs is the right choice for the home of a truly national gallery.
    However, as is becoming very apparent, the primary project driver is the re-vitalisation of the north end of the CBD – creating a wide base of support from the whole local community from which to build momentum around the country for a national project is currently running a very poor second. As I asked in my submission to the online survey and in comment to Alice Springs News: What is the government’s vision for the gallery itself in the context of the town culture and geography, and the desires of the local Indigenous people, other town residents, and visitors?
    The News report on last week’s meeting with Michael Tennant seemed to indicate that the vision, if it has been articulated at all, is too narrow.
    I’m not even confident that the re-vitalisation agenda can be fully met if the whole area around Anzac Hill is not considered. People standing on Anzac Hill may look down on one side at yet another bunch of new buildings (don’t neglect to consider what it will look like from above) where once was the greenest space in town, and on the other the great eyesore of the long-derelict fuel depot.
    A broader vision is needed. At the moment Alice Springs is being driven by a narrow perspective from a thousand miles away.

  21. Do I remember that the grand stand of Anzac Oval was redone in an improved version not so long ago?
    In opposition to new virgin land, a fantastic backdrop, no relocation costs, no demolition cost, no feelings hurt, a clear slate to draw the national (not local, not NT, but national, to make Canberra envious) Aboriginal art gallery, next to the land, birds and ecosystems of the Desert Park.
    I definitely cannot see what the current NT Government sees in the Anzac site … unless, indeed, they hide some ulterior motives that the “electorate” should not know.
    Please rethink, reconsider, or tell us WHY!

  22. Yes, Maya, and the town bus service that goes to Lyndavale could be extended to Desert Park.
    This service would be welcomed by the resident mothers who would love to take their children to the park but have no transport.


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