EXCLUSIVE by ERWIN CHLANDA
Local historian Alex Nelson says the refusal by the Heritage Council to heritage list the old Anzac Hill High School – clearing the way for Chief Minister Michael Gunner to build the mishandled National Aboriginal Art Gallery on his preferred site – is massively flawed.
All students and staff, 1954.
Mr Nelson, who meticulously prepared the submission, and who is a member of the Heritage Council, says substantial slabs of evidence had been removed from his application before it was put before the council.
Mr Nelson was excluded from the decision-making process – he was not even invited to address the council.
He says the former Senior Heritage Officer in Alice Springs, Malcolm Connolly, told him on December 2 “that the document was ‘changed’ and ‘played down’ in order to achieve a decision by the Heritage Council that accorded with the NT Government’s wishes for my nomination not to proceed any further.
“For his part Mr Connolly, who was on stress leave, provided in discussion with me a detailed explanation of the situation as he perceived it,” says Mr Nelson (at left).
“He departed Alice Springs before sunrise on December 3, abandoning his position in the Heritage Branch. He has subsequently resigned.”
The chairman of the council, local identity Wayne “Krafty” Kraft, did not exercise the right of reply offered to him by the Alice Springs News Online, emailing: “You will appreciate that normal ‘Government Protocols’, coupled with the Policies and Procedures pertaining to both the ‘Heritage Act’ and the ‘Heritage Council’, currently preclude me from public comment.”
Mr Nelson sent a long email to Mr Kraft and council Heritage Branch Director Michael Wells at 8.47pm last Sunday, and had not received a reply nor acknowledgement by close of business last night.
The email, apart of pointing out seven errors, wrote to Mr Kraft about the absence of major facts provided in the assessment report which “certainly means that my nomination, in effect, was not able to be judged properly on its merits.
“The bulk of the history from 1954 to 1986 is almost completely missing,” Mr Nelson wrote to Mr Kraft.
“For example, aside from the brief (incorrect) reference to the School of the Air in 1956, there is no mention at all of the history of this world-recognised institution during its 14 year presence at this campus.
“It was a major visitor attraction for Alice Springs during this time, not least including two governors-general (Field Marshall Sir William Slim, 1959; William Morrison, 1st Viscount Dunrossil, 1960); as well as Prince Philip in 1956.
“As also mentioned, there is minimal – and significantly incorrect – recognition of the immense role this campus played in adult education from 1954 until the mid 1980s, including TAFE and the town’s first university courses.
“While there was substantial information provided about identities whose names were used for school houses during the period of the Anzac Hill High School, none (with the exception of Harry Griffiths) had any substantial relevance to the school’s history – and even Griffiths departed town before construction of the school commenced.
“Yet there is either minimal or no mention of many significant identities directly connected with the school’s construction (eg. Darwin builder Jim Richards who also commenced – but did not finish – construction of the John Flynn Memorial Church and The Old Riverside [Todd Tavern]; Harold Liddle, local Aboriginal WW2 veteran who manufactured the bricks for the school).
“While Frank Johnson is mentioned in the report, there is no recognition of his role, along with Harold Liddle (and others), in the major political reform enacted in 1953 when the Aboriginal Ordinance was changed to the Welfare Ordinance, giving all adult ‘half-caste’ Aboriginal persons equal civil rights. This occurred while the school was under construction.
“There is no mention of Neil Hargrave, successor to Frank Johnson as Member for Alice Springs 1954-62, who simultaneously (amongst many roles) was the chairman of the Alice Springs Higher Primary School committee, and in that role lobbied long and hard for improvements for the school.
“Hargrave was and is regarded as one of the most effective elected representatives in the NT’s political history but is now largely overlooked. It was Hargrave, for example, who initiated the Remonstrance against the Commonwealth in 1962,” wrote Mr Nelson.
“Equally overlooked are references to the role of the campus for providing emergency relief for evacuees from Darwin following Cyclone Tracy; 8CCC FM radio, the first community radio station in Alice Springs, which also broadcast for the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association until it had its own studio in the mid 1980s; and the beginning of the Centre for Appropriate Technology.
“Equally astonishing is the complete absence of any reference to the first Aboriginal land rights hearings held at the old high school.
“All of the above are some of the more prominent examples that have either been downplayed or completely ignored.
“It is difficult to understand how members of the Heritage Council apparently did not pick up any of the inconsistencies of the assessment report in light of the considerable information provided in my nomination.
“I have also provided a list of 27 documents I prepared while researching my nomination, of which most in turn contain numerous source material articles, that I provided upon request to aid the preparation of the assessment report. I am astonished to find that, with the exception of [two items] there was no reference made to any of the material that I provided in the assessment report.”
Mr Nelson is a supporter of the Save Anzac High movement, quoting the assessment report as saying “all buildings are in good condition and presented well”.
“This is in stark contrast to the claim by the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics, calling for tenders for the demolition of the old school, that the school “is no longer fit for use, and poses a risk to public safety,” he says.
“They can’t both be right – and both the National Trust NT and Heritage Alice Springs have stated their strong opposition to demolishing the old school.”
Mr Gunner is now proposing a swap with the Town Council but that would also require the demolition of Anzac High.
EXCLUSIVE by ERWIN CHLANDA