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HomeIssue 17Former Anzac Hill High School: time to take stock

Former Anzac Hill High School: time to take stock

With Chief Minister Michael Gunner safely out of the country on a trade mission, and the public completely in the dark about what his government will be using the land for, the demolition of the historic Anzac High is underway, in the face of public protest.

Last updated 27 October 2019, 8.30am. (Previously headlined: ‘Former Anzac Hill High School: Time to take stock.’
Photo of the destruction underway, courtesy Domenico Pecorari.

Sir – Whilst its my natural inclination to pursue every possible option to at least delay the demolition of the former Anzac Hill High School, upon reflection I have decided not to pursue any further legal action on this matter (with the exception of a further directions hearing of the NT Civil and Administrative Tribunal scheduled for November 1).

After the Heritage Council decided not to proceed to public consultation on my nomination for heritage listing of the former high school, the Heritage Act states that, as the “affected person”, only I could seek to appeal that decision to the NTCAT.

The possibility remains of seeking an injunction from the NT Supreme Court but the prospect of success is virtually nil; it’s open to others to take a stand from now on.

I have succeeded in making the point that there is merit in my case that the old high school is of possible heritage significance and that consequently the heritage nomination process could have proceeded to public consultation.

On September 25 the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption noted: “An independent expert consulted as part of the investigation [of my complaint] gave the opinion that in his view the school building did have heritage significance and this would have been sufficient to continue on to public consultation”.

That opinion was reiterated by the NTCAT president Richard Bruxner in the first directions hearing of my appeal.

A key point to note about the former high school is that it’s frequently described as a government-owned site which means the government can choose what it wants to do with it.

However, that equally means it is a publicly-owned property or asset, yet every effort has been made to deny the public an opportunity to be consulted about its future.

That’s what my heritage nomination would have achieved if the process had been allowed to continue.

The Heritage Council failed to take this crucial point into account, and the decision taken to deny the public any say on the future of this site is clearly wrong.

For myself, all my effort up to now has been utterly in vain and it is pointless to persevere in trying to save this major heritage asset.

Everybody complains but too few are prepared to act, and that’s the reason we get the governments we deserve.

Alex Nelson
Alice Springs


This article by Erwin Chlanda, dated April 4, 2019, contains some of the highlights of the school’s heritage story, brought together over months of painstaking research by Mr Nelson:  Gallery fiasco: school heritage process ‘massively flawed’


  1. Alex Nelson: Everybody complains but too few are prepared to act, and that’s the reason we get the governments we deserve. You are correct.
    The only way it is to have a human barricade 24/7 and structure that creates a barrier to block passage.
    Alice Springs businesses close doors to join climate change … maybe they could do it again to stop this stupidity, unless they believe the art gallery will be built and will bring monies.
    Maybe we should boycott businesses that do not support Alice Springs history and culture. We can buy online.

  2. Fear not Alex, history will record who demolished our once vibrant town CBD, ended all new privately funded CBD commercial tourism developments and are still today trying their best to escape with some form of tangible value to what they themselves are to blame for.
    Other historians have a record of all associated names who are solely to blame for Alice as she is today, and will be for another entire generation.

  3. @ Evelyne Roullet (Posted October 18, 2019 at 2:58 pm): I wish you good luck, Evelyne, but this town and the Territory is not what it once was, and there are very few who have the courage to stand up for their principles and convictions.
    Most of us wait for someone else to do it all.

  4. Alex: Many thanks for showing some of the community spirit that once defined our town.
    Those were the days.
    The developers were always well connected and active behind the scenes. All their efforts and representations were a tax deduction while ours were the heavy price we payed for living here.
    Still, we could at least count on some politicians, from the comfort of Opposition, to stand with the community and vigorously oppose those in power who’d conspicuously lost their way.
    Where are the Opposition politicians nowadays?
    The NT bureaucracy is no better.
    The heritage hierarchy lost their backbone a decade ago. Apparently they won’t list a property without the consent and approval of the owners, in this case the government.
    The relevance of our once trusted regulators has been fatally eroded by the willingness of politicians to actually delist heritage structures at the behest of a party purchasing an existing heritage site.
    Here I’m referring to the drive in theatre site, delisted with a stroke of the minister’s pen; a financial windfall for the new owners and a strategic loss for this community.
    I’m starting a rumour now that might save the NT Government from further embarrassment.
    No more talk of wasting mountains of public money to demolish valuable public structures, schools or civic centres, in the name of a politically timed ribbon cutting ceremony.
    Realisation comes slowly but even at this eleventh hour there’s still hope that our leaders are big enough to set aside their egos and take some ritual humiliation.
    Admit they were poorly informed, mentally affected by the drought or whatever.
    Sorry, we were wrong.
    So the site and its valuable buildings will be repurposed. Aside from a need to remove asbestos, the structures are very, very sound.
    There’s even talk of relocating the school of the air to this important site where a new visitors centre will enhance the educational history of Anzac High.
    It’s a real pity that St Josephs was relocated but there are other education satellites that could strengthen the site and its visitor appeal.
    The IAD language department and internationally famous press are soon to be homeless.
    Join up the dots people. Alice Springs is the centre of remote education in this country. Tourism is much, much more than dioramas.
    Meanwhile, in a demonstration that cultural authority has some overarching relevance to community planning, the “world class” cultural centre will be developed south of The Gap, twelve minutes from the city centre where the vast scale of landscape and sky provide a worthy context, where the views to Mt Undoolya, with a little elevation and imagination, are amazing, and the synergy with Yirara College is bloody obvious.
    Finally, Alex, I’m starting another rumour. I’m predicting a crowd of several hundred preparing to stare down the demolition crew on Monday. I’ll see you there.

  5. True point on where are the opposition: If it weren’t for Robyn Lambley and concerned locals, there would be zero pressure on the NTG.

  6. @ Evelyne.
    Alex Nelson, Mike Gillam and I are holding a snap Public Meeting at the main gates to the Anzac Hill High School between 7:30 and 8:15 tomorrow morning, Monday 21st October, at which time we will have a public burning of the NT Heritage Act, which I believe is not worth the paper it is written on.
    We ask all interested readers to come along and show support for our town’s heritage places, many of which are currently un-protected and may be legally demolished.
    Places such as the Walk-In Theatre and Kenna Residence (YHA); the Old Riverside Hotel (Todd Tavern); the former Wallis Fogarty Store (Alice Travel and Cruise): and the Coles Mural, all of which have been nominated for heritage listing but have been rejected by the minister due to objections raised by the building owners.
    We are being served poorly by our government legislators and the departments that are charged with looking after our heritage places.
    If you also feel that the time to act has come, we look forward to seeing you there.

  7. Thank you to the organisers for arranging the mourning meeting at Anzac High tomorrow. Jose Petrick, Margaret Hewitt and I will be there in person. David Hewitt is interstate and with Barry Allwright will be there in spirit.

  8. It will be interesting to see which, if any, of the prospective candidates in next years election turn up. This could well be an indication of their commitment to our town.

  9. I would be interested to know what the long term plan for this space is. It’s easy to leave it there until a project is identified, it saves money too.
    Even if the gallery isn’t going there I feel they have plans for the land and they aren’t telling us anything as they don’t want the backlash they know they would get.
    The public meeting / demonstration will be poor on numbers, this town is too complacent and only people who attended the school many years ago or senior people of town will show interest because of their fond memories in some way of the school.
    Unfortunately kids won’t care and younger generations don’t appreciate the past so it’s doomed to fail.

  10. James T Smirk, it is quality rather than quantity that matters.
    Seneca, Stoic philosopher, a philosophy asserting that virtue (such as wisdom) is happiness and judgment should be based on behavior, rather than words.
    Some people talk or write, others act.

  11. In the days of the CLP government of the 80’s and 90’s it was easy to believe that under a Labor government things would be different, and some pride might be taken in our heritage.
    However things have fared little better under the ALP. Memorably we saw the irony of an Aboriginal minister approving the demolition of the whitefella heritage Rieff building (with the charming pressed tin verandah ceiling) on the corner of Hartley and Gregory, to enable the expansion of the Aboriginal-owned Yeperenye Centre. Was this a bit of payback for the wanton destruction of Aboriginal sacred sites around town (eg the Caterpillar tail on Barrett Drive)?
    And now we have the apparent childish peevishness of “well you mob don’t want to let us build the (so called) National Aboriginal Art Gallery where we know it should go so guess what we’re going to knock down your old high school so Nyah Nyah Nyah”.
    For Goodness’ sakes.
    I can’t tell the difference between the CLP Drongos and the ALP ones.
    It will make it hard to get out of bed on polling day…

  12. You’re absolutely right Alex, it took decades for me to confront and shed my misplaced political naivety. I doubt I’ll live long enough to witness a NTG Minister for heritage, of any political persuasion, who is willing to stand up and unapologetically champion the values of our irreplaceable heritage places. Most are spoon fed by advisers or bow to cabinet colleagues with more connections, clout and power. In my experience one encounters much more empathy and understanding of heritage when talking to primary school children.
    You mention the desecration of Ntyalkaltyaname, the caterpillar tail on Barrett Drive in 1982, a shameful chapter in our town’s history and a low point in race relations. I covered the aftermath as a photographer and the interest from national and international press was intense, overshadowed only by the very deep hurt of local custodians who bore the brunt of this loss. CLP Lands Minister, later to become Chief Minister, Marshall Perron, took the crash or crash through approach and the consequences still reverberate in our community. Sound familiar? Polarisation and dogma might provide some short term political gains but the community loses massively when politicians fail to lead, to think laterally and find common ground. Hopefully someone will add an inglorious paragraph to Perron’s page on Wikipedia.
    Over many years I’ve witnessed the pressure placed on Arrernte custodians, divide and rule tactics so cynically deployed and watched as wave after arrogant wave of government officials and Ministers, federal and Territory were sent away empty handed. So here’s my point. Let’s say the Government achieves a pyrrhic victory at Anzac High and clears the site. What then? The likelihood is a scoured site, flood prone and lacking sufficient scale and space for its intended purpose, that serves as a prominent reminder, a folly on the heads of our Labor government. If by some miracle they win another term in Government and cover this site with a gallery/centre/museum/carparks, the institution itself will carry the stain of an ‘enterprise’ that did not have the support of key Arrernte stakeholders for this place.
    Our Mayor was a staunch advocate for the Anzac site; a significant player in support of the NT Government. But few will remember this fact when the dust settles because the elected members of Council have refused to comply. The Town Council is on the record as opposed to the loss of the oval, a stalemate that further shrinks an already small site unless Government takes the compulsory acquisition path. Councillors have also rejected the alternative offer of relinquishing the Civic Centre (as a site for the new gallery) in return for relocation of Council’s functions to Anzac, replete with demolition and a new complex.
    The Civic Centre site broadly shares the shortcomings of Anzac. To my mind it fails the most basic test of a successful and responsible development; appropriate scale, vulnerability to flooding and carbon footprint, just to name a few. Did I mention financial waste!!
    At the next election, many in our community will surely hold the NT Government responsible for ignoring due process and precipitously bulldozing an important heritage site. There’s a certain irony in that. Our Mayor in his tilt for Parliament may well benefit from the backlash he helped to create for the Labor government! He couldn’t have planned it better if he’d wanted to. I thought I’d seen it all. Not so, the unfolding tragedy at Anzac High is nothing short of surreal; the political machinations and intrigue, you simply could not make this stuff up.

  13. Maybe we should erect a sign explaining why this site was, once, more than a school. I remember it as the “refugees center’ after cyclone Tracy.

  14. Yes, I can confirm that demolition has begun (see photo posted in the article above). Friday afternoon the diggers were ripping up trees and clearing the grounds for unhindered demolition or the building itself, most probably over the week-end.
    This whole sad episode stands as testament to how un-cultured our civic and political leadership have become.
    To call them “barbarians” would be an insult to barbarians everywhere.

  15. We know better how to save old gaols than we do old schools – and the school that was saved in Alice Springs happened over 30 years ago during the long reign of the CLP.
    Labor’s track record, by contrast, is far worse, particularly during the current term of government.
    That, presumably, is the story we want to tell about ourselves, that we were some kind of police state in the bad old days of South Australian and Commonwealth control.
    Perhaps it’s a form of “convict envy” of the other British colonies that became the states of Australia, we don’t have those kind of tourist attractions here.
    The fate of that old high school predicts the fate lying in wait for the Gunner Labor Government in less than a year’s time.
    Can’t wait – bring it on.

  16. Alex:”The fate of that old high school predicts the fate lying in wait for the Gunner Labor Government in less than a year’s time.” I also take note of the total silence from our leaders, councillors as a consent to this destruction. Maybe the school belongs to the NT government but I had expected a bit of protest from our representatives.
    Maybe they do not know that there are not three sides of a fence. In any meaningful choice, neutrality is not possible.

  17. To our pompous uneducated philistine (meaning of smugly narrow mind, and of conventional morality whose materialistic views and tastes indicate a lack of and an indifference to cultural and æsthetic values) leaders: The beauty of a tree is part of our human existence.
    “If your plan is for one year, plant rice. If your plan is for ten years, plant trees. If your plan is for one hundred years, educate children.” – Confucius
    Anzac Hill High School had it all, trees and education. You destroyed it.

  18. @ Evelyne Roullet (Posted October 27, 2019 at 10:27 am): Thank you, Evelyne, for a wonderfully apt quote.
    It is extraordinary to think, as the NT Labor Government tears down one of our most significant heritage places, and that the Chief Minister of this most miserable excuse for a Labor Government is leading an all-expenses paid, taxpayer-funded, 100 strong trade delegation to Shenzhen, China, that here amongst our midst in Alice Springs lives a direct descendent of Confucius whom I have the privilege of knowing as a friend.

  19. Fitting that the Chief Monster is off with 100 tag-alongs doing trade business in China. Remember too the methods of the Chinese when they do “development”. They round up and evict land-owners without a second thought, and bus them off out of sight into greater poverty. No appeals. No Heritage Act. No Land Rights. In fact, few rights at all. Perhaps the delegation is picking up some tips??

  20. It’s simple really, work alongside the youth of Alice Springs and transform the former Anzac Hill High School into a place for youth!


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