Another nail in the Anzac High coffin


Above: Alex Nelson (white shirt, holding his hat) with supporters outside the hearing room today. From left, Jenny Kearns, David Kearns, Jose Petrick, Jill Brew (all three obscured),  Domenico Pecorari, Olga Radke, Brenda Shields, David Hewitt and Mike Gillam. Photos below by Mr Gillam. 



Last updated 2 November 2019, 12.25pm. Links, photos, additional Peattie quote, conclusion added.

President of the NT Civil and Administrative Tribunal, Richard Bruxner, today again declined to grant an injunction halting demolition works at the former Anzac Hill High School.

Alex Nelson, who is applying to NTCAT for a review of the Heritage Council decision not to recommend listing the school, told Mr Bruxner that demolition works appeared to have ceased since the directions hearing a fortnight ago.

Certainly, he had observed today that the walls and roofs of the buildings remain intact.

In light of this, he argued that it would be appropriate to grant an injunction until his application is fully heard.

The stumbling block for Mr Bruxner remained Mr Nelson’s unwillingness to give an undertaking with regard to damages should his application fail.

But this point was not made before he quizzed the government’s lawyer, Lachlan Peattie, on the state of play with the demolition.

Initially Mr Peattie said that work had “recommenced” as soon as it Mr Bruxner decided in the first hearing that no injunction would be granted.

Mr Bruxner couldn’t recall that a cessation of work had been mentioned; his recollection was that works had commenced and would be “all systems go” unless there was an injunction.

That was also Mr Nelson’s understanding, contributing to his decision to not pursue an injunction in the Supreme Court.

His announcement of that decision on this site has since generated public support for the cause, some of it on show today, with the public gallery of the tiny NTCAT hearing room filled with his supporters.

Mr Peattie said he had “misspoke”.

He went on to give detail of what has been done to date in the “soft demolition phase” – essentially the building has been gutted.

The contractor, McMahon’s, will start knocking down walls on 5 November (blocks A and C), with block B to follow on 22 November.

Barring a miracle, it now seems certain that the old school will be no more when the next steps in tribunal’s process are taken.

Mr Bruxner still has to decide on whether an extension of time will be granted to Mr Nelson for his application to be heard. Normally applications for review are made within 28 days of the relevant decision, which means that at the latest it should have been made in mid-January.

Some of the arguments for and against were canvassed at the last hearing, but now submissions and related evidence have to be made in writing, with time allowed for reply by the respondents – the Heritage Council and DIPL, the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics. (The latter provided the unsubstantiated advice that the buildings were beyond economic repair.)

It’s all very “harsh and legalistic”, Mr Bruxner acknowledged, especially in light of the imminent destruction of the building Mr Nelson has tried so hard to save for posterity.

Yet, as Mr Peattie would have it, Mr Nelson “in large part” has brought the situation on himself, it’s the result of “his choices” (of first hesitating about his course of action, then going to ICAC and not concurrently applying to NTCAT).

It was a sad day for Mr Nelson but he is resolved to pursue this application, in the hope that a full examination of the case will prevent anything like it happening in the future.

Mr Bruxner warned him that the tribunal will not look at decision-making processes behind the final decision, but rather the merits of the decision itself.

Mr Nelson said that limit to the investigation highlights the deficiencies of the review process but he has no doubt that the school has merit as a heritage site and as such there should have been public consultation regarding its listing.

That this course had not been followed was “beyond comprehension”, he said, putting it down to the government’s overlying intention for the site as the preferred location for their proposed national Aboriginal art gallery.

Mr Bruxner acknowledged, as he had previously, that the case for listing the site seemed to have merit, even on the strength of the department’s own report.

If this is his finding after the review process is completed, there will be red faces at the Heritage Council, the Heritage Branch of the Department of Tourism, Culture and the Arts, DIPL, and on Ministers Eva Lawler (DIPL) and Lauren Moss (Heriatge).


Have a look at what’s being demolished


  1. A sad day indeed. Affirmation that in the Territory, governmental bloody-mindedness trumps all. You’d be forgiven for thinking we were still living in the cashed-up 1980s. I’d have said: “Another nail in The Alice’s coffin”.

  2. I would like to thank all those who took the time to attend the second directions hearing of the NTCAT.
    Everyone came of their own volition, and your support is most appreciated.

  3. The government are not going to stop this demolition. They are near broke and will see this development through. There is no way work will cease now that the interior of the buildings have been gutted. Even if the NTCAT finds reason for heritage listing there is no way the current situation will be reversed from demolition to remodelling.
    I believe this government wants the gallery in town and it won’t stop for nobody. It is almost as if it is a communist government as even on the multi-storey carpark for the hospital it is tight lipped. One cannot even find a single plan on any NT government website. The only mention of such carpark is through various media releases.
    I think that the rumour of a developer remodelling / refurbishing the Todd Tavern, Mobil Palms site and the Alice Plaza is likely as that will bring in new economic money to town, but that cannot happen without the gallery being built on what the government sees as a defunct piece of property in a prime position: That is Anzac Hill High School / Anzac Oval.
    Even if the rumour isn’t true I would still expect for new investors to buy up properties or lease properties in town once the gallery is built. That is something the government is banking on.
    I don’t see the government is wanting to spend money on refurbishing an old high school.
    Some actually think that school is an eyesore and not fit for purpose. You could argue all you like with them but heritage or not I don’t see the government even remotely wanting to keep it or fixing it.
    The CBD has been crying out for change for a while now and unfortunately the school is what I think is stopping further improvements in town.
    A new gallery could be built south of The Gap, but that said I don’t see the government benefiting from it.
    My bet is most new investment will be south of The Gap and not in town.
    Also, my bet is regardless of how they see the state of the school (in their eyes), I think the government see it as a liability, not an asset.

  4. Thank you Alex for all your work, you did what you could and even more.You can be proud of yourself.

  5. Please excuse my clumsy and at times irreverent analysis of the recent NT Civil and Administrative Tribunal hearing. I don’t have any real legal training but this is how I will remember wasting an hour of my time last Friday.
    The NTCAT made no attempt to interrogate the overarching truths at its one-hour hearing. (1) Should the Heritage Council have placed the nomination for listing of Anzac High on public exhibition? (2) Was the Council unduly influenced by the stated desire of the NT Government to clear the site to allow the construction of a major art gallery? ‘Anticipatory compliance’ is the phrase I’ve heard.
    Instead the Tribunal President denied the request by Alex Nelson for a temporary injunction to halt demolition on the basis that he was unwilling to accept personal liability for costs, presumably in the order of hundreds of thousands of dollars!!
    Then the great legal minds in the room (in Darwin) proceeded in mutual understanding to shoot the messenger (Alex Nelson in Alice Springs). The Government’s safe harbour was maintained and strengthened, that Alex Nelson had failed to present his complaint to NT CAT within the appropriate time frame. Hell, he’d even wasted precious time by first going to NTCAT’s big brother, the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), on the 30th April! Meanwhile after nearly three weeks NTCAT has not yet established whether Mr Nelson’s application is too late to have proper standing. That discussion/process will be argued on the evidence presented at, you guessed it, another hearing, this time in mid December. So Alex will be asked to waste more time representing and reframing the abundant and crystal clear evidence he has already provided to NTCAT on the 11 October.
    How is NTCAT acting in the public interest and protecting valuable, structurally sound, eminently upgradable infrastructure, of proven heritage value that will be demolished next week? In all fairness, NTCAT would naturally prefer that Alex goes away, any further ‘investigation’ rendered immaterial once the buildings are demolished and the Government’s complicity is converted into landfill.
    Regardless Alex has agreed to the December hearing because he wants the truth of this blunder investigated and revealed, a pyrrhic victory that may assist cultural change in the NT Public Service. Frankly I think he’s wasting his time, the process is massively, fatally stacked against appellants who, acting firmly in the public interest, try to illuminate and prevent failures of Government. Surely every Minister wants to know if the advice provided by public servants or an advisory body is worse than worthless before making irreversible decisions? If our Government wanted to know the truth it would waive any costs for damages against the heritage nominator Alex Nelson and provide him with equivalent legal advice and standing. I have no doubt that such a course of action would see the Anzac High complex retained. The case for retention is very, very strong. I only wish I had a mountain of unfettered cash in the bank for moments like these, when your own Government becomes the enemy.

  6. What this whole exercise starkly reveals is that the entire system of government in the Northern Territory – bureaucracy and the law – is a preserve of the wealthy, privileged and powerful of our society, irrespective of which political party holds power.
    As I have stated now for decades, the NT is a shamocracy, not a democracy.
    Heritage is the Achilles Heel of this inherently corrupt system because it has long been regarded as an annoyance of no great consequence in the overall scheme of things.
    In my recent post comparing the track records of NT Labor and the CLP towards heritage issues ( it’s clear that the situation is only worsening over time.
    What’s happening with heritage is reflective of a much wider malaise afflicting all aspects of public administration (and thus the economy) in the Northern Territory – this is not just about heritage alone.
    We find ourselves have become the real embodiment of a dystopian nightmare.
    The final sentence of George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” is apt: “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again but already it was impossible to say which was which”.
    (See my comment

  7. When the shearing sheds are silent, and the stock camps fallen quiet,
    When the gidgee coals no longer glow across the outback night,
    And the bush is forced to hang a sign, ‘gone broke and won’t be back’,
    And spirits fear to find a way beyond the beaten track.
    When harvesters stand derelict upon the wind-swept plains,
    And brave hearts pin their hopes no more on chance of loving rains,
    When a hundred outback settlements are ghost towns overnight,
    When we’ve lost the drive and heart we had to once more see us right.
    When ‘Pioneer’ means a stereo and ‘Digger’ some backhoe,
    And the ‘Outback’ is behind the house, there’s nowhere else to go.
    And ‘Anzac’ is a biscuit brand and probably foreign owned,
    And education really means brainwashed and neatly cloned.
    When you have to bake a loaf of bread to make a decent crust,
    And our heritage once enshrined in gold is crumbling to dust,
    And old folk pay their camping fees on land for which they fought,
    And fishing is a great escape, this is until you’re caught.
    When you see our kids with Yankee caps and resentment in their eyes,
    And the soaring crime and hopeless hearts is no longer a surprise,
    When the name of RM Williams is a yuppie clothing brand,
    And not a product of our heritage that grew off the land.
    When offering a hand makes people think you’ll amputate,
    And two dogs meeting in the street is what you call a ‘Mate’,
    When ‘Political Correctness’ has replaced all common sense,
    When you’re forced to see it their way, there’s no sitting on the fence.
    Yes, one day you might find yourself an outcast in this land.
    Perhaps your heart will tell you then, ‘I should have made a stand’.
    Just go and ask the farmers that should remove all doubt,
    Then join the swelling ranks who say, ‘Don’t sell Australia out!‘

  8. Dear Interested Observer. You are right and also wrong. Where once great potential existed for a useful array of repurposed heritage buildings, the NT Government will soon gift us a legacy hole in the ground. However, I can assure you the so called soft demolition (gutting interiors etc. + removal of asbestos) at Anzac High complex would have been a necessary early stage of any schedule of works to upgrade and refurbish the complex. Your confusion is understandable. When honesty, imagination and leadership were needed Ministers Lawler and Wakefield have reverted to innuendo designed to erode public confidence in the value of the buildings.

  9. Watching from afar in Darwin, I now weep for Alice Springs.
    What is happening is so wrong in so many ways.
    Why force the National Indigenous Art Gallery deliberately into the tiny CBD of a European town which Alice is, when the very essence of Indigenous art lies outside in the natural environment which surrounds it.
    It should grow outside the town, with a natural Central Australian backdrop. If the gallery is any good, it will attract people from all over the world. Who would bother about the cost of a taxi ride, or a hire car for the day.
    Aboriginal artists could feel much more at home in such a bushy setting.
    Destroying heritage is not progress, especially if it is significant personally, culturally, and historically to so many in the town.
    Photographs do not show the structure of Anzac Hill High School falling down. Apparently the powers that be in their haste, have not been willing to examine the real truth of the matter.
    With all due respect to President Bruxner in his role, the public looking on has seen how strange and disappointing the NTCAT can be, for the ordinary person.
    Though it is established as a tribunal, and not a court, how sad it is when a dedicated advocate for heritage in the local public interest, so visibly supported, on the day, is curtailed by a threat that as champion he could personally wear the costs if he fights on for the people.
    This is a sad outcome for justice but oft repeated.
    It is my belief that the school should be saved and conserved for the people of Alice Springs. The proposed National Indigenous Art Gallery would flourish better elsewhere outside the town.
    Whatever happens now, I salute Alex Nelson and supporters for their efforts.

  10. I am not sure when it happened but I was up Anzac Hill this afternoon and noticed the newest two story building at the school has now been completely demolished to the ground.
    All that is left is a pile of rubble.

  11. Thanks to the afternoon sun I drove along Schwarz Crescent this evening a little slower than normal.
    Whilst driving I noticed demolition had commenced of the old science labs that front the river.
    It’s only my guess but I have no doubt this building will be completely demolished within the week or two.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here