‘Affordable land’ in a man-made desert



The Kilgariff subdivision, the brain child of former Chief Minister Adam Giles, made a very real dint into the obscene real estate prices in Alice Springs at the time.

That’s the landscape next to the denuded site, which used to look like this.

Trouble was, Stage 1 of the development finished up looking like any other suburban complex in the developed world: A fifth of an acre blocks (711 to 835 square meters), neatly arranged in a grid pattern.

No more of that, the Gunner Government seems to be saying this week in a media release: “Stage 2 is inspired by the natural surrounding elements, showcasing the magnificent orange of a desert sunset, grey of the surrounding gum trees, green of the parks and reserves and vivid blue of a clear desert sky.”

That’s the spin. The reality is that the bulldozers moved in a couple of years ago and annihilated every blade of grass, every shrub and every tree so that now the next 80 blocks will be built on bare sand.

Why was this vandalism perpetrated by the government?

What the public was told to begin with was that these works were necessary to control water drainage and floods.

In July 2018 May Taylor, from the Alice Springs office of the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics issued a “Kilgariff stakeholder fact sheet” saying the NT Government is “delivering construction of an extension of the main Kilgariff storm water drain”.

View into Kilgariff from Colonel Rose Drive, passing the denuded land on a windy day.

Ms Taylor said: “Works are expected to generate minor dust and noise during the construction period, and appropriate mitigations will be in place.”


The “minor dust” on August 5, 2018 (pictured), one of many examples, was so dense that visibility on Colonel Rose Drive was down to a few meters, creating a significant traffic hazard. There was no evidence of “appropriate mitigation,” as the Alice Springs News reported at the time.


Ms Taylor explained: “These works will extend the [Kilgariff] drain alongside the Stuart Highway and Colonel Rose Drive. Construction of this section will prevent pooling and allow the storm water to flow and discharge at an appropriate location across Colonel Rose Drive.”

The shape of the denuded area and the now proposed suburb suggests that the purpose of the bulldozing was not just for drainage, but for the easy construction of homes as well.

Above left: The red outline shows the land before being bulldozed. Above right: The shape of Stage 2 released this week, apparently with space for Stage 3 at the eastern (right-hand) side.

The drain runs parallel to the Stuart Highway and turns eastwards parallel to Colonel Rose Drive, as Ms May described. But the swathe of bulldozed land around it, it now turns out, is where Stage 2 will be built, at a cost of $4.1m.

If that was the case all along, why was the public not told? Was it to pretend that flooding represents a danger that would need to be dealt with?

Such a claim would be ludicrous, say both Arid Lands Environment Centre CEO Jimmy Cocking and local historian Alex Nelson, who having grown up a stone’s throw from the site, has observed the water flow in the area over decades.

They said when the destruction started that the St Mary’s Creek was never a major problem, and the works are interfering with the water flow to the surrounding flora.

The spin: “The vision for Kilgariff Estate is to achieve a contemporary community set in a quiet, serene environment with large open spaces to embrace the Alice Springs lifestyle.”

Mr Cocking: “This now starves the ironwood forest south of Col Rose Drive of critical flows of water and will impact on local habitat.


“It will have a similar effect to the open drains taking water from the Coolabah Swamp in the Eastside and Sadadeen suburbs, causing widespread tree deaths.


“The denuding of the area presents an immediate dust threat and potential erosion threats.”


Mr Cocking said ALEC’s preference would have been a culvert under Col Rose Drive to ensure the flow of St Mary’s Creek. 


“We have been informed that water would still run across Col Rose Drive at times of heavy rainfall with a culvert in place.


“We have not seen any hydrological data to demonstrate that the current course of action was the best way forward.”  


A government report in September 2018 about the future of Kilgariff dealt extensively with the St Mary’s Creek, and could not be more effusive about its immense importance, and of the environment in the vicinity of Kilgariff in general, “protecting the significant cultural and landscape features of the natural environment.


“This includes protection of the St Mary’s Creek landscape which is the primary contributor of the natural character and amenity of the site”.


Mr Nelson wrote in the Alice Springs News: “That corner doesn’t flood; and as for St Mary’s Creek, it barely – and rarely – manages to flow as far as Colonel Rose Drive and hasn’t ever posed a significant flood problem in that vicinity. For example, in March 2010 the water over the road was a shallow sheet that didn’t impede traffic at all.


“To my knowledge, in my lifetime St Mary’s Creek has flowed in January 1966 (breaking of the drought), 1974 (wettest year on record), early April 1988 (last major flood in town – 30 years ago), and most recently in 2010 (second-wettest year on record).


“I don’t know if it did so in either 2000 or 2001, which were both very wet years. In short, they are very rare and short-lived events,” Mr Nelson wrote.


“In my opinion, the drainage works currently underway are a major waste of taxpayers’ funds and, frankly, a scandal. It’s just so ridiculous and absurd.”

Stage 2 comes at a time when the NT’s population is decreasing, home prices are falling and a big question mark hangs over the post Coronavirus era.

Lands minister Eva Lawler  quotes no population forecasts but says in the media release that the government’s “priority is to create jobs and attract people to live in the Territory.

Left: Ms Lawler at Kilgariff in 2018, with Peter Somerville, Chansey Paech and Tony Stubbin. 

“Local Alice Springs businesses will now receive a pipeline of steady works. 200 local jobs will be created during the life of the project and local businesses will be supported,” says the release.

It invites some reading between the lines: “The Land Development Corporation aims to make purchasing a new home at Kilgariff Estate available for everyone. A greater mix of household types will be available, underpinning its focus on a family friendly atmosphere.

“Proposed products will include single dwelling allotments similar to those within Stage 1, and smaller products available in detached and multiple dwelling arrangements. This will increase the options available within the estate, promoting affordability and diversity … products can be developed which cater for a broader cross-section of the community.”

That clearly means a greater population density than Stage 1. What analysis underpins the assumed demand for smaller products in an area supposed to have rural living amenity and situated quite some distance from the town centre? And are these ‘products’ going to be developed at taxpayers’ expense to keep the builders happy?

We have asked Land Development Corporation CEO Tony Stubbin for comment.

UPDATE 12.55pm

Mr Stubbin says that population density will “potentially” be greater in Stage 2 that in Stage 1.

There will be a Stage 3 although the Land Development Corporation has no instructions for it as yet.

He says the decision to embark on Stage 2 is because “we have virtually no more land left for people to purchase.

“We know the town is not growing particularly fast. There is not a huge demand for housing but there is a role for us to make sure there is land to build housing on.”

Mr Stubbin says it’s taken five years for the first 80 lots to be sold and “we expect the next to be around four to five years for it to be fully taken up.

“We have no plans for public housing at this stage. There has been no approach to us.”

NEWS: Was there a need for the complete annihilation of vegetation?

STUBBIN: I think you are talking about the area where the drainage was put in.

NEWS: The denuded area is much bigger than the drainage area.

STUBBIN: We have Alice Springs based landscape architects engaged and we’ll be looking at trying to get them to return some of the native vegetation as part of the streetscape, encouraging residents to landscape their blocks as [Stage 2] develops. Hopefully, over time, we’ll see the return of the native vegetation, a bit of greening up of the site. If you look at aerial shots of Kilgariff you’ll see that slowly but surely the streets and the blocks developed in Stage 1 – you get a return in vegetation. When we get down close to the creek in many years’ time we’ll have to be much more sensitive to vegetation, it’s a much more sensitive area.

NEWS: So there will be a Stage 3, to the east of Stage 2?

STUBBIN: Stage 3 is not in our bailiwick yet. The [Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics] has control of the rest of the site. We’ll look at that in the future.


  1. Talk about overkill. We are now re-directing the flooding Todd (if it ever occurs) back into itself, drowning the cemetery en route.
    As the Welsh say, there’s clever. As the locals say: too smart altogether.

  2. This report begins with the statement that the Kilgariff subdivision is “the brain child of former Chief Minister Adam Giles” but in fact this development was first mooted on March 23, 2009, with the release of the “Alice Springs Planning for the Future Forum Action Plan” by the Minister for Planning, Delia Lawrie, and the Minister for Central Australia, Karl Hampton – in short, the AZRI development is a legacy of the Henderson Labor Government.
    To put this in perspective, the Global Financial Crisis was no more than six months old, Damien Ryan was in his first year as Mayor of Alice Springs, and Michael Gunner was likewise in his first year as the Member for Fannie Bay.
    Adam Giles was also in his first year as the Member for Braitling but, as the shadow spokesman for regional development, he wasn’t very complimentary of the Labor Government’s plans for AZRI.
    Giles was quoted: “The plan points to the potential release of land at the Arid Zone Research Institute site, to the south of the town.
    “The community’s preference appears to be to develop more housing north of The Gap, with the town’s southern region favoured for tourism, business and rural living.
    “But because it’s government land, it appears the AZRI site has been chosen to provide a cash windfall for the NT Treasury” (Centralian Advocate, 24/3/09).
    Aside from a residential land release strategy, the Alice Springs Planning for the Future Forum Action Plan also sought to “review and amend the Alice Springs Land Use Framework, and revitalise the central business district”.
    So here we are just over a decade later, a few months into an economic crisis that dwarfs the GFC, and we’re still talking about revitalising the CBD of Alice Springs (not to mention Darwin) and the Gunner Labor Government has announced Stage 2 of the Kilgariff subdivision – which, on the face of it, seems to me to be very badly mistimed.

  3. @ Alex Nelson: Thanks Alex, but Adam Giles made it happen.
    Erwin Chlanda, Editor.

  4. I apologise for saying this but why the negative news and outlook.
    There’s an old saying: Bad news sells and mass population flocks to it.
    This article could have been presented with a positive outlook. Hopefully, next time. Thanks.

  5. Town grows larger while population grows smaller. I don’t get it.
    Might be “affordable land” but it sure ain’t affordable to build on it.

  6. Alex is right. It was first proposed out of the blue hy Henderson with a promise of $10m for infrastructure.
    This was followed within days by a masterpiece in pork barrelling by the current Member and the current leader of the Feds promising 1500 houses on the airport land.
    At that time NT Airports was 28% controlled by Macquarie Bank and as a shareholder at the time I contacted them to be told that they had no knowledge of the project.
    In the mid 80s as the chair of St Mary’s village we put up a proposal to make a school holiday / outdoor education facility at St Mary’s.
    Everingham was in on that and thought it a great idea. We were told very firmly by the consulting engineer that approval would never be given to develop in that area because of St Mary’s creek and sewerage overflows.
    How times change at the convenience of the pollies.
    It was I think no coincidence at the time that the financial advisor to the Anglican Diocese was a prominent real estate agent in Darwin. Say no more.
    There were and still are many more productive uses for that land and the whole of the area between The Gap and the airport could and should have been a dedicated tourist precinct.
    Can anyone claim that the dinosaur display has flooded tourists into that end of the mall? Or wonder why the banks left?
    I shudder when I look at Pitchi Ritchie. The centre should be based around Yirara and the proposed cultural centre being in conjunction, and a display area for Indigenous education and training in their own culture, complete with bush tucker etc,
    A new visitors centre at the Transport Hall of Fame, and based on the Winton model (this is our competition), and a display of older methods of transport as has happened east of Longreach.
    The lack of foresight has been appalling.
    On the 80s we could have had a high tech solar research facility there from Germany (Frauhoffer Institute) but no one bothered to look further than the next housing block.
    This is just making us the same as everyone else. Sad.


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