“I have always read with interest Sir Monty Scuttlebutt’s frequent broadsides in their defense. I generally agree with him. However, in the interests of informed debate, some of the assertions in his column, Government Plans to Change the Park Lands Forever, cannot remain unchallenged.”
As a fourth generation South Australian, I once asked a Kaurna Elder where my dreaming was. He asked for my birthplace, which, as it happens, was on the Banks of the Torrens (albeit in Memorial Hospital). He said, “Well that makes you one of us, not Indigenous, but one of our mob, because that’s your dreaming”. Possibly that’s why I have always taken particular pride and have been resolute in my belief that Light’s vision of a city set in a park was a legacy that should be zealously bequeathed from one generation to the next. That’s why I have always read with interest Sir Monty Scuttlebutt’s frequent broadsides in their defense. I generally agree with him. However, in the interests of informed debate, some of the assertions in his column, Government Plans to Change the Park Lands Forever, cannot remain unchallenged. Originally Light reserved a little less than nine-and-one-half square kilometers for park lands. He allocated around one-and-one-half of those for government purposes, some of which were not part of what is now the North Terrace Cultural precinct. As Ron Danvers noted in a 2013 article: “Light locates public facilities – including a school, a hospital, an armoury and parade ground and sale yards – outside of the city grid in a buffer zone [the park lands].” The Park Lands, created by the authority of Governor Gawler some years before the creation of the Adelaide City Council, have always been the legal property of the Crown, i.e. of all South Australians. Effectively this has given the South Australian government primacy in matters concerning the Park Lands. Notwithstanding this, custody, care and control has been vested in the Adelaide City Council since 1852.
Adelaide Town Hall could soon cede authority of the Park Lands to State Government
The Park Lands were conceived for the amenity, use and enjoyment of all South Australians and the purposes to which they are dedicated at any time should reflect that. The historic exercise of that responsibility invites comment. During the 1850s, the sorry state of the Park Lands was voiced regularly, “wherever the eye wanders it encounters broken fences… excavations varied by heaps of broken bottles, old clothes and rubbish, with other more obnoxious abominations such as tanneries and the drainage of slaughterhouses and the city sewerage.” They were used for brick making and the cutting of trees for firewood. Several quarries were operated and river sand was removed by the ton. The Torrens weir created the city’s first reservoir and permanent water supply, Cattle were grazing on most of the land (and continued to do so on some parts of the Park Lands) into the 1960s. Used once for a public hanging, the Park Lands were, in short, neglected and vandalised. It was not until 1891 that it was decided to fill in and landscape the quarry behind government house, which had been used since the 1850s as a rubbish dump.
Have we strayed from ‘Light’s Vision’ of the Park Lands, or are we too closely wedded to it?
Both levels of government are responsible for the large areas variously leased to private enterprise for cattle yards, sporting facilities, hotel, restaurants, a casino, boatsheds, golf links, convention centre, city baths, grand stands and other facilities over the years. No real attempts were made at rehabilitation until the turn of the 20th century. While major progress was made in planting and landscaping the Park Lands and further improvements, such as the creation of new gardens and boating lakes were carried out until the mid-1960s, little of the indigenous flora remains. Our inheritance, important though it is, represents 20th century landscaping. Many important plantings are of imported species. We have what we have, not because of any consistent, deliberative and considered guardianship, but rather it’s a legacy in which can be seen the influence of generations past Structures have come and gone. In my youth there was no Veale Gardens and at least two extensive government depots were situated on the Park Lands. Even as an adult, locked tennis courts for the exclusive use of residents whose rates were heavily subsidized by the business sector were a gift of the council as was the grazing of horses in the northern parks.
Sir Monty argues that State Government control of the Park Lands will see increased development in the green space.
Times change and so do our Park Lands. Leases expire. From the kiosks to restaurants, from the Old Goal to the Aquatic Centre, structures can be demolished, if that’s what we decide needs to be done. It is the privilege of our generation to use them, as we will. It is for future generations to do likewise. The ownership of the land is paramount. That will not change. It is not the governance that is important. Whether the SA Government or the City Council is in control matters only to those groups who consider they might exert more pressure over one than the other. Sir Monty’s enthusiasm for Council control clouds his objectivity. The City of Adelaide Act (1998) was introduced when I was Minister for Local Government. Its purpose was to acknowledge the unique importance of the capital city in this state. It creates vehicle for co-operation between the SA Government and Town Hall. It sought to rid the community of the blame games and responsibility shifting which had characterised intergovernmental relationships prior to the Lord Mayoralty of Jane Lomax Smith. That we have seen comparative harmony since is a testament to its success. But it further sought broaden the vision and electoral base of city councilors… whose parochialism in a wholly ward-based system meant, for instance, that attempts to revitalise Hutt Street were repeatedly thwarted because Ward Councilors on opposite sides of the street had differing views. The Le Cornu’s site in North Adelaide provides an even starker example. Such parochialism influenced Park Lands development.
Many argue that development in Adelaide’s green belt has been a boon for the economy
Sir Monty contends that the subsequently introduced Park Lands Authority is a subsidiary of Town Hall. It is chaired by the Lord Mayor and has four members appointed by the council and five appointed by the Minister. Yet, the Capital City Committee, which he claims is a sub committee of State Cabinet, is chaired by the Premier (John Rau’s current Chairmanship is a gift of the Premier) and has five other members, two Ministers nominated by the Premier, the Lord Mayor and two councilors. Given the same mix in both committees, Sir Monty’s conclusions defy logic. Menzies once said it that it is the great privilege of elected members to exercise their best judgment and endeavors on behalf of those who elect them. They should be informed, vote accordingly and never be mere ciphers to popular opinion. Their great responsibility is their duty to explain to the satisfaction of their electors or to risk the consequences at the next ballot box. Representative democracy entrusts those we elect with power. John Rau and the Lord Mayor are no exceptions. If Rau wields the influence Sir Monty claims (which I doubt), having worked with him for many years, I am confident that he will use his best endeavors in what he sees as the community interest. Sir Monty is correct to urge vigilance. Labor has, as he claims, entrenched “a state public sector of bureaucratic allegiances”. It will do, as it will. But there is one thing it cannot command: your vote or mine. We all vote for our State Government, but while we all contribute to the wealth of the City of Adelaide, few enjoy the privilege of voting there. So long as we have the vote we do vote, Sir Monty, the Adelaide City Park Lands are as safe from destruction at the hands of the State Government as they are from becoming the personal fiefdom of the privileged few who can afford to live on East Terrace or in North Adelaide. Mark Brindal is a former Minister for Local Government and is currently involved in academic writing on sustainability and is a public policy consultant. Read More – Montefiore: Government Plans to Change the Park Lands Forever