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Public Submission

Rob Wesley-Smith - 11 February 2014

I have had a passing involvement with Stella Maris over 40 years or so, I find it interesting that there is an inquiry into efforts to save it in the interests of heritage and history when:

  1. so much of that has been lost, and one would think that saving a bit would be in the community interest
  2. there are other far bigger issues needing inquiry, eg education issues, staffing and funding;  housing in all aspects;  implementation of the heritage site reserve where Goyder and his group first  settled;  and agriculture;  for example.

Last Sunday I went on the tour of Goyder sites conducted by Trevor Horman of Heritage Council.

I used to live in Foelsche St in early 70s, so to pop on down to wharf was easy.  I collaborated with Wharfies secretary Brian Manning on several issues. Later I visited and befriended 6 Vietnamese stuck on their steel boat which had been confiscated and sailed to darwin by Vietnamese  seeking asylum and a new life.  In those days this was granted. Those captured with the vessel were left to their own devices more or less - though watched by asio.   Access to a seafarers 'club' might have been useful.

The CLP govt sold off the land above Stella Maris, and now you see several medium high rises along The Esplande road which block the view of the harbour from the road  ie only the toffs living there can see the harbour, also the original Travellers Walk providing access over decades down the escarpment to the wharf area - that track would have been a goldmine of artefacts from generations of walkers, but was dozed into foundations.

This issue was first highlighted to me by hearing Margaret Clinch talking on the abc after a group meeting.  I made contact and suggested I could organise a rally at the top of Travellers Walk, if she was the main provider of info and talker.  That rally was attended by 50-60 older residents, concerned about the issues.  We wanted the government to keep the land from the ring road towards the sea as open space so as to preserve the views, which a previous government inquiry under CM Perron concluded that enhancing the link with the sea should be the basis of planning for future Darwin.  This has been blatantly ignored by Govt, but is it wrong for citizens to still try to encourage that??  Eventually CM Stone said no more escarpment edge land would be lost the public - when there was virtually none left to save!

Under the C'wealth Govt, the Governor General signed a declaration that The Esplanade would be kept open, or free of construction.  The Esplanade actually goes past the top of esplanade where Travellers Walk emerges.  When self government was designated in 1978, this declaration by the GG was not transferred, and according to most learned lawyers and pollies was therefore lost.  PLan had a rally to explain and dispute all this.

A new start and end of the Travellers Walk was constructed, but it is now hardly historic.  It does go past the back of Stella Maris, which is some link.

Friends of mine rented the building for a while, and cleaned it up, and I visited occasionally.  'Ownership' was not clear. I moved to Howard Springs, so have had less to do with this part of the city, but have kept observing the high rises being built, and open spaces being lost. The population of the area has probably had less to do with its history, and there is new population at the Waterfront.  Maybe Stella Maris could help educated people, and provide an RR site like in the olden days.

The site was just a patch of land down the side of the escarpment which was being captured by residential and roads.  The fact it has been saved so far, should not mean the  site is valued for the purposes of this Inquiry as worth $3m.  When thinking was being done about its future the site would have been valued at bugger all.

To set up a legal framework to work off , given the CLP was probably going to form the next government, and as seen by them setting up this inquiry hoping to lead to losing the site, was a great if last minute action.  I am so pleased to see it in place, it was refreshing, cf the perf of governments of the last 50 years I have known losing and trashing heritage sites and objects.  No doubt if the lease had been granted to a developer or other CLP stalwart this Inquiry would not have been called - in fact the land would have been sold to the highest bidder, no matter for what or to who!

I'm happy to appear if you think it might be useful.

Rob Wesley-Smith