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As has always been the case, the state government, through its legislative powers, can override the streetscape and heritage principles of local governments. The past decade has been a period in which the state government has been the least protective of Adelaide’s built heritage.

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In the 1970s, the Australian Commonwealth Government and three states, Victoria (1974), New South Wales (1977) and South Australia (1978), passed legislation to protect the built heritage within their jurisdictions. The legislation was primarily a response to two factors: a large number of public protests in the 1970s against the demolition of historic buildings in all Australian states, and the influence of the UNESCO World Heritage Convention, which the Whitlam Government (1972–75) embraced enthusiastically. The other states, with governments that development interests influenced more, were slow to follow the federal lead.

Modernist structures were replacing nineteenth century buildings in the postWorld War Two economic boom, and residents began to resist the rapid change to the character of their capital cities. Public protests proliferated through the 1970s, when Australia governments began to focus on major building projects to combat the worst recession since the Great Depression. In the 1980s, freely available credit encouraged speculation in new buildings. Historic buildings were lost on an unprecedented scale as economic imperatives overrode the public demand for heritage protection, and the spirit of state heritage legislation was perhaps more violated than any other legislation.

The 1972 UNESCO Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (the World Heritage Convention) prompted legal protection for Australia’s built heritage at the national level. Australia and New Zealand were relative latecomers among western countries to safeguard their heritage. From 1882, Great Britain had begun to protect ancient monuments through legislation and expanded the categories of heritage conservation successively thereafter. Italy and Germany began to legislate for built heritage protection from 1902, as did France through its

Heritage Politics in Adelaide

Historic Monuments Act of 1913.1 International concern about the loss of historically and architecturally important buildings and sites accelerated in the 1960s during the post-war economic boom, and in response the United States passed its National Historic Preservation Act (1966) and was an important advocate of international action through UNESCO’s World Heritage Convention.

The Australian Government was the seventh signatory to the World Heritage Convention. The Whitlam Labor Government then demonstrated its commitment to national heritage by passing the Australian Heritage Commission Act (1974).

This Act established a Register of the National Estate that the Australian Heritage Commission would maintain. The National Estate consisted of ‘those places, being components of the natural environment of Australia or the cultural environment of Australia, that have aesthetic, historic, scientific or social significance or other special value for future generations as well as for the present community’ [section 4(1)].

Because the Commonwealth Government has no statutory control over state land use, except for Commonwealth purposes, it could not protect places on the Register of the National Estate that are located within state borders. The states needed to pass their own protective legislation.

Before the Commonwealth government acted, there had been widespread community pressure for state heritage protection. Community support for the protection of Australia’s built heritage was part of a wider social and political movement in the 1970s. The ‘new nationalism’ of the Whitlam government promoted a renewed awareness of cultural identity issues, including heritage conservation. While there had been occasional public protests in Sydney in the 1920s and around the country in the 1960s against the demolition of individual historic buildings, heritage historians have found that Australia’s architectural merits were not widely acknowledged by government officials, architects, planners and the broader community until the 1970s.

The first large-scale protests began in 1971, when the Builders Labourers Federation started imposing industrial ‘green bans’ on urban developments in support of residents’ protests in New South Wales, Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia. In South Australia, the Plumbers and Gasfitters Union provided the same support to protesters, notably to save Adelaide’s ANZ Bank building in King William St in 1971 (now the heritage-listed Edmund Wright House). In Melbourne from 1973 onwards, the National Trust and other groups waged several battles to save For details about the introduction of heritage protection in Europe, see Robert Pickard, Policy and Law in Heritage Conservation (London: Spon Press, 2001).


prominent buildings, including the CBA Bank and Regent Cinema in Collins St. In Perth, periodic protests were organised against ‘modernisation’, beginning with the battle to save the Hotel Esplanade in 1963.2 At this time, residents’ associations emerged in the capital cities to preserve the character of their locality. The North Adelaide Society was formed in 1970 to oppose the Metropolitan Adelaide Transport System, or MATS Plan, which would have bisected North Adelaide with a freeway along Margaret Street. The Society also objected to the number of high-rise apartment buildings being constructed in North Adelaide from the 1960s, encouraged by the Adelaide City Council (ACC) anxious to increase its ratepayer base. The seven-storey Hotel Australia in Brougham Place (1962) was the first of several high-rise developments erected in North Adelaide.

Apartment buildings overlooking parklands in Strangways and Barton Terraces and Brougham Place followed, as well as in Jeffcott St and other North Adelaide streets, all constructed by the time the North Adelaide Society was organised.3 In 1974, the Adelaide Residents’ Association was formed to monitor compliance with the new City of Adelaide Plan in Adelaide’s square mile south of the River Torrens, ensuring residents’ interests had a voice on both sides of the river. Ad hoc groups also had come together to save specific buildings threatened by proposed development projects, asserting through direct action their right to retain their built heritage. The increased frequency of community protests against the loss of historic buildings in the 1970s was a major impetus to the passage of heritage legislation at state level.

The South Australian Heritage Act (1978) The Dunstan Labor government passed the South Australian Heritage Act (1978) with the support of the Liberal opposition. The Act established a Register of state Heritage Items that the Minister for Environment and Planning would maintain with advice from the South Australian Heritage Committee (SAHC). At that time, it was the practice of Australian governments to list individual heritage items in a register, although the Act also provided for the protection of state Heritage Areas, an ill-defined concept disregarded for some years. The criteria for heritage listing, outlined in s.12(1) of the 1978 Act, were that an item be ‘part of the physical, While one of the earliest post-war public attempts to save an historic building took place in Perth in 1963, Western Australia did not enact heritage legislation until 1990. Queensland (1987) and Tasmania (1995) also delayed protective heritage laws despite community protests.

See Michael Burden, Lost Adelaide (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1983), passim.

Heritage Politics in Adelaide social or cultural heritage of the state’ and ‘of significant aesthetic, architectural, historical or cultural interest’. Although both sides of Parliament supported the 1978 legislation, the Liberal opposition argued unsuccessfully for compensation for building owners whose properties were devalued as a result of heritage listing. This compensation issue resurfaced throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

The building boom of the 1980s could not have taken place without a credit explosion made possible by changes to the Australian financial system. At the end of 1983, the Hawke Commonwealth government, through its treasurer Paul Keating, began a series of economic reforms that had a profound impact on the property sector. They brought a tremendous influx of capital as overseas currency speculators gambled on a rise in the value of the Australian dollar. Australian banks responded with reckless lending, particularly as the share market declined and investors turned to property, creating a speculative boom in inner city office buildings, described in chapter 2 below. The boom and its consequences affected all Australian states.

This book focuses on issues and conflicts concerning the built environment of the City of Adelaide in the 1983–95 period, so that the events involved may be analysed in some detail. To extend beyond the boundaries of Adelaide would have made the topic unwieldy. The greatest number of controversial commercial projects were located in Adelaide’s central business district, and the social diversity of Adelaide and North Adelaide ensured that the heritage debate covered a wide range of residential building styles. Similar community unrest also took place in many of Adelaide’s older suburbs, notably Unley, Norwood, Parkside and Glenelg, against the continued loss of their traditional character, but an examination of those protests would hardly alter or add to my conclusions.

Heritage is a political concept,4 one that cuts across conventional party and class alignments. On the one hand, heritage protection imposes restrictions on the use of property without compensation to owners, a radical departure from capitalist tenets of private property rights, and heritage activists have engaged in militant tactics to prevent building demolitions. On the other hand, middle- and upper-class heritage activists, sometimes supported by trade unionists, have opposed progressive modernisation partly in order to conserve their privileged lifestyles.

Some historians contend that heritage has become much more than a political issue. A heritage ‘industry’ has spawned, encompassing an array of professional See Graeme Davison and Chris McConville, A Heritage Handbook (Allen & Unwin, 1991), p.7.


bureaucrats, consultants and educators. These historians claim further that this heritage industry leads to a distortion of history. Heritage has its roots in nostalgia, according to David Lowenthal, who wrote that ‘heritage is history with the pain left out’.5 Heritage tourism promotes a superficial perception of history, according to many critics of this industry. Among these is Robert Hewison, who suggested that ‘we [are given] no understanding of history in depth, but instead are offered a contemporary creation, more costume drama and re-enactment than critical discourse’.6 While these perceptions of the international heritage industry may be valid, they are outside the scope of this book, which focuses on Adelaide’s architectural character. It is not concerned with the benefits of heritage to tourism, but with changes to Adelaide’s traditional built character during the Bannon era and the intrinsic qualities and historic significance of heritage buildings. Wilfrid Prest captured the essence of those qualities in 1974 when he argued that ‘many old buildings are better constructed than any modern replacement could be. Their stonework, high ceilings, intricate plaster mouldings, well-detailed joinery, and so on, were the labour-intensive products of highly skilled but by today’s standards grossly underpaid craftsmen, and are, therefore, irreplaceable in a physical and an economic sense, quite apart from their irreplaceable historical associations’.7 This book echoes Jean France’s contention that ‘architecture is history made visible’.8 Adelaide’s heritage activists of the 1970s to 1990s sought to preserve the architecture of the past, with its links to communities that formed the city for more than a century. The activists were as much interested in preserving the built manifestation of urban history as they were in preserving architectural styles.

At the same time, heritage protectionists rebelled against many of the modernist structures that were replacing their built environment: ‘In essence the modernists argued that buildings should reflect their times and that an industrial age should have an appropriate architecture — abstract, unornamented and functional’.9 During this period, most developers were unconcerned about historical continuity David Lowenthal, The Past is a Foreign Country (Melbourne: Cambridge University Press, 1985), p.4.

Robert Hewison, The Heritage Industry (London: Methuen, 1987), p.135.

Wilfrid Prest, ‘Social and Cultural Aspects of Urban Conservation’ in Colin Bond and Hamish Ramsay (eds), Preserving Historic Adelaide (Adelaide: Rigby, 1978), p.15.

Jean R.France, review of Evamaria Hardin, Syracuse Landmarks: An AIA Guide to Downtown and Historic Neighborhoods, in The Public Historian, Winter 1996, 18, 1, p.110.

Deyan Sudjic, Norman Foster, Richard Rogers and James Stirling: New Directions in British Architecture (London: Thames and Hudson, 1986), p.33.

Heritage Politics in Adelaide and revelled in erecting cheap, unadorned modernist buildings that were often prefabricated, minimizing labour costs. Architect and planner Joseph Buch summarised a common public reaction to contemporary Adelaide buildings in a 1986 letter to the editor of The Advertiser: ‘the architectural quality of new construction is so low that any older building, from any period — even the patriarchal and bombastic high Victorian — is preferable to it’.10 Mr Buch spoke for those who resented the globalisation of urban forms made possible in part by the deregulation of Australia’s financial system and the globalisation of capital in the 1980s.

This book provides a detailed examination of the roles of SA governments and ACC, interest groups and the financial sector in heritage politics to 1995, plus major heritage issues that arose later. The narrative is thematic rather than chronological because the major issues are clearer when presented by theme than they would be if they were set out in a comprehensive year-by-year account of events. A chronology of the major events of this story precedes the text.

In a broad narrative, the chronological story of heritage protection in South Australia from 1978 falls into three periods. The first (to 1983) includes the early public protests, the enactment of state heritage legislation and establishment of a heritage bureaucracy to maintain the Register of state Heritage Items. At this time, the public was dissatisfied with the pace and extent of heritage listing under the SA Heritage Act, which only protected individual iconic buildings. In 1981, ACC began to compile a conservative list comprising about 5 per cent of the city’s building stock to create the Register of City of Adelaide Heritage Items. That register became effective in 1987 but did little to moderate the protests.

Public protests continued and accelerated in the second period (1983–88) because of the limited number of buildings on heritage registers and the limited criteria used to select them. The most important heritage protest of this period was the 1983 campaign to save the Aurora Hotel in Hindmarsh Square, Adelaide, which had been recommended for listing on the city register but was refused by an ACC committee because plans were underway to redevelop the site. From the protest emerged Aurora Heritage Action, Inc. (AHA), which became the most vocal heritage lobby group in Adelaide during the decade, often working in cooperation with residents’ associations and later the National Trust.

In the third phase, from the mid-1980s lobbyists began to work with governments and developers to try to save heritage buildings, rather than resorting to direct action, Letter to editor, Advertiser, 30 June 1986, p.7.


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