RAIN. At last. And decent falls at that. In the parched southern midlands it has fallen like manna, not enough, never enough, but sufficient to provide hope of a soggy winter. It had such a cheering effect. A fellow blow-in from the mainland observed in an e-mail to me this week that: “Hobart [looked] really gorgeous today after lots of rain on the weekend – the air is sweet and fog is cascading down Mt Wellington. Two friends from Sydney came down on Friday evening. They did the rounds of the antique stores, went on an excursion to New Norfolk. All up, a fabulous weekend. It’s always terrific to experience Tasmania through the eyes of outsiders – they remind you of the things that are truly extraordinary.”
Alas poor Tassie. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. We are to have a Festival of Ideas or something of the sort but one is already scheduled for Brisbane this coming week with speakers infinitely better equipped to forecast the future than any we might be able to afford here. Gabfests of this kind are the political device du jour, designed to disguise inaction as decision. Some half-decent ideas may surface but on the whole these events are a substitute for informed, visionary planning for the future. Can any reader specify one worthwhile idea to emerge from the PM’s much-touted celebrity-peppered ‘summit’? At least the Brisbane Ideas Festival may work as it does involve such savants as Geoffrey Robertson QC, bioethecist Peter Singer and Charles Landry a distinguished city futures planner with an international perspective.
And speaking of the future of cities, is anyone planning for Hobart 2020? Or is it just a case of catch as catch can, a development free-for-all with no consideration of social infrastructure, emerging patterns in human behaviour and seismic changes in economic systems such as the world is currently experiencing? Bit by bit the developers are chipping away at history and changing, irreversibly, the nature of this city. An ugly or over-scaled building here, a soulless sub-division here, history compromised but more importantly a kind of impersonality bestowed on a city that once had a unique character. We won’t fully understand what we had until it’s gone.
In his recent State of the State address, the Premier spoke of ‘keeping the heart in places like Campbell Town, Ross, Tunbridge, Oatlands, Parattah and Mount Seymour, by supporting a new generation of farmers’ and ‘preserving the fabric of our regional way of life in Sassafras, Wesley Vale, Bracknell, Westbury, Bothwell, Scottsdale, Winnaleah, Cranbrook, Ringarooma, Hamilton, Ouse, Kempton and more.’
I’m glad Kempton made it on to this list of unique Tasmanian places because what is left of its character is once more under threat. This week I received a letter from the Southern Midland Council dated March 13. Written in the usual legalese it advised me and my fellow Kemptonians that a scheme for a monstrous over-development at the northern end of the town, earlier rejected by Council, had been re-submitted.
The earlier proposal had been for the land to be carved up into sixty-plus blocks. The revised plan has forty-eight. It is of a dizzying banality, a pro forma suburban sub-division with two entrances from the main street leading to a pair of dumbbell-shaped dead end’s fringed with houses.
Residents have been provided with a miniature version of the plan on A4 paper, a jumble of lines and numbers as incomprehensible to the layman as Babylonian cuneiform. Worse, residents must not only trudge to the council chambers to see the plan in a halfways readable form, they must form a view and lodge their objections by 4.30 pm next Friday. So those affected have nine days, seven if you exclude this weekend when inspections are not possible, to examine and form an opinion on a scheme that will irretrievably alter the character of a rural town that the Premier identifies as valuable, seven day to consider a scheme that will affect future residents, should there be any.
Why this unseemly haste?
It is difficult to escape the suspicious that unless the scheme is pushed through before the end of June, the developer will be subject to new, more stringent regulations governing services such as water and sewage. At the moment the law has it that Council, that is ratepayers, are liable for the costs of servicing all the blocks in the sub-division. One member of the Council has described the scheme as ‘horrible’ adding that it’s ‘a Glenorchy-style plan intended to jam as many blocks as possible on to the land with no concern for the heritage values of the town,’ adding the despairing observation that ‘under the present planning laws it’s perfectly legal.’
But the most disturbing aspect of the proposal is not the speed of the attempt to ram this application through at the April meeting of the council, not the ludicrously short time residents have to consider its implications, not the hoary old ploy of submitting a plan for a gross over-development, having it rejected and then re-submitting it with minor changes and claiming serious modification, but the fact that the land is owned and the proposal advanced by one of the sitting councilors.
Stricter rules are on the way but they may be too late. And I have no space left to consider another outrageous development closer to the heart of Hobart that involves the destruction of Lauderdale, the the oldest site of continual domestic habitation in Tasmania, with the largest surviving garden in Hobart. It has existed from 1804 to the present but is destined to vanish under a sea of aged-care units.
WANDILIGONG is a small historic village which lies 6 kilometres south of the Alpine holiday town of Bright. It was the the site of a small gold rush during the mid-1850s which saw the town’s population climb to around 2000. The whole town is now registered with the National Trust as a classified landscape and features historical buildings such as the Manchester Unity public hall (built in 1874), the general store, several churches and a number of quaint cottages. It’s mist-laden, high-country historic beauty takes your breath away …
If only Tasmania had the foresight to register its villages as classified landscape, Leo Scofield’s Mercury lament for Kempton if the “dizzying banality” of a proposed subdivision gets up, would be unnecessary …