Our legacy of liveable cities won’t last without a visionary response to growth [from The Conversation]


File 20180327 188613 1komx6d.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Historic investments in green open space along the Yarra created a legacy of liveability in Melbourne.
Ispas Vlad/Shutterstock

Chris Chesterfield, Monash University

Australia’s major cities are growing more rapidly than ever before, gaining three million residents in a decade. Concerns about the risks to their long-term liveability and health are growing too. Is the consistent placing of Australian cities at the top of most liveable city rankings a reason for complacency?

The fastest-growing city, Melbourne, is experiencing unprecedented growth and yet has topped The Economist Intelligence Unit global liveability ranking for seven years running. However, much like Australia’s remarkable record of 26 years of continuous economic growth, many of the policy and institutional reforms that delivered this liveability legacy occurred decades ago.

Read more:
Three charts on Australia’s population shift and the big city squeeze

Australia is now undergoing its third great wave of population growth, putting pressure on infrastructure, services and the environment. During the past two waves of growth, in the late-19th and mid-20th centuries, cities implemented visionary responses. It’s largely because of these past phases of planning and investment that our cities have until now been able to sustain their liveability and a reasonably healthy natural environment.

A third wave of planning and investment in open space and green infrastructure is now needed to underpin liveability as our cities grow. The past offers important lessons about what made Melbourne, in particular, so liveable.

Can we repeat the leadership of yesterday?

In the early 19th century, European settlers ignored and displaced the Indigenous knowledge and connections with country. What grew in their place were initially little more than shambolic frontier towns.

In the Port Phillip colony, the gold rush, the subsequent population and property booms and the lack of city services led to Melbourne gaining an international reputation as “Smellbourne”.

But then, over several decades, visionary plans set aside a great, green arc of parklands and tree-lined boulevards around the city grid.

Melbourne constructed one of the world’s earliest sewerage systems. The forested headwaters of the Yarra River were reserved for water supply. Melbourne is today one of a handful of major cities in the world drawing its natural water supplies from closed catchments.

And so, together with profound social and cultural changes, the shambolic frontier town transformed into “Marvellous Melbourne”. Sydney and Australia’s other capital cities followed similar trajectories.

Read more:
All the signs point to our big cities’ need for democratic, metro-scale governance

Then came the world wars and intervening Great Depression. These were times of austerity and sacrifice. Remarkably little investment in open space and green infrastructure occurred over these decades.

The 1956 Melbourne Olympics was perhaps the event that signalled the awakening from that somewhat bleak period. It was again time for optimism and vision, with the post-war population boom well under way.

Australia’s population was booming at the time of the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, with growth averaging 2.7% a year from 1945-1960 (the 2007-17 average is 1.7%).
Tidningarnas Telegrambyrå/Wikimedia

The 1954 Melbourne Metropolitan Planning Scheme reflected this growing optimism and highlighted the potential for a network of open spaces across the rapidly expanding city. But it took time to build momentum for its implementation.

By the 1970s sprawling development had virtually doubled the metropolitan area of Melbourne. Services such as the sewerage system had not kept up. The Yarra and other waterways and Port Phillip Bay were becoming grossly polluted. There was community pressure to tackle pollution caused by industry and unsewered suburbs.

In 1971, the Victorian Environment Protection Authority, the second EPA in the world, was created to regulate industry. State and federal governments made a huge investment in sewering the suburbs.

The city’s planners revived the earlier vision for Melbourne’s open space network, along with the idea of green wedges and development corridors. Greater prosperity and community expectation secured the investment needed to deliver it.

Historic decisions to protect the Yarra River have had lasting benefits for Melbourne.
Dorothy Chiron/Shutterstock

The 1971 metropolitan plan identified open-space corridors for waterways including the Yarra. Land began to be acquired to build this green network and the trail systems that connect it. Victoria became known as the “Garden State” in the 1970s.

This period stands out as the city’s second great wave of visionary planning and investment. It created the wonderful legacy of a world-class network of open space, much of it around waterways and Port Phillip Bay.

Where to today?

Sustaining or improving urban liveability is a massive challenge. It calls for a new vision and a commitment by governments to deliver it over many decades. Do we have policies and institutions capable of doing this?

Rather than “shaping” our cities, many state institutions are dominated by cost and efficiency goals that drive a “city servicing” mindset.

Melbourne, for instance, is in danger of exhausting the legacy of the last “city shaping” phase of visionary planning and investment. This all but ended in the 1980s.

By 1992, the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works had been abolished. It once had responsibility for town planning, parks, waterways and floodplain management as well as water and sewerage services. It used the Metropolitan Improvement Fund (raised from city-wide property levies) to plan and deliver the city’s green infrastructure, including land acquisitions.

Where is the equivalent capability today? Our practitioners have the knowledge, skills and understanding to better plan for complex city needs, but this is not enough to shape a better future for coming generations. Without a vision and effective policies and institutions to deliver it, we risk ad hoc and wasteful decision-making and investment. The result will be poorer community well-being and less economic prosperity.

Read more:
City planning suffers growth pains of Australia’s population boom

The entrenched cost-efficiency or “city servicing” mindset is an all-too-narrow and short-term policy setting in an era of unprecedented urban population growth.

Expanding suburban fringes will lack amenity and a healthy environment, which may entrench disadvantage. Existing suburbs also need to improve quality, access and connectivity of public open space.

Green streetscapes, open space and tree cover are important for amenity. This includes countering urban heat in a warming climate. Co-ordinated investment in green infrastructure can also unlock new economic opportunities for our cities.

But, as the past has shown, little will happen without an effective city-shaping capability. Significant policy and institutional reforms, guided by a new vision, are essential to ensure a healthy environment, community well-being and the liveability and prosperity of our cities for decades to come.

The ConversationAlternatively, we may find ourselves tumbling down the ranks of world’s most liveable cities. Our best and brightest will be drawn to greener pastures while the world asks in astonishment, “How did they let that happen?”

Chris Chesterfield, Director Strategic Engagement, CRC for Water Sensitive Cities, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Rebel With A Cause by Jacqui Lambie

‘Life is always interesting, but sometimes it is only interesting when you look back at it.’

Jacquiline (Jacqui) Louise Lambie (born 26 February 1971) served as a Senator for Tasmania from 2014 to 2017. She resigned from the Senate on 14 November 2017, one of those elected to parliament with dual citizenship who caught up in the ‘Australian parliamentary eligibility crisis’. Jacqui Lambie is the founder and leader of the Jacquie Lambie Network, a political party which she founded in 2015 and which plans to run candidates in both state and federal elections.

I picked up this book intrigued to learn more about a woman who seemingly came from nowhere to be elected as a Senator for Tasmania in the 2013 federal election. I was curious about her story and her motivation, in learning more than could be gleaned from what had been reported in the press. While the book touches on Ms Lambie’s motivation for wanting to become a politician (mainly to change the laws regarding military compensation and rehabilitation), much of the book deals with the battle she had with the Department of Veterans Affairs over compensation.

The book catalogues Ms Lambie’s personal struggles with alcohol, depression and pain. It also touches on her challenges as a sole parent struggling to do the best she could for her sons. Many could relate to some (and perhaps many) aspects of Ms Lambie’s story. Rock bottom for Ms Lambie occurred on 14 August 2009 in Devonport, Tasmania. On that day she stepped in front of a car.

I kept reading as Ms Lambie, with help, fought her way back. It’s clear that she’s a fighter and clear that her personal experiences gave her the motivation to seek a path into politics to try to make a difference. What’s less clear is how broad Ms Lambie’s motivations are. And, because this book doesn’t really touch on her political motivation beyond issues for veterans, treatment of ice addiction and a more compassionate look at welfare entitlements, I find it difficult to see a broader political role for Jacquie Lambie. Some of her public statements (not mentioned in this book) concern me.

Could Jacquie Lambie be re-elected to represent Tasmania? In the right set of circumstances, absolutely. She has always stood out from mainstream politics, and Tasmania tends to love its maverick politicians.

If you are interested in learning more about Jacquie Lambie and her story, I recommend this book. If you are primarily interested in her politics, you may need to look elsewhere.

‘I don’t know how many more detours I will have to take in my life, but I can guarantee there will be plenty of surprises.’

Jennifer Cameron-Smith


The Media and the Massacre by Sonya Voumard

‘The Port Arthur massacre haunts Australia.’

It is almost twenty-two years since the Port Arthur Massacre. Martin Bryant continues to serve his 35 life sentences plus 1,035 years without parole in Hobart’s Risdon Prison. Some books have been written about the massacre and about Martin Bryant as if, somehow, words can be assembled to explain what happened and why. Other books seem to have been written to try to tap into the desire of some of us for as much information as we can get, accurate or not. In this way we apparently become knowledgeable, we become voyeurs and instant experts. And then there’s this book. Ms Voumard has written about the role of journalism surrounding the massacre.

I was looking for discussion of some of the ethical considerations which (should) come into play when journalists descend on traumatic scenes. I was looking for some recognition that sometimes the public’s desire for information should be secondary to the respectful treatment of human beings caught up in traumatic events. I was looking for acknowledgment that people are separate from events. While this book provided some of what I was looking for, reading it took me in another direction.

Ms Voumard looks at ‘Born or Bred?’, a book written by Robert Wainwright and Paola Totaro (published in 2009) about Martin Bryant and his mother Carleen Bryant. Carleen Bryant sued over the use of her personal manuscript in this book. She received an undisclosed settlement. So, what happened? While Carleen Bryant showed her manuscript to the authors, when she engaged them to write her version of events, Ms Voumard writes:

‘But there came a point at which Wainwright and Totaro must have decided to write the story they wanted to write, as opposed to the one Carleen wanted to have written .’

Okay. If Mr Wainwright and Ms Totaro were unable (for whatever reason) to write the story Ms Bryant wanted written, should they have used any aspect of her manuscript? What were the undertakings given to Ms Bryant? As I continued reading, I thought about quality of journalism, about how the desire for a 30 second ‘grab’ seems to have become far more important than the quality of what might be contained in that 30 second ‘grab’. I thought about the role of journalists in checking the facts, about the motives of those who want their side of a story told, about those of us who want to read such stories. And I thought about the victims of this massacre: the 35 people murdered, the 23 people injured, the large number of others who were traumatised by what they saw or experienced, and their families and friends.

I finished this book wanting more discussion about the conflicting roles of the media in reporting such traumatic events. For me Ms Voumard’s book is a starting point, not a conclusion.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith


Launceston by John Reynolds

‘History of an Australian City’

Those interested in the history of Launceston Tasmania will probably be familiar with ‘Launceston’ by John Reynolds.  The book was published in 1969 and tells the story of Launceston up until the 1960s in a chronological format.  I’ve read the book three times and keep a copy on my bookshelf.

Why?  Partly it is because I left Launceston in 1973, and as I grow older my heart grows fonder.  Mostly, though, it is because my interest in Tasmanian history has grown, and the development of Launceston is an important part of this history.

Launceston is the third oldest Australian city and was established during the first decade of the nineteenth century, just a few years after Hobart.  The two settlements were originally administered as separate colonies.  While Hobart had a far better port and was the centre of the convict-related bureaucracy, Launceston had access to much richer agricultural land.  Launceston was also closer to mainland Australia, and this became important when settlement occurred around Port Phillip.

At times during the nineteenth century, Launceston rivalled Ballarat and Bendigo as a mining, managerial and financial centre.  Many of Launceston’s public buildings (including the magnificent Customs House were built during this period.  (There are some lovely photographs on this blog: http://ontheconvicttrail.blogspot.com.au/2016/12/launceston-customs-house.html )

For me, the most interesting parts of this book are those that deal with the period from 1840 to 1945.  These include the  activity of the Launceston Anti-Transportation Association around 1850, and the building of the Launceston and Western Railway between Launceston and Deloraine in 1871.  This railway, which the government took charge of in 1872, ‘ [It] was to cause more trouble in Launceston than any other event in the city’s history.’  There was a riot in February 1874 as the government sought to recover funds from ratepayers.

I enjoyed reading about notable citizens, including the Holyman brothers (founders of Australian National Airlines) and William Hart (who was a major contributor to the development of mining in northern Tasmania).

While I will keep this book on my shelf, I am aware that a new general history of Launceston has now been published (in 2016): ‘The Fabric of Launceston: A Collaborative Community History’.  I just need to track down a copy.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith


Tears Laughter Champagne by Karen Downing

‘The world was on fire and there was not a soul to be seen.’

I read an article about the release of this book a few weeks ago and added it to my reading list.  Here’s the description of the book from the Obiter Publishing:


On Saturday 18 January 2003, four people lost their lives and 500 homes were destroyed when out-of-control bushfires combined and descended on Canberra’s south-western suburbs in a day that gave new and painful meaning to the ‘Bush Capital’.

Have you ever wondered what happened to the people behind the headlines?

In Tears, Laughter, Champagne, nine women recount their fifteen year journey from the day the fires changed their lives. These are the Singed Sisters.

From tea and tears in the months following the fires to champagne and laughter as they moved into newly built homes, this book is the story of that journey and the recipes that helped along the way.

As devastating bushfires become part of life for so many communities around Australia this book will serve as a reminder of the enduring nature of friendship, good food and great champagne in tough times.

This book is also a chance for the Singed Sisters to pay forward the charity and kindness they received in the aftermath of the fires. All profits from the continued sale of this book will go to YWCA Canberra – chosen by the Singed Sisters because of their work in housing support, early learning education and family counselling, as well as their advocacy on gender equity and women in leadership.

I remember that day, and the days afterwards, very clearly.  I live on the other side of Canberra, but many friends and work colleagues lived in the south-western suburbs in (or near) the path of the fire.  Many were directly affected: some were amongst those who lost their homes, many more were affected because of the destruction of critical infrastructure.

And now, fifteen years later, the nine women who are ‘The Singed Sisters’ have published a book about their journey from the devastation of 18 January 2003, through rebuilding, until today.  This article in The Canberra Times tells the story of the book far better than I can.

I admire these women for what they have achieved, for their willingness to share information (and some great recipes) to others.  I especially like that the profits from the continued sale of the book will go to YWCA Canberra.  The book may be about the experiences of one group of women (and their families) but it will make a difference to many others.

Thank you to The Singed Sisters (and The Burnt Blokes) for sharing.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith


How the histories of Mardi Gras and gay tourism in Australia are intertwined


Kevin Markwell, Southern Cross University

Today, Mardi Gras is framed, at least in part, within a global gay and lesbian tourism industry that craves a bigger and better parade each year. It’s unlikely that any of the heroic individuals caught up in the brutal riot on the night of 24 June, 1978 would have had much of an inkling that Mardi Gras would become one of the world’s most spectacular and enduring gay pride parades.

Nor would they have likely imagined that the parade and the festival would attract thousands of tourists from across Australia and the world making it one of the most attended annually occurring special events in the country.

Read more:
Essays On Air: On the Sydney Mardi Gras march of 1978

In the late 1970s gays and lesbians were a marginalised and oppressed community struggling for law reform and social acceptance. We were still a decade or so away from becoming a recognisable market segment to be strategically targeted by companies selling top-shelf alcohol, boutique holidays and hair remover.

Yet within a little more than a decade following the 1978 riot, the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Festival and Parade nourished the emergence of a budding gay and lesbian tourism industry, paralleling the emergence of the “gay consumer”. Mardi Gras has played a crucial role in the emergence of Australia, and, in particular, Sydney, as an internationally recognised gay and lesbian tourist destination. This led to the successful bid, and hosting, of the International Gay Games in 2002.

How the festival inspired others

In 1999, Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Ltd, which was the entity organising the festival at the time, launched its own gay and lesbian travel agency – Mardi Gras Travel. This development, although short lived, nevertheless strengthened the sometimes contradictory connection between Mardi Gras as a grassroots community festival and the tourism industry with its overtly commercial preoccupations.

The United Nations World Tourism Organisation report on LGBT tourism describes the market as robust and resilient, comprising relatively cashed up consumers with deep pockets and a strong desire to travel. And who like to party.

A study from the early 1990s estimated the economic impact of Mardi Gras to Sydney to be around A$30 million. Acknowledging its significant social, cultural and economic impact, the City of Sydney recognised Mardi Gras as a hallmark event in the early 1990s.

These hallmark events and festivals are powerful drivers for LGBT tourism. LGBT destinations are linked globally by an extensive calendar that includes more than 1,000 pride events, film festivals, circuit-parties, International Gay Games, and the Gay Day phenomenon. This is where gays, lesbians and their friends descend on theme parks, the largest being GayDayS Orlando which is now a seven day “vacation experience” attracting about 180,000 participants.

Festivals and events can also be significant tools in regional economic and community development. If intelligently managed, festivals attract substantial numbers of LGBT tourists to regional and rural destinations, injecting additional income into the local economies.

Read more:
Sustainable shopping: take the ‘litter’ out of glitter

The success of Mardi Gras as a distinctly Australian LGBT festival has spawned similar, if smaller festivals, in most of Australia’s capital cities and a range of regional areas as well.

LGBT festivals of varying scales now take place in Daylesford, Cairns, Alice Springs, Hunter Valley, and Lismore. The newest of these is the Broken Heel Festival, a homage to the film, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, hosted in Broken Hill. In fact, it seems almost all tourist accommodation has already sold out there for early September, when the Heel festival occurs.

The growth of peer-to-peer accommodation platforms, such as Airbnb, and the gay men’s equivalent, Mrbnb, diversify accommodation options, further increasing the appeal of these regional places to LGBT travellers.

For the past 40 years, the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade has meandered its glittering way up Oxford Street, Sydney, captivating the thousands of onlookers lining the route. Simultaneously, defiant and celebratory, the parade and the festival that has grown up around it have been pivotal in shaping and reshaping relationships between the LGBTQI community and the broader Australian community.

The ConversationThe demonstration of Mardi Gras, and of LGBT tourism, to contribute significantly to the nation’s economy I think has been a useful strategy to advance social and political “acceptance” of the LGBT community. But Mardi Gras contributes far beyond economic benefit and the social, cultural and political impacts have been profoundly important in the construction of LGBT identities in Australia.

Kevin Markwell, Professor in Tourism, Southern Cross University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Secrets at Ocean’s Edge by Kali Napier

‘People were different in different places.’

In 1932, Australia is in the grip of the Great Depression. Ernie and Lily Hass and their daughter Girlie have lost almost everything. They pack their remaining belongings onto a cart behind their horse Brownie and abandon their failing wheat farm in Perenjori for the West Australian coast at Dongarra. Ernie has a plan for a new start: a summer guest house by the coast. The Hasses quickly find that it isn’t easy to make a new start: Ernie’s plans upset some of the locals, while Lily cannot easily make friends with the ‘better class’ of women. And Girlie finds it hard to make friends in a place where every child has known every other child in the district from birth.

But it isn’t just the Hasses desire to fit into the local community which causes grief: each member of the family has secrets. Just as the Hasses seem to be making some headway, Lily’s shell-shocked brother Tommy appears. Ernie wants Tommy to move on, but Lily feels a sense of responsibility towards him even though his presence threatens to expose some carefully kept secrets.

‘Secrets weren’t fun to collect when they would hurt others.’

I found a lot to like about this finely crafted novel. The story unfolds through the different perspectives of the four main characters: Lily, Girlie, Tommy and Ernie. This enables the reader to see some of the same events from very different viewpoints which adds to the depth of the story as well as showing how easy it can be to misrepresent (and misinterpret). The detail of life in the Great Depression echoed the experiences my grandparents shared of the same period. In a small town everyone knows your business, and people are judged by the company they keep or where they are perceived to fit in. And the Hass family are not the only people carrying secrets.

‘There were too many secrets.’

Gradually, as Ms Napier reveals (some of) those secrets, the nature of 1930s small town society becomes even clearer: elements of generosity and kindness together with snobbery, racism and hypocrisy. All reinforced by the (largely unspoken but clearly understood) rules of ‘proper’ behaviour. Some of the secrets may seem comparatively trivial in the 21st century, but they were not during the first half of the 20th century. Ms Napier allows the tension to build as the reader tries to work out what truths are being concealed, from whom and why.

This is Ms Napier’s debut novel, and I highly recommend it as a fine example of Australian historical fiction.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith