I have a word of advice for those of you who may be aspiring to become premier of South Australia. When it comes to major projects beware the letter ‘M’! Call it coincidence; call it what you want but that letter hasn’t been a good omen for turning big dreams into reality.
Let’s start with ‘M’ for MATS plan. The Metropolitan Adelaide Transport Study. Sir Thomas Playford started this review in 1964, when the plan was released in 1968 it recommended the construction of more than 100 kilometres of freeways and adjustments to almost 400 kilometres of existing roads. There was even a subway planned to run under King William Street to pick up Festival Theatre and the Railway Station. It was greeted with significant fear and loathing because the infrastructure was going to consume and divide many old established suburbs and cost around five billion dollars in today’s money.
The biggest construction plan for the MATS program was also its most controversial, if it had gone ahead towering above me now at the Bowden Railway station would have been four tiers of fly-overs freeways and off ramps as the Port Freeway, North South Freeway and the North Adelaide Connector all swept in to converge above my head. Critics said it was the shadow of this that would have killed off these suburbs.
When Don Dunstan became premier in 1970, he shelved the MATS plan; because he had another idea, sadly it also started with the letter M… Monarto. This satellite city was going to be his way of ending urban sprawl and eliminating the need for super highways.
International consultants were bought in to work with a local team in the Monarto development commission and tens of millions of dollars was churned into the project, but no one other than the government seemed to be interested! The last farmers left the properties they’ve called home for a century, livestock is sold and wood stoves put out for the last time, sadly they stand aside.
“Well I only hope it goes ahead I hope it will because if it doesn’t I’m going to be hurt…to be moved from my place by something that’s didn’t happen…that’s going to really hit.”
In 1979, when Liberal David Tonkin became State Premier, he took one good look at the books and put Monarto to the sword. A world-class open range zoo now operates on some of that land. Kind of ironic really, a zoo where there once was a white elephant!
Then there’s ‘M’ for Mt Lofty cable car…who remembers that? In the late 1980’s Labour Premier John Bannon thought it’d be a great idea to turn Mt Lofty summit into a tourist hot spot with a huge tower, a hotel with 170 rooms, a revolving restaurant and a cable car. There was talk of the cable car running from Waterfall Gully to the summit but opposition was overwhelming, and John Bannon’s 45 million dollar dream was watered down into the project that’s there today.
And then, there’s the wasteland that was earmarked to become the high-tech hub of the future. The idea first came to the surface in 1987 during a Federal Ministerial meeting with a delegation from Japan. The Gold Coast was the first choice location but the Queensland Government declined and not too many people remember that the Victorians were really keen to grab the MFP as a catalyst for the revival of the Docklands!
But we won it in 1990 with promises that the MFP would be and I quote…”a place of providing, gathering, and reproducing information of diverse aspects, strata, and form, as well as relaxation, comfort, surprise, joy, entertainment and intellectual stimulation.”
Who could say no to that? Sadly, almost everyone did!
“This whole area is waterlogged – there’s seawater just below the surface, so in the event of an earthquake, some experts say this ground will become a liquefied bog and buildings could sink.”
Federal money stopped in 1996, John Olsen finally put the MFP on the spike when he was Premier in 1998. The cost was more than 150 million dollars and significant loss of international credibility.
But when you look back at these grand plans for our city, you can’t help but think what might have been.