Lake Burley Griffin – What would Menzies do?

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One of the pleasures of this city is to sit down by Lake Burley Griffin in the evening to watch the light fade.

For someone born on the NSW coast, it is not quite the same as watching the surf roll in – but it is a very calming experience.

The lake is a real gem. I do recommend that you find a quiet spot and just sit, admire and take it in. And I suggest we should all do this quiet contemplation thing more often.

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How lucky we are to be benefitting from the vision that delivered this expanse of water. Credit must also go to the leadership of Bob Menzies who had ultimately won the battles with his federal bureaucracy to have the lake – and the city – completed.

I’m from a family that has passed on stories about Bob Menzies and the Pig Iron Bob events of the 1930s. I have built-in bias against the fella. But when it comes to Canberra’s development during the 1950s, I have to acknowledge that if it were not for his determination, Canberra as we have come to love it just would not have happened.

So what is the future of Lake Burley Griffin’s foreshores? By that I mean all of it – from the East Basin/Kingston end, through the central areas of the Parliamentary Triangle/Commonwealth Park to the west basin and beyond past Black Mount Peninsular/Weston Park to those areas near the dam.

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The National Capital Authority maintains a watchful guardian-like eye on things – but does it have a vision for the total lakeside areas?

They are too many agencies and lobbyists out there that spruke the need to do something or not to do anything to particular areas of the foreshore.

There are heritage bodies that will actively oppose developments claiming heritage. There are people who are pushing for the whole lake to be heritage listed. I have serious concerns about this as it defines what can happen (or not happen) before all the options have been explored and canvassed.

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I fear that the cluster of toasters (apartments) now occupying the New Kingston foreshore could spread and pop up elsewhere around the lake – such as with the new West Basin proposals. This would be an architectural and visual disaster.

The lakeside, particularly the central areas, should not be a park full of memorials. Memorials are part of our lives, but the growing presence beside the lake could hinder a more active and attractive use of the foreshores.

We definitely need to keep all the lake’s foreshores open to casual access for walkers and those who just wish to amble and sit by the lake. We need to maintain at least the present levels of trees and shrubs – but maybe in different configurations – and loads more shaded areas would be nice!

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I would like to see far more places where people could meet, have a snack (not expensive restaurants), share a coffee or two and also places for families to enjoy interesting playgrounds close to the lake. While there are playgrounds in such key locations such as Black Mount Peninsular & Weston Park, there should be many more scattered around the foreshores – yes even in the Parliamentary Triangle.

The future make-up and use of the lakeside areas need to be rethought so that the ambience and the infrastructure encourages people to visit more areas of the lakeside more often for a range of relaxation and fun reasons – not just to run or cycle at lunch time and after work.

Any of these suggestions (and there are many more) do not exclude sensible and attractive commercial and residential developments near to and by the lake. But there’s the rub of course – do we trust any of the present national and local agencies to deliver aesthetically pleasing infrastructure and associated buildings on or near these precious foreshores?

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Do we have too many agencies with each trying to bring on their own ad hoc changes to single sections of the lakeside – with no guidance from a real master plan for the whole foreshore?

Is it time to repeat what Menzies did when he took the job off several departments and created one agency whose sole focus was the development of the city? Does the lake need its own Lake Foreshore Trust?

Somehow we have to find new ways to deal with this city’s lakeside developments. It has to be far more that simply selling off land and handing over prizes to developers.

At times like this one wonders what an old fashion leadership with a real interest in the city of Canberra would do.

What would Menzies do?

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