Place: Old Admiralty House, Darwin
Threat: Inappropriate Re-development
Significance of Place:
Old Admiralty House has
social and architectural significance, as one of the grandest of a series of tropical designs by BCG Burnett, as the residence of the Naval
Officer Commanding in the Northern Territory, and because it served as the headquarters for the reconstruction of Darwin after Cyclone
The House was originally
built as a residence for the District Naval Officer in 1937. It is a good example of an amended Burnett “B” type tropical house, (attributed
to B.C.G. Burnett, but actually designed by Edwin Henderson). It is one of only two “B” type houses remaining in the CBD of Darwin. The
original detail of the house remains intact with only minor alterations.
In 1951 the House was moved
to its current location. This site had been where noted botanist, Florenz Bleeser had designed and planted a garden of unusual trees, palms
and orchids in a shade house in 1931, and that garden, its shade house, and some of the original trees, remain today, as an outstanding
example of a tropical garden in Darwin.
The House, while suffering
minor damage in Cyclone Tracy, continued as the home of the most senior naval officer in the north until 1983, and was used as an art gallery
and coffee shop until early 1993.
Description of threat:
Old Admiralty House is a
declared heritage place on the Northern Territory Heritage Register, so, on the face of it, its heritage values should be well
However, a house that was
set originally on a large block of land (4070 square metres), typical of early Darwin , has been reduced to sitting on just 1890
square metres, the size of the declared heritage site. This reduction in curtilage has meant that much of the surrounding garden has been
lost. It has permitted inappropriate high-rise development to occur around it, which will dwarf the building and impede air circulation – one
of the tenets on this particular style of architecture - around the property.
Once these new buildings, up
to 14 stories high, are constructed, Old Admiralty House is going to undergo change of its own. There is a proposal to make it into a
restaurant and this will entail significant alterations to the fabric. Within a very few years it will be impossible to imagine what was
significant and important about this building by just looking at it. This is a sad situation for a city like Darwin , which once had a distinctive, open,
low-rise scale and appearance.
development, lack of consideration for appropriate curtilage and site lines, a limited understanding of heritage values by planners and
developers, and an even more limited understanding of the actual physical impact of development work on heritage places, places like this one
Action taken with regard to
the development surrounding this property is indicative of a cavalier approach to heritage values. It clearly demonstrates a lack of
understanding of “values” as opposed to actual fabric. Just because a building or site becomes a declared heritage place there is no guarantee
that its architectural and social values and amenity will not be compromised. This does not auger well for remaining places of heritage value
in the CBD of towns in the Northern Territory.
architects and developers need to consider heritage values and amenity in a more sensitive way. It is often unfortunately the case that
bestowing formal heritage protection on a place, building or landscape, sentences its heritage values to death by a thousand cuts. If a place
has heritage value, let that come first before the needs of developers, tourism and the almighty dollar. Compromise is not always the best