The Herald's opinion: Queens Wharf Tower demolition sends the right message

Queens Wharf Tower on Sunday.
Queens Wharf Tower on Sunday.

The impending demolition of Queens Wharf Tower has elicited a surge of nostalgia, if not outrage, from Novocastrians.

The circular observation deck closed to the public for good on Sunday, and a demolition crew will move in on Monday. The tower will be gone in three weeks.

It was designed by Newcastle architect Kevin Snell and opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1988 while she was in Australia for the nation’s bicentennial celebrations.

The tower’s suggestive shape – Mr Snell told the Herald last year that it never occurred to him at the time what it looked like – has made it a source of jokes and occasional embarrassment in Newcastle.

Lord mayor Nuatali Nelmes and council chief executive Jeremy Bath have made it clear they are no fans of the phallic tower, although the rationale for demolishing it is a projected $1.6 million maintenance bill over the next four years.

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Some Herald readers have said the tower’s fall suggests we are losing our cherished sense of humour, and perhaps they have a point.

But the tower’s fate can be placed in a broader context of a council trying to present a more sophisticated, metropolitan image to the rest of Australia and beyond. 

The council has started advertising for a consultant to develop and “embed” an internal cultural change which began with a reorganisation of its executive team this year. 

Last week it voted to change its brand name to City of Newcastle, which would align it with local government areas in Sydney and Melbourne.

It has also announced that it will move from its existing offices in the civic precinct to a shiny new building in Newcastle West, the city’s proposed new central business district.

A 40-metre steel observation tower which looks like a penis and is of a style rooted firmly in the 1980s does not appear to match this rebranded identity.

Cr Nelmes went a step further last week when she revealed that the entire Queens Wharf complex could be redeveloped in a public-private partnership.

The long-term future of the city’s east should be as a residential, leisure, entertainment and shopping district which complements and capitalises on its heritage architecture.

Hopefully, removing the tower will send a message that the city is serious about attracting the right kind of investment to develop the area with sensitivity. 

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