Monday, 15 May marks 37 years since the opening of the Telstra Tower in 1980.
Opening in 1980, the tower would become one of Canberra’s most significant landmarks – a symbol of Canberra – particularly at the ANU where Black Mountain and the tower serve as a backdrop for much of the campus.
However iconic the tower is now though, this was not always the case.
The tower was subject to fierce criticism from Canberrans throughout its design and construction.
Ecological issues and criticisms of its design fuelled the main arguments against the tower’s construction, and the Canberra community was vocal in their opposition throughout the 1970s.
The public expressed their dissent in many letters to the editor in The Canberra Times. One concerned citizen, D. Green of Hackett, wrote in the 17 December 1973 issue of the Times that the thought of the project left him in a state of despair.
‘There is no argument of any kind in favour of this tower, except that some undisclosed powerful person (or persons) wants it. Nearly $5 million will be wasted to gratify this ambition,’ Green wrote.
Another letter submitted by a group of Canberra residents in 1972 was concerned that ‘the amenity of the area would be spoilt by the tower development, as would the rich openness of Canberra’s splendidly conceived central basin’.
Woroni published various pieces on the saga, including a detailed report in the 16 March 1973 issue on a large demonstration where conservationists and aestheticians alike gathered to protest the building of the tower.
In a letter to the editors of Woroni in the preceding issue, ANU student Mark O’Conner further expressed concern for ANU students with the proximity of Black Mountain construction zone to the Daley Road colleges – O’Conner was concerned over the potential for disruption and noise.
Disapproval even became a legal issue, when the federal government was taken to the High Court over the constitutionality of the project. In Johnson v Kent (1975) the High Court eventually supported the government’s construction of the tower. Their judgement affirmed that the activity came within the breadth of permissible executive government activity under section 122 of the Constitution.
Despite these hurdles, the construction of the tower continued, and it was officially opened by then prime minister Malcolm Fraser on 15 May 1980 with the name Telecom Tower.
The Canberra Times reported that in its first month of operation there were over 10,000 visitors and that despite the controversy surrounding its construction the tower was largely well regarded by the public upon its completion.
Since then, the tower has continued in its operation with a constant stream of visitors. While the revolving restaurant contained in the tower closed in 2013, the tower is still host to cafes and tourist kiosks, as well as an array of telecommunications services.
In celebration of 37 years,the Telstra Tower held a carnival celebration was held on Sunday, 14 May.