It looks like we may be getting a six star hotel across the road from our place at Cullen Bay. A proposal by Paspaley the Pearl King has been shortlisted by the Giles government along with two others. Apparently the winner will receive unspecified government largesse to kickstart a suitable development. I don’t quite know what a six star hotel is but I suspect from the name alone that I won’t be able to afford to stay there.
I’m not personally worried by the news. The development site is reclaimed land at the tip of Myilly Point and was created and designed for a tourist hotel from the moment when the Cullen Bay Marina Estate emerged from the swamps of Kahlin Bay in the early 1990s. It’s adjacent to high-rise apartment blocks (including the one where we live), cafes, restaurants, a ferry terminal and the marina itself. In other words, it would be difficult to imagine a more suitable site for such a development, as long as the building is well designed and sympathetic to the high profile waterfront site.
However, none of the foregoing facts inhibited predictable vocal opposition to the development as soon as its possibility was announced a couple of days ago. Seemingly within minutes Margaret Clinch of PLAN was on ABC talkback radio opining that a hotel on the Myilly Point site, or indeed seemingly anywhere else, was completely unacceptable. Margaret is an indefatigable warrior on urban planning and environment issues, and exactly the sort of person a young, thrusting city like Darwin needs to curb the excesses of greedy developers and unscrupulous politicians. The problem is that she has seldom struck a development project to which she isn’t completely opposed, and the six star hotel clearly isn’t an exception.
Margaret was followed on radio by a succession of stereotypical ABC audience members equally opposed to the development. Most of them reckoned there was no commercial demand for another hotel in Darwin, but strangely none claimed any expertise in the area nor did they explain why a wealthy, experienced property developer like Paspaley the Pearl King (and several other interested consortia) would invest in one or why banks would lend on such a project if what they asserted was actually true.
In fairness to Margaret Clinch, she has a couple of more substantive and sensible bases for her opposition. She is concerned that an inappropriate wide high-rise design would have the effect of walling in the adjacent Flagstaff Park and blocking the magnificent views to the harbour and ocean. It’s a real and important concern, but would be adequately addressed by building a tall slender tower rather than a much wider eight or ten storey block. Margaret is also concerned by suggestions that an access road to the hotel might be bulldozed through Flagstaff Park. Again that’s a legitimate concern, although in some respects a low impact road or footpath from an adjacent car park would be an improvement if it increases public usage of the park. At the moment almost no one ever goes there, except for occasional ice dealers selling drugs from their cars under the trees.
Little or no detail is known about the Paspaley proposal at the moment, but they’re holding an information/consultation session tomorrow morning at the Sky City Casino around the point at Mindil Beach. We’ll certainly be there to find out as much as we can. It has been suggested that the development may include a high rollers’ gaming room and that the operators of Sky City Casino are involved in the consortium (they would have to be because they have a government-granted monopoly on casino facilities in Darwin). Apparently there is a market opportunity for high roller casino facilities in Southeast Asia at the moment, because of a crackdown on Chinese gamblers visiting Macau. Darwin has the additional advantage of a steady flow of fraudulent local travel agents and embezzling indigenous corporation bookkeepers with ill-gotten gains to launder on the gaming tables.
The modern history of Myilly Point is interesting in itself. When I first came to Darwin early in the 1980s it was where all the judges and senior public servants lived, as well as a few well-heeled corporate types including members of the Paspaley family. Soon after I arrived the Everingham CLP government compulsorily acquired and bulldozed everything for a proposed future tourism development. Lord Angus McAlpine intended building a major tropical tourist resort along the same lines as his Cable Beach Resort at Broome. Unfortunately his financial fortunes went sharply into reverse soon after all the Myilly Point houses were demolished, and they never recovered. Myilly Point has remained an almost vacant lot ever since. I remember my barrister colleague Peter Bracher fulminating about the legality of the compulsory acquisition and threatening to challenge it in court and wipe the floor with the Everingham government. At the time he was married to one of the daughters of Paspaley the Pearl King. No challenge ever eventuated, but not long afterwards the Paspaleys built two new houses on Myilly Point. They remain the only buildings on the Point apart from the National Trust heritage precinct back near Gilruth Avenue.
Paspaley the Pearl King extended its interest in the area when famous and now deceased architect Hans Vos dredged the mudflats of Kahlin Bay and turned it into the Cullen Bay Marina Estate in the early 1990s. Paspaley acquired the designated hotel site at the tip of Myilly Point but has not until now developed it. Its only current use is as overflow parking for the nearby Lola’s Pergola nightclub. I never heard why Hans Vos called his project Cullen instead of the rather more poetic Kahlin, but presume it’s because he didn’t want the upmarket development associated with the old Kahlin Compound aboriginal concentration camp which operated on the hill immediately above Kahlin Bay between 1913 and 1938.
It’s all just part of the story of the Northern Terri-tory, as the old tourism campaign used to put it, and Paspaley the Pearl King’s six star hotel across the road may well be another part. I’m hoping it will be a really positive part. The Paspaley family are a longstanding part of the Darwin community and indeed part of our history, and they have a stake in the place so maybe they won’t build something appalling and inappropriate. The fact that they’re taking the time to consult the community in advance is a good sign, and the office tower they recently built in the CBD is a beautiful piece of modernist design. I love Darwin, with all its quirks and foibles and eccentric characters (possibly including me).