The Telstra Tower is one of our most iconic Canberra landmarks. It is something tourists look for when they are lost, and a great relief for Canberrans to see when travelling on the Barton Highway after a seven-hour (or longer) drive from Melbourne.

The Telstra Tower opened on 15 May 1980 and there is something stylishly 1980s about it.

Many long-term locals will remember the controversy caused by this symbol of Canberra. When it was first proposed, it was the cause of bitter disputes and protests culminating in a High Court case in 1975. The protests about Telstra Tower have entered into ACT folklore. For example, in the ACT Legislative Assembly in 1991, we heard this:

Craig DUBY (No Self Government Party/Independents): … last week when I was attending a function at the Telecom Tower [Chief Minister Rosemary Follett and NT Member for Lingiari Warren Snowdon] confessed while they were at the function that they had led the protests back in the early days of trying to stop the bulldozers from being involved in the construction of the Telecom tower on Black Mountain. At the time many people felt that the Black Mountain Tower was an abomination. Some people still do, I am sure …

The then Chief Minister explained that her view of the tower had changed a great deal over the years as part of justification to build the Canberra Casino:

Rosemary FOLLETT (Australian Labor Party): I was part of the protest against the Telecom tower. I must admit that I still do not like the look of it and I still think it is too big, but there is no doubt that it is an enormous attraction for tourists. It offers a facility that our city can be proud of and it is obviously extremely popular. So, it serves a useful purpose. People who oppose the casino because it represents change and something new in Canberra ought to remember that history and should not be frightened by the prospect of having a small and appropriate casino in the location proposed by this project.

Of course, when Telstra was fully privatised in 2006, the tower ceased to be a government-owned asset. I can only imagine Telstra’s managers trying to figure out what to do with a revolving restaurant!

No doubt this is why management of the tower is currently outsourced to a local real estate company. But despite the Alto revolving restaurant closing in 2013, the tower still officially attracts 430,000 visitors a year. And it opened its executive briefing centre in 2014 for business room hire, which does demonstrate some creativity in thought.

Despite clocking up its 35th anniversary, just last year Mick Gentleman told us that Telstra Tower is a “cool” place to our youth:

Mick GENTLEMAN (Australian Labor Party): … children and young people have told us that … Canberra has lots of cool things like Lake Burley Griffin, Telstra Tower, and Questacon.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr is on record as wanting Canberra to be the “coolest little capital city”. And while the tower might have seen better days, it is iconic and will continue to attract tourists. As one of the first experiences that many tourists have of Canberra, let’s use some creativity and investment to make it unforgettable.

Here are some examples of what other significant towers have done to attract tourists:

  • Sydney Tower Eye includes a 4D Cinema movie
  • Roppongi Hills Mori Tower in Tokyo has a sky aquarium
  • Stratosphere Tower in Las Vegas has SkyJump and three other thrill rides

There are many other possibilities. Would you visit an art gallery in the tower? Go to live theatre performances? Or maybe we should relocate the Casino to the tower?

What are your thoughts?

Photo credit: David Peterson