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Government Records about the Australian Capital Territory

Black Mountain Tower

In April 1970, the Postmaster-General's Department asked the Department of Housing and Construction to prepare a feasibility study for a new communications tower on Black Mountain. Additionally, there would be facilities for visitors, including display galleries, an observation deck and a revolving restaurant, which it was thought would help defray some of the tower's construction costs.

A radio and telephone tower had been installed on Red Hill in 1955, while a 415 foot (126.5 metre) high television mast was installed on Black Mountain, with work completed in April 1962.

In October 1971, Cabinet was asked to approve construction of the tower. As proposed, it would be 640 feet high (130 feet higher than existing television masts) and the projected cost was $6 million.215 In a later submission, Cabinet noted disagreement between the National Capital Development Commission and the Postmaster-General's Department over the tower's size and the extent of tourist facilities; the commission favoured a 'slimmer' tower with fewer facilities.216 Cabinet approved the tower in November 1971, but made no decision about the extent of public facilities; this was left to the Public Works Committee to consider.

The committee reviewed the matter in 1972 and presented its report in July that year. It approved the tower and additional revenue-raising facilities.217 The House of Representatives endorsed the committee's recommendation on 11 October 1972, however, the general election two months later ensured there was no progress.218

The Whitlam government elected in December 1972 planned to proceed with the project. By 1973, however, there were public objections to the tower's construction. The Canberra Citizens' Committee to Save Black Mountain was formed. Noting that part of Black Mountain had been gazetted as a nature reserve on 30 July 1970, the committee lodged an appeal in the ACT Supreme Court.219 On 31 October 1973, the court granted an injunction against construction and work was suspended.220

The government received advice from the Attorney-General's Department to the effect that an appeal to the High Court against the Supreme Court's decision would most likely succeed. In December 1973, Cabinet decided that as the matter had already been approved by Parliament and the Public Works Committee, construction should proceed pending the outcome of the appeal.221

Although Minister for Urban and Regional Development Tom Uren was instructed by Cabinet to ensure that work resumed, the National Capital Development Commission was reluctant particularly objecting to the tower's bulk. Uren was forced to seek a directive from the Governor-General in Council to compel the commission to undertake the work. Uren explained his actions in a media release issued on 11 December 1973.222

Work resumed, and in February 1974 the High Court determined that the Commonwealth did have the authority to build the tower.223 The tower's planning was carried out by the Department of Housing and Construction, while construction was undertaken by the Concrete Constructions Group.

Black Mountain Tower was opened by Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser on 15 May 1980. By then it had cost more than $16.3 million.224

National Archives
Plans relating to the Post Office tower, Black Mountain, 1958–73 A8068
Erection of a television and radio tower on Black Mountain, 1970–73 A571, 1970/6788 parts 1–2
Post Office tower, Black Mountain, 1971–72 A5882, CO1288
Inquiry into television tower, Black Mountain, 1971–81 A12812, 2
PMG tower on Black Mountain land, administration aspects, 1971–89 A431, 1971/4463
Inquiry into Black Mountain Tower, environmental impact study, 1972 A12812, 15
Minutes of evidence relating to the erection of Black Mountain tower, 1972 A7696, 74
Report relating to the erection of a communications tower at Black Mountain, 1972 A7696, 75
Black Mountain telecommunications tower, 1972–75 A4306, ZA73/762 part 2
Constitutional Development Branch Black Mountain Tower facilities, 1972–90 A431, 1978/625
Black Mountain Tower application to Attorney-General to test legal issues, 1973 A432, 1973/3341
Malcolm Fraser – Black Mountain Tower (speech notes and draft), 1980 M1263, 1001
Black Mountain Tower, design drawings, 1961–89 C5549, folders 1–10
G Warwick Smith – Interior 1, Black Mountain Tower, 1969–72 NA1983/239, 18/4
National Library
Black Mountain, 1970–73 (Tom Uren) MS 5816, series 7, box 78
Environment Black Mountain, 1973–74 (Tom Uren) MS 5816, series 4, folder 87, box 20
Kep Enderby – Black Mountain – letters objecting to proposed tower, 1973 MS 3887, series 8(a), box 100, folder 12


Chapter notes | All notes

215 NAA: A5908, 379, 22 October 1971.

216 NAA: A5908, 390, 4 November 1971.

217 'Report Relating to the Proposed Erection of a Communications Tower at Black Mountain, ACT, 13 July 1972', Parliamentary Papers, 1972, volume 8, paper 5.

218 Parliamentary Debates, House of Representatives, volume 81, 11 October 1972, pp. 2466–75.

219 Commonwealth Gazette, number 62, 30 July 1970, pp. 5141–2.

220 The Canberra Times, 1 November 1973, p. 1.

221 NAA: A5915, 816, 6 December 1973.

222 The Canberra Times, 12 December 1973, p. 1.

223 NAA: A12917, HC19/1973.

224 The Canberra Times, 16 May 1980, p. 1.


Chapter 8
Iconic buildings and monuments