Dateline Lake Argyle

Lake Argyle

Spot of swimming? Bit of barbie? Brunch on the beach? Head for the oval to watch the cricket, armed with an Esky? Or, 50 years from now, will the traditions of an Australian summer have morphed into something altogether different?

When a landscape architecture company proposed last year that Lake Argyle, in Western Australia’s far northeast, might be the ideal spot to plant a new city, the idea came with some exciting and enticing imagery intended to whet the appetite for living in a place developed from the wilderness. According to the environmental scientist partly responsible for the concept, “there are so many opportunities here, there are more than 70 islands here, you can imagine resorts on different islands, you can imagine Australians really enjoying themselves in this beautiful part of the country. Not many people get to experience it, and those that do… find it breathtaking, so I can sort of see this place as a great site for a conurbation of some sort, imagine it.”

The comments come from David Kaesehagen, Managing Director of Ecoscape, which took out first prize in the 2013 CAPITheticAL competition, created in celebration of Canberra’s centenary.

Ecoscape’s entry proposed a second national capital to be built on the shores of Lake Argyle (Australia’s largest artificially created lake, in the Kimberley), using the precedent of multiple capitals serving different functions as seen in countries such as South Africa, the Netherlands and Israel. The sister capitals would share federal governmental power between them. The city would address challenges facing Australia into the next century such as climate change, population growth and distribution, indigenous culture, food security, Australia’s position in the Asian Century and multiculturalism. Nothing happened until September this year when a parliamentary committee considering development policies for Northern Australia tabled its final report, naming more than 40 recommendations to boost economic growth in the region, including a range of new road, rail and water projects, as well as a full investigation of the potential and practicality of special economic zones.

The chairman of the committee said there are serious obstacles that will have to be addressed, although government will remains strong to develop Northern Australia over the next 50 years, focusing on areas including agriculture, tourism and infrastructure. Will this report be any different to many predecessors that gather dust on shelves? Possibly, with the help of the Ecoscapes of this world, because its idea showed some clever thinking and it might just work. Lake Argyle, created by the damming of the Ord River in the 1960s, was identified as the perfect site for a second national capital, with a population of 150,000 living on its shores and out into a series of interconnected islands. The plan includes an international airport.

The site has water, land and sunshine in abundance, said Ecospace. Best of all, it would be summer all year round at Lake Argyle – no spring, autumn or winter, just a wet and a dry (and it gets VERY wet in the tropics, so ‘summer’ might sometimes be less attractive than in, say, Sydney nearly 4,500km away). So 50 years from now, residents of this new paradise will doubtless be doing much the same as what Australians everywhere do today – for this remains, despite all the alternative distractions, the greatest place in the world to be outdoors.

Overwhelmingly, the most popular activities involve water (so the 1,000 square kilometres of Lake Argyle will sure come in handy) – whether it’s Bondi’s iconic surfing beach or Brisbane’s fake sandy shore on the city’s South Bank. Swimming with dolphins or whale sharks; diving the reefs of Ningaloo or north Queensland; sailing with one of the thousands of yacht clubs and marinas that dot the entire coastline – water sport does not have to be expensive, and it’s not only for expert mariners; a canoe or kayak can be bought quite cheap and slung in the back of the ute (but do use some kind of flotation device in case you get into difficulties).

Listing the festivals around the country would take up most of this magazine. Nearly all of them are at least partly outdoors and featuring cultural as well as fun programmes (as if the two were somehow separate entities!). The Woodford Folk Festival a hundred or so kilometres north of Brisbane combines the Indigenous festival of The Dreaming with a huge spectrum of music in a six-day spree. Increasingly, Indigenous activities are celebrated by the population as a whole and are key elements of the big city festivals (Adelaide, Feb 27-Mar 15; Sydney, Jan 8-26; Perth, Feb 13-Mar 7) that often turn into one long street party. City festivals are as much a part of summer as Factor 50 (Slip! Slop! Slap! Seek! Slide! Although the smart word nowadays is to wear the hat but ditch the sunscreen, which may actually accelerate burning).

Sport reigns supreme – participation is so prevalent that many visitors to Australia find it difficult to understand how there is anyone left to watch the games being played. World-class events of tennis, formula one, golf, and cricket are all important pieces of the summer jigsaw, but there is much more: how about dirt biking around the Top End, or skydiving on (or over) the Gold Coast? Or even bowls, a game once reserved for the elderly but now becoming trendy thanks to making younger players take their shoes off.

Of course, such activities tend to work up a thirst, and there is no denying Australians like a gargle in summer. The Esky takes pride of place in the ute and the designated driver has the job of keeping filled with ice-cold tubes. Unless, of course, the party prefers wine, in which case a whole new summer unfolds – visits to country wineries, dinner on the lawn or the beach with an ice-bucket filled with Australian Chardonnay or Viognier. Food – especially seafood near the water – does not have to be so expensive and is always great to eat after a day spent rushing about in such activities.

What would be lacking at Lake Argyle would be a regional and rural element, as the area is so empty at present. So residents might have to miss out on riding brumbies through the countryside, or hillwalking, among many popular rural pursuits in the ACT or New South Wales. But it’s clear to see that otherwise, whatever people will think of living in the new capital if it goes ahead, they will be doing just what people are doing now in the rest of Australia.

Inevitably, along with summer and fun come all the jeremiads from do-gooders trying to stop us from enjoying ourselves. Australia seems polarised between the hedonists and puritans, the fun-lover and the politically correct (the so-called ‘larrikin-wowser nexus’). In these intemperate times it would be unwise to call them killjoys, but a daunting number of individuals or organisations seem determined to make the rest of us feel either guilty or ashamed of our hobbies and pursuits, especially if they are outdoors. Did you know that quad-biking is the biggest single killer on rural properties? That millions die each year from skin cancer caused by sunburn? Thousands are chomped by sharks, rendered catatonic by irukandji, taken by crocs, pummelled by pythons or bitten by funnel-webs each summer – indeed, it’s a wonder there are any Australians still breathing by autumn.

An exaggeration, of course, but it is true that many of our favourite summer things can be dangerous or even fatal if we don’t take care. So do take a lot of care. Check your insurance, too… But above all, enjoy the summer.

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July 19, 2018, 7:53 PM AEST