Posted: 7:14 am on 16th April 2015

The_Lobby“Parts of the [earth’s] cultural or national heritage are of outstanding interest,” the drafters of the  1972 World Heritage Convention wrote, “and therefore need to be preserved as part of the world heritage of mankind as a whole.”

Of course, what they had in mind was Canberra’s venerable old Lobby restaurant.

For those of you not familiar with the building, it dates from 1970, an age before iPhones and Justin Bieber, so ancient it seems barely conceivable that restaurants had even been invented.

John Gorton was Prime Minister, Paul Keating had only been a pollie for about a year, and Johnny Farnham – as he was then – had just released an ill-advised cover of “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head.”

It was a different world, and the restaurant’s “small central spire [which] provides a feature similar to the Late Twentieth-Century Ecclesiastical style,” and its “clearly expressed horizontal planes of the external building platform, eaves, and a clerestory window” make us yearn for those simpler days.

(Incidentally, it was also where Julia Gillard famously lost her blue suede shoe in 2012.)

Who could place this magnificent building anywhere other than in the same category as the ancient walled city of Baku, or the palace at Schönbrunn?

Well, as it turns out, the people who have to look at it every day.

A 2013 survey by the National Capital Authority found that the broader Canberra community thought the restaurant had “little to no significance” in terms of aesthetic value.

Nor did the experts think any differently.

The same survey noted that the Australian Institute of Architect’s ACT Chapter “had not yet identified any significant individual architectural work in Parkes Place” – the site of the Lobby restaurant – for inclusion on its Register of Significant Twentieth Century Architecture.

So why did the National Capital Authority recently spend nearly $50,000 of your money on the “preparation of [a] heritage assessment and masterplan” for the restaurant?

Since Parkes Place and the National Rose Gardens surrounding the restaurant are listed on the Commonwealth Heritage List, it seems, slowly but surely, the tendrils of heritage law are growing around the restaurant too.

Perhaps the NCA were channeling that great hit that topped the Australian singles chart for two weeks in June 1970: Ray Stevens’ “Everything is Beautiful.”

WasteWatch suggests that the Beatles’ “Let It Be” might be a more appropriate guide.

William Shrubb

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