SA govt draws ire over plans to trim Waite assets

Henry Wells, December 10, 2020

Waite campus aerial view looking west. The northern boundary of the arboretum is obscured on the right of the picture. Image: University of Adelaide.


THE South Australian Government has found itself at loggerheads with the University of Adelaide over its plans to resume a strip of land from the university’s Waite Campus for a road-widening project some say is an over-the-top solution for a troubled intersection.

The Waite was described as the biggest and most significant such research institution in the Southern Hemisphere.

The university’s partnerships with commercial business including research organisations in wine and agronomic sciences have run deeply through Australian and international research for nearly 100 years.

As a great great grandchild of Matilda and Peter Waite, who gifted Urrbrae and its surrounding land to the university, I cannot but help share the uni’s concern that this government is placing insufficient value, present and future, on the gift.

The indenture by which Peter Waite made the gift states he was “…desirous of advancing the cause of education…to the better development of the natural resources of the land…”.

It was signed by him in January 1914 and the university registrar attached the seal of the University of Adelaide following a University Council meeting on 27 February 1914.

It is not often such a remarkable bequest is made and to compromise the bequest is an insult to the many associates of Waite research and to the university.

Image capture of Waite Arboretum trees from ArcGIS mapping shows shading effect cooling the earth below. View by clicking on Waite Arboretum link in adjoining paragraph.

Downhill push

The SA Government’s planned development of the intersection will provide six lanes westbound on Cross Road, the northern boundary of the Waite Campus.

That will involve the cutting down of 30 trees in the Waite Arboretum, and the demolition of the Urrbrae Gatehouse, its precinct already compromised in 1965 when the SA Government took a strip of land that sacrificed the gates, bulldozed the stone fence and chainsawed nearby trees.

To the west and east of the Cross Road-Fullarton Road intersection are many more narrow necks on Cross Road,  where hundreds of homes and many businesses make the widening of a link between the South Eastern Freeway and Adelaide’s North-South corridor no easy task.

The plan has already sparked protests and petitions, and the University of Adelaide is calling for advocacy from interested parties to stop the incursion.

A two-month consultation period began last week between SA Government and people interested.

Waite research assets stronger

The Waite is one of the University of Adelaide’s finest assets.

Waite’s linkages run deep through pure and applied research including cereal cropping and viticulture. Its partnerships exist because of its uniqueness and the agricultural industrial family of Waite people includes global linkages with the likes of Denmark’s brewing giant Carlsberg through its research division breeding better barley for malt to make beer.

The Waite is also where my father spent his entire science career as one of CSIRO’s first group of soil scientists at a time when some of the leading lights of plant breeding and other branches of science were helping Australian and global agriculture understand and make better production systems to feed people.

The work continues today and, as the task of agricultural research gets broader, surely the argument for hanging on to the research assets in hand gets stronger.

A visionary man

Peter Waite was a visionary who gave his estate to the university to set up a research institute for the advancement of agriculture.

Today’s government call is blind to the future value of that gift from this family.

High school target

Following his death and that of Matilda a few months apart in 1922, Urrbrae became the university’s, with the Waite Agricultural Research Institute established in 1924, and the Urrbrae Agricultural High School (UAHS) established in 1932.

UAHS, and the adjoining Urrbrae Wetland, could well be the softest targets of all because they already belong to the SA Government.

A bill, the Waite Trust (Vesting of Land) Bill 2020, was recently passed by both houses of the SA Parliament.

When enacted it would allow the Commissioner of Highways to reach into the pocket of the Minister for Education and take some land.

The school itself is unable to advocate against its government, but it has an active alumni of old scholars who will not want to allow the resumptions, including demolishing the last section of the school’s original wall and providing no enhancement to learning.

Better solution needed

Joint SA Government Federal Government road funding on this misguided project will create more bottlenecks at surrounding intersections at the expense of the Waite.

Granted, a difficult task lies ahead of the State Government as it tries to replicate, for example, the Northern Expressway which has been a boon for the movement of grain, pulses and fertiliser into and out of Port Adelaide.

SA has a long history of coming up with innovative solutions to challenging problems such as production in arid regions, transport and energy, its commissioning of Tesla battery such an example.

I only wish the Waites today could offer their practical, Scottish farmers’ hands to the road-planners’ challenge.





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