22 March 2023

Canberra's iconic Telstra Tower set to reopen - but we'll have to hang on a little longer

| James Coleman
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Black Mountain Tower

Telstra Tower towers 157 metres above the summit of Black Mountain. Photo: James Coleman.

The highest views of Canberra are finally coming back!

Telstra Tower is one of the most recognisable silhouettes of our skyline, but the iconic venue has been closed to the public since July 2021, disappointing countless visitors who make it up Black Mountain only to be met by construction fences and the odd hoon tearing up rubber in the car park.

Well, Telstra has finally confirmed plans to turn the 157-metre-high telecommunications tower into a “premier destination”.

“Our vision is for the Telstra Tower to be an iconic world-class venue that celebrates and embraces both the Ngunnawal culture and the role the Tower has played in the history of telecommunications in Australia,” Telstra general manager for NSW/ACT Chris Taylor said.

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Over the past six months, Telstra has used consulting company Deloitte to liaise with Indigenous traditional owners, tourism providers and government agencies to “create the concept for a cultural icon that provides sustainable benefit and impact for Ngunnawal people, InfraCo [Telstra] and the broader community”.

“We have recently concluded the consultation phase and we’re currently considering next steps on bringing this vision to life,” Mr Taylor said.

Telstra Tower was constructed in the mid-1970s as an “important telecommunications site”, but it turns out being that high in the sky comes with some tourism appeal too. In its heyday, it welcomed almost 500,000 people every year. Two outdoor observation decks provided 360-degree views across Canberra, while a revolving restaurant inside allowed visitors to see everything without having to get up from their meal.

silhouette of tower at sunset

Telstra Tower at sunset, a familiar shot. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

However, public access to the tower ceased in July 2021, and the revolving restaurant was closed almost 10 years for safety reasons.

Now with a bent towards celebrating Ngunnawal history, Telstra’s plans include upgraded viewing platforms with digital technology to “appreciate First Nations history”.

The base of the tower has always included a small museum of sorts, but this is set to be complemented by “education programs on cultural history and ties with the surrounding Ngunnawal land as well as the history of the telecommunications industry”.

There will also be “community engagement activities” such as market gardens, bush-tucker programs, art exhibitions, storytelling and cultural demonstrations with the Ngunnawal people.

And yes, food and drink are coming back with “culturally inspired dining facilities”. Will it revolve? Time will tell.

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These ideas may not be quite the same as what emerged in 2019 after the ACT Government invited suggestions for the future of the landmark. A cable car to Mount Ainslie and a giant water slide to Lake Burley Griffin were suggested (but quickly ruled out).

But something is finally happening, and Canberra’s independent tourism body is “very encouraged”.

“It’s an embarrassment at the moment,” Canberra Region Tourism Leaders Forum chairman David Marshall told Region.

“When you drive up there, it just looks terribly unkept and derelict.”

Sign on door

A sign photographed on 15 July 2021 saying Telstra Tower was closed: ‘further notice’ is in 2025. Photo: Supplied.

Mr Marshall expects the upgrades to cost several million dollars, but is pushing Telstra to fast-track them ahead of a reopening date in 2025.

“We’re suggesting there should be a sense of urgency about this because it’s an iconic attraction featured on most of the marketing material pushed out by Visit Canberra,” he says.

“I don’t necessarily think people are going to come here to see the tower, but it adds to the quality of the tourism product we have. We’re always desperately keen to continue to upgrade and develop and expand that.”

Toyota GR86 at Telstra Tower

James Coleman is a frequent visitor to Telstra Tower for car reviews (but they’re not his tyre marks). Photo: James Coleman.

Telstra was unable to confirm when the tower is expected to reopen.

“With such a range of changes planned, many requiring the involvement of a range of external organisations, Telstra doesn’t have any specific timeframes for a public reopening date as yet,” Mr Taylor said.

“However, we will keep the community informed when we know more.”

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I’m surprised the ACT government hasn’t sent someone on a junket to Toronto to view their tower, designed by the same guy Australian John Hamilton Andrews (see wikipedia for history of tower and detail). It is spectacular inside, especially the glass floor at the top where you can sit, stand or lie on it whilst you look down. An amazing experience!

The tour of CN tower was great and they made lots of money from the merchandise they sold. It really is a destination in Toronto and well advertised. Of course, it is easily accessible in the city, whilst Telstra tower is not so easy to get to, not walkable for most nor on public transport. https://www.cntower.ca/

Capital Retro4:29 pm 23 Mar 23

“culturally inspired dining facilities”

Yum yum. Grilled goanna, koala cutlets and platypus patties for starters.

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