News & Commentary, Visual Arts

The empty buildings of Darwin prove the ugly truth of the absence of public good

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In the last two years two opportunity shops have emerged in Darwin. One in its main mall and one on Knuckey street. That alone is of significance. But, what does it tell you when a two dollar shop in a town’s centre closes down?

Darwin artist, critic and barrister Koulla Roussos has recently been taking photographs of the empty buildings of Darwin and provides some answers.

I often think about the lessons of the Renaissance when reflecting on my city. One of those lessons is the legacy of the wealthy, the architects, the artists and the philosophers who came together to rescue beauty, truth and wisdom from the dark ages of history. Those citizens sought to shape their present and future with the public good in mind and turned to philosophy to nurture the beautiful and the good.

Darwin is so far removed from that Renaissance ideal and is just the right size to get a global perspective on the zeitgeist cannibalising our time.

I take photographs of these empty Darwin buildings to highlight the absence of the public good ideal shaping our city.

We are shaped by the buildings around us. Successful urbanism is not an accident. Darwin is the quintessential post-historical frontier town masquerading as a fake city, an ugly city where the overwhelming ethos is one of indifference; where the spectacle of private opulence thinly camouflages public squalor, squander and neglect.

Darwin is an excellent metaphor for the belligerency shaping our time.

Empty NAB Bank, Mitchell Street, Darwin


Empty Corner Shop, Mitchell Street, Darwin


Empty Darwin Community Legal Service offices


[box]Main image: Empty Two Dollar shop, Smith Street Mall, Darwin[/box]


This article was originally published on Bob Gosford’s Crikey blog This Northern Myth

10 responses to “The empty buildings of Darwin prove the ugly truth of the absence of public good

  1. Well done Koulla . Keep up the rage. Far too many cities have vacant shops that can be filled with stuff for sale that no one wants even though they buy up big when the shop is closing down at cheap prices. What’s that I said! Aren’t we all buying too much rubbish already and filling our garages with stuff we will never use again? Who else would want this stuff to put in their spare rooms or garages? Even the Sunday markets are full of cheap overseas rubbish tarted up with a ribbon or two, except for the fresh fruit and veggies. This is just going around in circles. Save your cents and the dollars will take care of themselves. No more new buildings with gleaming interiors. Do up the old ones.

  2. Indeed – time to fill these empty spaces with social services, citizen protection, citizen advocacy centres – youth centres, aged facility day care — the things we entrust our governments with providing – but which is all being given over to “for-profit” “privatised providers! Or fill them as Newcastle successfully did in recent years as the old city centre was hollowed out – with artists and crafts people co-operatives – bringing the city back to a kind of youthful vibrancy and heart-filled life. Darwin – competing for US service personnel dollars and a port facility owned by the Chinese government needs to look after its citizens far better than Koulls report suggests!

  3. There are empty shops and offices in all our cities ,factories too the place is actually going backwards ,when Ford ,Holden and Toyota leave it will be bereft of any decent manufactures of anything ,see what the future brings AYE???

  4. Koulla, we need more people like you to speak out and put the ugly truth on the front page, not crocodiles, snakes and other crap, you are an inspiration and speaker of uncomfortable truths

  5. Spot on Koulla. I have been to Darwin only a couple of times but when I have gone it has always struck me as a ‘city’without a vision of itself. So many missed opportunities. And yet, so much possibility. The empty urban spaces are an apt metaphor. There is no reason that Darwin could not be one of the most beautiful and vibrant cities in Australia. Indeed Asia.

  6. I wish the article was longer. It did not do enough to make its point.

    It starts lofty with zeitergeists and renaissance talk, but then sort of fades into a few empty shops.

    I’m sure theres a story here and look forward to reading it. More please!

  7. Where is the rest of the article? Koulla you begin to make a point but I’ll need more than this to be convinced that Darwin is worse than other cities. A lot of shopping strips go through very bad times, particularly where there is an economic downturn. They can be saved with creative thinking. Newcastle is an excellent example. I know both cities and I think something similar could work in Darwin.
    The disparities in wealth and opportunity in Darwin are stark, and the Territory government of recent years hasn’t helped. May better times be ahead.

  8. Sad. I have lived in Darwin for 40 + years. What are the reasons they haven’t been re-used? Do they have Asbestos? If they do time for upgrade or removal. Changing building regulations + when businesses want to open that they use existing buildings. Larger ones could be used for health & community services. Or they will be ideal places for squatters.

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