Rumour and misinformation continue to surround the future of Martindale Hall, as locals seek answers from the government about what lies ahead for this Clare Valley icon.
Following months of speculation, Liberal Party MLC Terry Stephens used question time in State Parliament last Thursday to ask Ian Hunter, Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, whether Martindale Hall would be sold.
“I have asked the department to investigate future options for either the business continuing or otherwise.
“Once I have that information back, I will be making a determination,” Minister Hunter is reported in Hansard as saying.
When asked to qualify what he meant by ‘otherwise’, he did not rule out that it included the sale of the property.
Representatives of the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources, which manages the property, attend an extra ordinary meeting of the Mintaro Progress Association last Wednesday to provide an update on the government’s position on the hall.
The Northern Argus was not invited to or advised of the meeting, but reports indicate attendees were not permitted to ask questions or participate in discussion, and the meeting has fuelled the fears of some people in the community.
“The Government undertook a comprehensive public expression of interest process for Martindale Hall but no proponents were recommended,” a spokesperson for DEWNR said, in response to a series of questions put to the department by the Northern Argus.
“The Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources is now considering future, sustainable uses of the property to ensure its heritage values are preserved and its tourism value recognised and maximised.
“The Department is open to all options which will best protect Martindale Hall’s heritage values and will continue to consult with representatives from the local community and tourism industry in making a decision.”
The spokesperson confirmed the previous lease had expired on June 30, the leasees would be leaving the property on December 1, and caretaker arrangements would be put in place to maintain public access to the Hall while future uses of the site are considered further.
Exactly what those arrangements are remains to be seen.
“It’s not fair, I need to know so I can let people know when they phone through to make a booking,” Tracy Waechter said.
Tracy has run a Museum and Bed and Breakfast business and lived in the manager’s quarters at Martindale Hall for the past 14 years, but from December 1 she will be without a home and a job.
Because she has not been informed of the caretaker arrangements in place from December, she has had to turn away bookings for accommodation and dinner at the hall, and has had to cancel existing bookings that ran well into next year.
“I was led to believe my lease would be renewed, and attended a meeting in Adelaide where I thought I would be signing a new lease,” she said.
Instead, a letter was pushed across the table towards her, giving her three months’ notice to quit the premises.
The stress and recent focus on the issue has exhausted her, but she wants the focus to remain on the hall, not on her.
“The department is not giving any information away. “I just wish they’d be upfront and honest about it all,” she said.
With the right buyer, who can fund ongoing restoration of the hall, and keep it open for public access, selling may be the best option for the Georgian manor.
However Executive Officer of the National Trust of South Australia, Dr Darren Peacock, does not think the government would be able to find a private operator who had the resources to take on Martindale Hall, nor is he even sure the government is legally permitted to sell the building. Martindale Hall was gifted to the University of Adelaide by the Mortlock family in 1965, and gifted to the people of South Australia by the university in 1986, and any sale would be dependent on the terms of the gift.
He said the government had not yet consulted the National Trust about the building, but “we’d happily take it off their hands to ensure it was properly conserved, operated and continuously open to the public”.
“The State Heritage Listing gives the building some protection, but does not guarantee the building will be preserved and the public given access,” Dr Peacock said.
“The Minister also has the power to remove a building from the register, and that is a power we would like to see removed.
“DEWNR is a complete failure in managing these properties and promoting them as tourist attractions.
“They are doing exactly what they did with the old Adelaide Gaol – close it, leave it empty to deteriorate, then sell it off – when they were given it to look after for the people, for future generations of South Australians.
“Until 2010 there was a Minister for Heritage, but the current government is not interested in preserving or promoting Martindale Hall.
“Nowhere in the government’s tourism strategy is there mention of heritage, but that is what appeals to people.
“Heritage tourism brings millions of dollars into the state,”
Sharon Morris, operator of Mintaro Maze agrees if the hall was closed to the public it would have a big impact on tourism in the region.
“When I was doing my research when setting up my business, I found even people who were focused on wine might go to three or four wineries on a visit, but then they are looking for something else.”
“I’m concerned about the rumours and information that has been going around.
“I’ve had tourists coming in here telling me it is closing.
“I’ve not been told it has been sold, but even if they had a buyer, I’ve heard it has to go through parliament, which could take ages.”
Another Mintaro resident, Hamish Gosse has been involved in Martindale Hall for over 40 years, including on the board of the former Martindale Hall Conservation Trust.
He is pragmatic about the situation and encourages people to think practically about the hall rather than letting emotions cloud their views, a turnaround from his response to the University of Adelaide’s sale of Martindale Farm, when he was reported as being “really up in arms”.
“The lease has run out and maintenance costs run at $100,000 more than the government is getting for the lease, so they are looking for alternatives.
“The National Trust doesn’t have a cent, the government doesn’t have funds.
“I think people are becoming emotional because people think it’s going to happen all at once, but there will be consultation and planning; it won’t happen without a considerable amount of thought.
“Selling is a long and involved process and any sale will have certain stipulations such as the hall must be open for day visits,” he said.
In writing this article, the Northern Argus asked many people in the community what their viewpoint was on Martindale Hall. In addition to those in the story, the following people submitted their comments:
“I’m advised that the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources is currently considering future options for the hall, but a decision is yet to be made.
“I wasn’t invited to the meeting between the department and the Mintaro Progress Association, but as the local member I’m happy to work with the association, the council, local residents and businesses to achieve the best long term outcome for the Martindale Hall site.”
Hon Geoff Brock MP, Member for Frome
"The Department conducted a public EOI call earlier in the year seeking to attract a commercial operator for Martindale in accordance with the EOI objectives.
"The document sought a long term lease and mentioned the possibility of ownership in the longer term.
"Council is not aware of the department progressing beyond this stage and the information presented at the Mintaro meeting indicated that the department is still seeking to enter into a new lease/ management agreement for the property.
"I attended the Mintaro meeting on my own initiative as an interested stakeholder.
"Martindale Hall is a key strategic asset for the Clare Valley and is a major drawcard for visitation and tourism business.
"Whilst the commercial negotiations are outside the council's jurisdiction it is important for many reasons that this iconic property is managed and presented in a way that is reflective of its status in the history of South Australia.
"The EOI issued by the Department reports a strong commitment by the State Government to ensuring that Martindale makes a major contribution to building the State's tourism product.
Roy Blight, Chief Executive Officer, Clare and Gilbert Valleys Council
"Martindale Hall is a jewel in South Australia’s cultural landscape and it is unthinkable that it would be privatised,” said Shadow Minister for Environment and Conservation.
“The privatisation of Martindale Hall would be an act of vandalism against South Australia’s cultural history by the Weatherill Labor Government.
“The privatisation of Martindale Hall is a direct result of years of financial incompetence by the Weatherill Labor Government.”
Hon Michelle Lensink MLC, Deputy Liberal Leader of the Legislative Council, Shadow Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation