Monarto’s Contested Landscape

  • Paul Walker
  • Jane Grant
  • David Nichols


The proposal to develop a new city at Monarto in South Australia during the 1970s was an important project of the reforming government of Don Dunstan. Dunstan’s view was that Monarto would be a city environmentally suited to the tough conditions of its site, and to an ‘Australian way of life’. As planning and preliminary design proceeded from 1972 to 1975, the landscape potential of the city’s selected site became central to its conception. This paper draws on new research comprising interviews with key participants and archival material to examine four issues: the adoption of an environmental orientation in Australian urban planning and discourse in the 1970s; strategies in the design proposals that seemingly gave Monarto validity even as the demographic and political drivers for it dissolved away; the investigations that supported Monarto’s landscape strategies; and attitudes to social and cultural history that the Monarto project adopted. While ultimately the plan for Monarto was abandoned, the projected city’s landscape can be seen as a theatre for competing values in relation to natural and cultural heritage and design ambitions. The paper situates Monarto within national and international urban discourse that is more complex than has been previously acknowledged, indicative of competing values and ideologies in the planning, landscape and design discourses of the period.