21/01/2010 - 00:00

Pilgrims pound pavement at Jacob’s Ladder

21/01/2010 - 00:00


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There has been a distinct lack of entrepreneurial spirit with regard to a Perth landmark.

IN 2008, we published a list of 34 ideas for Western Australia.

Some of them were major initiatives for the state, while others were frivolous and fun. Somewhere at the more frivolous end of this list was a suggestion that, as the centenary of Jacob’s Ladder drew near, someone ought to make an effort to tart up this much-loved stairway.

We thought this was a simple concept (with ideas including a duplication, as was done with the Narrows Bridge a few years back), especially given the stairs were turning 100 last year.

Alas nothing, to our knowledge, happened.

So it was with a little surprise that I was told this week that the City of Perth has budgeted $100,000 to fund the development of ideas to rejuvenate some parts of its domain including Jacob’s Ladder.

The reason I raise this is not to claim credit for anything, but more to highlight how sometimes we miss the point here in Western Australia. We are supposed to be so entrepreneurial, yet a busy location like Jacob’s Ladder has been allowed to deteriorate without anyone but the ‘boot campers’ of this world realising what a valuable asset it.

For those who have recently arrived from elsewhere or whose ears go deaf around any discussion about health and fitness, Jacob’s Ladder is probably the most referenced exercise point in Perth. The so-called ladder is actually a series of staircases winding their way down the steep hill on the eastern edge of the city from the top of Mount Street to Mounts Bay Road.

Poking out from The Thermos, an apt nickname for a nearby apartment block, the stairs start at a lookout offering great views of the city and river, from which users descend in stages through a rough patch of far-from-virgin bush to emerge at the foot of some tired-looking flats.

A huge number of people make a daily pilgrimage to this structure, going up and down as many times as their fitness, coach, motivation, weary legs or doctors will allow. It is busiest at the beginning and end of the day, when office workers make an effort to shed the effects of their sedentary day.

Seasonal variation brings sporting teams of different types, which can add to the sense of rush hour in the stairs. The under-employed or shift workers keep the location employed outside peak periods.

Perhaps, it is the return trip, with an ascent from mediocrity to the uplifting vista of the city, which makes the circuit more attractive to those seeking health. Maybe it’s the variety of people on the stairs and the challenge of passing slower moving traffic while ensuring tired feet still hit each step accurately.

Whatever the case, the lack of parking and the possibility of annoying neighbours has done little to dampen Perth’s enthusiasm for Jacob’s Ladder for decades – let alone the sheer popularity, which can make the stairway unnavigable at times.

And that has led me to wonder why no-one has ever done anything to attempt to improve the facility or replicate this concept.

Why, for instance, haven’t users banded together to push for a duplicate ladder? I would have thought that would provide for one-way flow, allowing ascent and descent to be separated.

The grounds at the base of the stairs could be expanded for those warming up or catching their breath, given the absence of room at the top.

Maybe even a pay-per-go electronic counter, which electronically tags you and count your trips, time and heart rate as you hammer the steps.

And what about a funicular for those who don’t want the exercise and just get in the way of the athletes? Perhaps such a device could be manually powered, with teams of boot camp members pushing some vast capstan winch, like sailors weighing anchor in more technologically challenged times.

Alternatively, if Perth likes this concept so much, why haven’t our entrepreneurial types come up with more of them?

Kings Park has several suitable locations, including the DNA Tower, which is already popular for this kind of exercise but seems less capable of handling the same level of traffic.

There are many locations that could exhibit the same attributes. What about a ladder up the side of a high-rise in the CBD; or even a stairway to nowhere on the foreshore; far more original than a dwarf Ferris wheel.

All this may seem very much a frivolous enterprise to some readers but it does make one wonder if WA isn’t so focused on the big picture of resources development that we’ve lost the ability to innovate at the smaller level.

Here is a place that has become bumper-to-bumper with people using it for purposes well outside its designer’s intentions.

Its existence in generally flat Perth highlights that people want stairs to climb for exercise – that’s only to be encouraged, so let’s give them more of them.

Pilbara perspective

THIS week we’ve run a guest column by Aboriginal businessman, Barry Taylor.

Late last year, Mr Taylor riled a few readers by suggesting that some of WA’s biggest mining groups were not pulling their weight when it came to giving contracts to indigenous companies, especially members of the Pilbara Aboriginal Contractors Association, which he chaired.

In fact, he said BHP Billiton was the only real contributor, spending $80 million with PACA members, most of which was through Ngarda Civil and Mining, a business partly owned by an indigenous community group with which Mr Taylor is involved.

In fact, Mr Taylor was wrong. Rio Tinto, for instance, spends millions on PACA members. The number in 2009 was $34 million, including a significant proportion of that being with Ngarda – somewhere around $18 million is my understanding – which is significantly more than zero.

Rio also says it spends more than $110 million with indigenous joint ventures, most of which are not PACA members.

Understandably, Rio and other miners are not interested in getting involved in slanging matches, but as acting editor I chosen to give Mr Taylor’s piece a run because I think this area of business needs a lot more light shed on it.

The debate over the inclusion of Aboriginal people in Australia’s development and ensuring they stand on their own two feet economically is a national one which has big consequences for business in WA.



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