It’s just a tree!

by Professor Darryl Jones

There is a Queensland Kauri (Agathis robusta), also known as Kauri Pine or Smooth-barked Kauri, growing conspicuously at the Seven Oaks Street site in Taringa. It is a genuine treasure, of unmeasurable importance and value to people, and to a huge variety of wild creatures that live nearby or occasionally visit.

It must have been planted there a very long time ago, as this species naturally occurs in only two locations: around Maryborough and Fraser Island, and on the Atherton Tablelands. This disjunct distribution tells us something of this tree’s ancient lineage; this was a species which covered much of coastal Queensland, long-before the arrival of dinosaurs (and survives long after they disappeared). These two locations are remnants of former dominance.

The district’s major tree
Kauris can reach a height of 50 metres so this one has some way to go yet. But already it is the major tree of the entire district, dominating the skyline and acting as a prominent feature.

We began to appreciate the immense geographical significance of this single tree during our studies of the daily movements of birds such as Rainbow Lorikeets and Torresian Crows, but also Eastern Koels and Channel-billed Cuckoos. All of these, admittedly noisy birds, used the Kauri as their main geographical marker as they moved through the area, especially as they flew towards the trees they were going to roost in for the night. All of these birds also perched in this tree in order to survey the local area, and all have been known to sleep within its dense foliage as well.

A remarkable number of species
But these are just the big, obvious birds. In our observations, we recorded a remarkable number of species visiting, resting, feeding and almost certainly nesting within the tree. These included Blue-faced Honeyeaters, Yellow-faced Honeyeaters, Noisy Friarbirds, Silvereyes, Black-faced Cuckoo-Shrikes and Pied Currawongs. But microbats also use it too, although we currently don’t know which species.

A decades-in-the-making habitat
Ecologically, big trees are just part of the overall habitat mix of an area. They are crucial as the upper stories of a complex wildlife landscape and combine with the smaller trees and shrubs below to provide a dense and continuous environment for animals to hide, shelter, feed and breed, even in a highly human-dominated location such as Taringa. Such a habitat takes decades to develop and become a familiar and secure home for local and visiting species.

Some trees cannot be replaced
But some trees are particularly significant. There structural dominance and overall size represent the framework around which the entire local landscape is constructed. Remove that one component and the entire ecosystem fails. It is simply impossible – and impossibly naïve – to think that such an interconnected and prominent long-term natural construction could be replicated or replaced.

No, it’s NOT just a tree!

Professor Darryl Jones is a behavioural ecologist working in the fields of urban ecology and wildlife management. He is especially interested in urbanisation and the way certain species are adapting to this process.  Darryl’s new book is ‘The Birds at my Table’, a fascinating look at how and why humans feed birds, and the importance of this relationship. You can learn more about Darryl’s book on Facebook: @thebirdsatmytable

What people with dementia want from residential care homes

By Kate Swaffer

Kate Swaffer explains what people with dementia want from residential care, based on her own experience living with younger onset dementia, as a past care partner advocating for and supporting three people with dementia in residential care, and from feedback she’s gathered during focus groups and interviews with people with dementia around Australia.

The number of Australians in the over 65 age demographic is rising, and as the population continues to age, more and more older Australians and people with dementia will require some sort of care, whether it’s a care partner, community care, respite or a residential aged-care facility.

What consumers want
From the focus groups with people with dementia, and online interviews with hundreds of other individuals with dementia and care partners, this is what consumers say they want in residential care:

  • Re-ablement
  • Exercise, lifestyle and diet, all important to quality of life and well-being.
  • Supports and strategies for disabilities to enable independence
  • Lots of space – inside and outside
  • Own keys or access to an outside area, even if the front door is locked
  • Recreational areas for walking, birds, natural environments
  • Creative environment
  • Meals when they want them, and food that is edible
  • Flexible routines
  • Absence of apparent barriers / walls
  • A screen for audio-visual content (for communal get-togethers)
  • Open access to the outside world (even if chaperoned)
  • Outside community coming in
  • Family able to stay overnight (privacy)
  • Personalised furnishings (everybody wants their own style)
  • Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) friends to stay
  • Resident autonomy and power with their ideas and suggestions taken seriously
  • Use of technology
  • Access to walking groups, dancing classes, normal exercise, gyms, social recreational sport (eg, fishing, bowls etc in the community)
  • Onsite rehabilitation and gymnasium, with sports physiologists or physiotherapists to assist.

Using dementia enabling design
One very important point that must be considered is whether a facility has been built or renovated using the Dementia Enabling Environment Principles (Fleming 2011), as this is becoming a human rights issue for residents in aged and dementia care. Easy access to the outside, not feeling locked in, the ability to engage in everyday lifestyle activities like helping with the washing or cooking, and today, smaller home-style accommodation is becoming not only desirable but is now being provided by a few organisations in the sector and will be demanded in the future. Institutional living is no longer seen as a suitable way to provide the last home a person will ever reside in, at least not from the consumer’s perspective.

It would seem reasonable to assume that the architects, builders and interior designers who build residential aged-care facilities are working to the financial and design specifications of the owners who are funding the building. Such facilities were originally designed in a style similar to hospitals, to support the medical model of care. This meant they have historically been built in an institutional style and layout with rooms leading out to long (often confusing) corridors, with central eating areas, and not always with gardens or access to the outdoors.

The old institutionalised model is still being used in most residential aged-care facilities today, and it does not address the emotional, psychosocial, family and relationship, or recreational needs of most residents. It is based on medical issues such as medication requirements, falls risks and nutritional needs, and then monitoring things such as weight loss and falls, not on quality of life from the perspective of those people living there.

Respecting our rights
It is our human right to feel included, to have freedom, to have real support to live with our disabilities, and for the provision of dementia enabling environments, in the same way as wheelchair ramps are provided. Dementia enabling design is not necessarily costly or difficult to provide, and I hope in Australia we soon legislate it to ensure residential aged-care facility owners and designers do the right thing.

When dementia enabling design is used, the cost of care is often cheaper. For example, if residents feel like it is their home, if they feel like they have freedom and autonomy, then the likelihood of behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia, and therefore the use of costly medication or additional staff or support services, will be reduced.

Facilities that look like they are from the pages of a glossy home design magazine do not necessarily provide optimal care. Optimal care should be measured on how a person feels when they are living there, and poor care, under-trained staff and poor design may be key contributors to the currently documented incidence of behavioural and psychological symptoms being experienced by up to 90 per cent of people with dementia in residential care.

Creating a home
While the notion of ‘keeping us safe’ is important, the feeling of being locked in, locked away, forgotten, ignored and living in an institution is more often the reality for residents with dementia. Including the views of people who live in these facilities in their design may be the best way to ensure they are places we will want to live in.

People with dementia living in care facilities are told it is good for them to go to the activities room and participate in the various (or most often not so varied) activities provided, at the times on the printed timetable stuck on the door in our single room with our single bed. (Yes, a single bed, although if it was really our home, we would be in a queen, king or at least a double bed.) Oh, and this room, supposedly our personal, individualised private space, cannot be locked, nor do we have a key for it, and people rarely knock to enter, they just come in when it suits them. We might be resting, or wanting to be alone, but no, when it is time to eat, or to be bathed, or go to an activity, we are disturbed, often without the courtesy of the visitor in ‘our home’ asking if it suits us. In the same way that someone would request to enter our home if we were living in the community, if we end up needing to live in a residential aged-care facility, everyone, including the staff, owners, our family and friends, should come into our small private space only as our invited guest.

Getting it right
There are a few organisations in Australia who are using the dementia enabling principles, but the one that comes to my mind first is Group Homes Australia. They have small, personalised, dementia enabling homes in the community that look and feel ‘just like home’, with access to the garden, activities in the community and with better staff ratios and training than institutional-style aged care facilities.  This style of residential accommodation and care is optimal and we need to see it rolled out to all areas.

Considering consumers’ views
Many things come down to perception. If I could not get outside through any of the doors in a residential care home, I would immediately feel trapped, as if locked in jail. If I had no access to a kitchen or garden, and was stopped from my daily walking, I would feel upset and undoubtedly become anxious, distressed and eventually angry if this infringement of my right to live my own life persisted.

It is imperative that consumers’ views are included in the design of residential care homes, and that their needs are considered more important than the needs of either family or site owners. After all, they(we) are the ones who will be living there.

Kate Swaffer is CEO, Chair and Co-founder of Dementia Alliance International, Member, World Dementia Council, Board member, Alzheimer’s Disease International, and a PhD Candidate at the University of Wollongong. Contact Kate via


  • The Dementia Enabling Environment Principles are based on the work of Professor Richard Fleming and Kirsty Bennett, at the University of Wollongong: Dementia enabling environment principles
  • Fleming R (2011) An environmental audit tool suitable for use in homelike facilities for people with dementia. Australasian Journal on Ageing 30(3) 108-112.
  • Swaffer K (2016) What the hell happened to my brain?: living beyond dementia. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

This article was first published in the Australian Journal of Dementia Care ( Vol 5 No 3 June/July 2016. An edited extract is republished here with the permission of the author and Hawker Publications Australia Pty Ltd.

‘Favours for mates’ rife in Queensland planning

By Dr Cameron Murray

Town planning systems should coordinate our city development in the public interest, guiding development in socially desirable ways; ways which have been established through decades of research and analysis of the world’s most functional, attractive, and popular cities.

Often, these systems are run for the economic interests of political mates, who use discretionary elements of the planning system to give themselves massive economic gains. These gains come at a cost to the public, and undermine the social benefits desired by the planning system.

Political determinants of re-zoning decisions
Between 2012 and 2014, I undertook the largest ever study on the political determinants of re-zoning decisions to see just how this game is played, and what it costs the rest of us. Using six major planning decisions undertaken by the Queensland government agency, the Urban Land Development Authority (ULDA), I looked at the characteristics of landowners who were re-zoned, and landowners adjacent and across the road, with comparable sized properties that could have been re-zoned, but weren’t.  This is what I found:

  • If you were a landowner with connected relationships – common business connections, member of lobby groups, directors with business connection to the ULDA board – you were far more likely to be re-zoned.
  • 60% of the re-zoned landowners were connected.
  • 90% of the re-zoned landowners were clients of professional lobbyists.
  • The lobbyists had a 100% success rate, with no landowners who employed lobbyists missing out on the re-zoning.
  • 70% of re-zoned landowners were political donors.

During my research, I identified three core ingredients in political favouritism, all of which the Queensland planning system has in spades:

  1. The first is that there must be a honeypot; a valuable economic gain able to be given to private entities with a degree of discretion about who receives it.
  2. The second is that there must be loyal group of mates who are able to sustain an implicit system of trading favours.
  3. Third, there must be a plausible cover story to lets the public believe that this trading of favours is in the public interest.

The honeypot arises from the many discretionary decisions in the planning system. Where developers seek to exceed codified limits, such as height and density restrictions, they can mount an argument that exceeding these limits improves outcomes for the community. Councils have a massive amount of discretion over the interpretation and acceptance of arguments developers make.

Loyal group of mates
Handing out favours is only politically expedient when you get something in return. By establishing trust – a loyal group – through common membership of clubs and industry groups, family and business connections, and by signalling your intention to reciprocate with political donations, politicians and other group members can give favours knowing they will receive them in the future. Instead of taking direct bribes for each decision, they simply give favours to other group members, who later reciprocate amongst themselves, ensuring that any wealth diverted to the group is eventually widely shared amongst all members. This is a mafia-like system, and indeed, my study showed that the relationship network structure of the Queensland property developers was almost identical to that found in other studies of the US-Italian mafia.

Lastly, the pervasive myth widely promoted by the loyal group of mates is that without re-zoning and removing costs from developers, no housing will be built. This is utter nonsense. The best way to get development built is to put time limits on planning approvals and harsh penalties for not meeting the promised new housing supply within the limits. The group of mates use these myths as cover stories to deflect public scrutiny of their actions.

Public protest needed to change the system
This glimpse into the shady world of planning and development in Queensland suggests that the main challenge for creating beneficial change in the planning system is that the system itself is now run by insiders in a game of favour-exchange. It will take aggressive public action and protest to first battle the myths, to then expose the favours, and finally propose better systems and find the political levers necessary to get them passed.

Dr Murray is an economist with a passion for improving society and cutting through the noise to find the real signals in public policy. Specialist areas include environmental economics, rent-seeking and corruption, and property markets. He recently co-authored a book with Professor Paul Frijters, ‘Game of Mates’ which examines the way Australians make money.


By Dr Pat Godbolt

As a long-time resident of Taringa, I am aware of the need for aged-care facilities within our community and I welcome the use of the Seven Oaks Street site for this purpose.

I worked for many years as a health practitioner in general medicine, and one thing I learnt was that most people want to stay in their own homes for as long as they possibly can. If they must move into an aged-care facility, they want to live in a home-like environment and to remain close to their family and friends.

Moving people into aged-care on the periphery of the city, distant from their long-term community, or into overly institutionalised settings, is not best practice and not an approach I would endorse.

Now that the council has asked TriCare to submit a new design for their aged-care facility at Taringa, I think it’s worth considering what kind of facility would offer elderly people an optimal experience.  Let’s look at what the research tells us.

Feeling right at home

Firstly, research shows that aged-care facility design should mimic a residential environment.

According to Adjunct Professor at the University of Queensland and director of Wilson Architects, Hamilton Wilson, when designing a seniors’ living project: “…we need to understand we’re designing someone’s home – places we’d like to live in, want our families to live in, or we’d like to visit.”  In this article published on 10 June 2017, he points out that, “baby boomers will no longer tolerate residential care environments that mirror hospitals rather than homes.”

I think it’s fair to say that TriCare’s original design of a 255-bed, nine-storey residential care facility was certainly ‘hospital-like’.  Let’s hope their new design adopts a more home-like approach.

Caring for people with dementia

The Federal Government’s ‘Aged Care Roadmap’ states that dementia is one of the major reasons why old people enter residential care. In fact, more than 50 per cent of aged-care residents have a diagnosis of dementia.

According to Alzheimer’s Australia, some of the principles of good care include creating an environment that is as home-like as possible and recognising that the presence of pets may have a calming effect.

Other best-practice approaches include providing residents with access to usable outdoor space, access to communal areas, access to gardens, the ability to garden themselves, and the provision of safe wandering areas.

We are very pleased to see that the council has instructed TriCare to preserve the existing vegetation at the Seven Oaks site, including two magnificent trees which have been deemed ‘culturally significant’ by the council and are therefore protected. What a wonderful asset they will be for an aged-care facility, offering prospective residents some beautiful greenery to enjoy, which the research tells us can be a valuable therapeutic experience.

An environment that helps, not hinders

The Agency for Clinical Innovation, part of Aged Care Network NSW, sets out principles for improving healthcare environments for people with dementia. They state that a poorly designed physical environment increases confusion and that the scale of a building should assist and not intimidate.

Best-practice, modern design has addressed this issue in numerous places:

  • In Holland, the Hogewey complex was opened in 2009. It sits on four acres of land. It consists of 23 two-storey houses, each of which accommodate six or seven residents. There are shops including a cafe, supermarket, pub. There are 152 residents. It has been reported by CNN that residents of Hogewey required fewer medications, ate better, lived longer and appeared more joyful than those in standard elderly-care facilities.
  • Similar complexes are being set up in the UK, Switzerland Canada and US.
  • At Glenorchy, North Hobart, Tasmania a village has been designed and is due to open in around 18 months. It will comprise 15 low-rise houses for 90 residents and include shops and a cinema.
  • The Toowoomba Residential Care Service will open a 134-bed facility in 2018. Set on two acres in the centre of Toowoomba, it will comprise three levels with eight wings which will overcome a hospital-like appearance.

“The Eden Alternative”, pioneered by a US geriatrician in the 1990s, is another example of an approach that focuses on the de-institutionalisation of aged-care facilities. In this approach, aged-care facilities are de-institutionalised by using children, animals and plants to create an atmosphere reminiscent of home.

In fact, as reported in this ABC news story, researchers in Australia are now looking at the benefits of intergenerational playgroups which combine child care and aged care as a dual community service model operating on one campus.

Challenging TriCare to do better

Sadly, too few of these excellent facilities are available but it seems to me that new aged-care developments should endeavour to satisfy some, if not all, these criteria.

The Brisbane City Council’s Seniors’ Strategy 2012-2017 states that the Council will encourage “small, niche, well-integrated, well-designed residential aged-care facilities”, so we hope that TriCare’s revised design will align with council’s stated goals.

We hope that TriCare will incorporate these principles in their re-design of the facility and give people the kind of residential-care facility they deserve.

Dr Pat Godbolt has more than four decades’ experience as a medical practitioner, working in general practice and later at the Wesley Hospital.

Architecture that nurtures, not neglects

Architecture that nurtures, not neglects

By Lester Ehrlich

One mark of good architecture is fitness for purpose. Another marker is whether a building is a thing of beauty.

As a long-time resident of Taringa and a practising architect, I am appalled by TriCare’s proposed design for an aged-care facility at Seven Oaks Street, Taringa. In my opinion, the design does not meet either mark because the aged-care building and the other towers are not fit for purpose for the care of our elderly, nor are they beautiful.

Overwhelming bulk, height and scale

The bulk, height and scale of TriCare’s development is overwhelming. Take a look at the model I’ve created and you’ll see what I mean. What’s more, the architectural drawings submitted to council so far, don’t even show a scale bar or dimensions so it’s difficult for people to appreciate the monstrous size of TriCare’s towers.  The Seven Oaks Street precinct is a three-level height precinct and TriCare is proposing to build three towers of 16, 14 and nine storeys!

An unmitigated mass
One way to understand the mass and size of the TriCare towers is to compare them with known buildings. A great example is the Kingshome residential buildings at 180-190 Swann Road. This development comprises three buildings of 68 apartments with one six-storey building and two 7-storey buildings with a total gross floor area of approximately 13,800sqm.

The TriCare proposal comprises three towers:

  • Building 1 has 16 storeys and 98 units in multi-residential retirement facility
  • Building 2 has 14 storeys and 53 units in multi-residential retirement facility
  • Building 3 is a 9-storey residential care facility with 255 beds.

That’s a total gross floor area of 40,480 sqm – three times the size of Kingshome!

Hand-made model by Lester Ehrlich: view looking south from Sundridge Street (Taringa)

Hand-made model by Lester Ehrlich: view from Seven Oaks Street looking south (Taringa)

Flagrant overshadowing and overlooking

The extent of the overshadowing and overlooking of the TriCare towers cannot be over-stated. Residents on Swann Road, and Whitmore and Seven Oaks Streets will lose light, ventilation, northern aspects and views. The overlooking is exacerbated by the TriCare proposal being built on top of the land, not into the land, while also giving their tower units higher ceilings than those in surrounding buildings, therefore increasing the effect of overshadowing.

Fit for purpose should be the goal

The Brisbane City Council’s Seniors’ Strategy 2012-2017 states that the Council will encourage “small, niche, well-integrated, well-designed residential aged-care facilities.”  I cannot see how sticking 255 beds in an aged-care facility in a multi-storey tower and developing two more towers next door, can possibly meet the council’s stated priority.

In fact, is what TriCare proposes really an ‘aged-care facility’?

Our most vulnerable senior citizens deserve something better – buildings and facilities with access to outdoor green spaces, landscaped grounds, and the kind of care that offers them opportunities to remain engaged and active, rather than cooped up like battery hens.

The Federal Government’s ‘Aged Care Roadmap’ indicates that over 53 per cent of residents in aged care have a diagnosis of dementia, and experts in the field, such a Professor James Vickers say that fit-for-purpose facilities are what we should be building.

In this article about a new suburban village designed especially for people with dementia , Professor Vickers says:

“…You need to look at a model where people become de-stressed and the best way of doing that is in a home-like environment.  We need to be looking at facilities that are fit for purpose.”

So what I’m challenging TriCare to do is to please relegate this monster to the ‘un-built work’ drawer, and build something sensitive and respectful for our elderly.  Something that sits within the landscaped grounds, not towering above it. Something that meets the test of fitness for purpose and beauty, and will give Taringa an icon, not an eyesore.

Lester Ehrlich is a director at Elia Architecture and a resident of Taringa. He has expertise in all facets of architectural practice from pre-design to project completion, with special emphasis on design. He has experience in a wide range of projects including commercial, residential, institutional buildings and aged-care projects.