Casuarina celebrates 50 years as heart of the community

May 10, 2023

The Territory’s oldest and largest shopping centre is celebrating its 50th birthday this week.

Officially opened on 23 May 1973, Casuarina Square has grown from 29 shops to more than 180 and has shared the highs and lows of the past half-century with the Top End community.

To celebrate, Casuarina Square is hosting a party on Friday featuring a free performance by premier Australian dance-band Sneaky Sound System, kids activities, contests and giveaways.

The fun begins at 3pm with face-painting and balloon twisting, a MitMat4D photobooth, a special screening of the documentary Casuarina Through the Ages, a birthday cake, and a chance to win a trip to Bass in the Grass in a Mustang and giveaways valued over $20,000.

Sneaky Sound System will hit the stage to perform a 50-minute set from 7pm.

Casuarina Square manager Polly Lamond said Sentinel Property Group, which purchased the centre from GPT last year, said Territorians are the key to the milestone celebrations.

“Casuarina Square was built for the community by the community and so we believe it is only right to celebrate this momentous occasion with the people who made it possible, our customers,” Ms Lamond said.

“This is the largest shopping centre in the NT and has been proudly servicing the Top End community since 1973. Casuarina Square is the heart of the community with customers visiting the centre on average one-and-a-half times per week.

“Our priority is to provide a safe, comfortable and positive shopping experience for our customers while delivering first to market brands and unique, key seasonal events.”

It’s estimated over the course of 50 years as many as 10,000 Territorians may have worked at Casuarina Square – many of those in first jobs.

Leonie McNally was one of the centre’s earliest employees. She began as part of a team of two after Cyclone Tracy tore off the roof and closed the centre until September 1975.

“It had only been trading for less than 19 months when the girl blew in and I joined the team then – the centre manager and me,” she said.

Built by Lendlease, the Square was originally 29 shops with Coles as an anchor tenant. After the cyclone the centre was extended to 65 shops including Kmart, which was then considered to be out the back.

“When Casuarina opened it was certainly a big deal,” Leonie said. “It had a wonderful selection of shops with only 29 small retailers and a lot of those were local businesses not national chains and it was a wonderful mix of tenants. It was where you went if you wanted something special.

“Following the rebuild we had a captive audience. Darwin was devastated and people were living in harsh circumstances and everybody came for the airconditioning.

“Tracy took the roof off and damaged quite a few of the tenancies although some remained reasonably unchanged. Coles lost its refrigeration but it was just so welcomed when we reopened.

“It was an air-conditioned environment for a cuppa and morning tea and tradies would come in at lunchtime to get out of the hard conditions. We even had automatic doors with air-curtains to keep in the cool.

“It was a meeting place. We had late night shopping on Friday night, we’d have music, demonstrations, displays and everything we did was just really well attended.”

As just the centre’s second ever owner, Sentinel Property Group chief executive Warren Ebert said he understood its importance to Territorians.

“On Boxing Day we had over 30 per cent of the total population of Darwin at Casuarina Square,” he said. “There wouldn’t be a shopping centre anywhere else in Australia that would do that.”

In the same way the centre today is unrecognisable from opening day in 1973, so too will it be 50 years from now.

What won’t change will be its social and economic value to the Northern Territory.

Combined with the CasCom centre and the Casuarina Club, Sentinel has 15 hectares at the site which gives it plenty of space for future growth and expansion.

“In 20, 30, 50 years we’ll develop a town centre at Casuarina in partnership with the government and City of Darwin to do the best thing for the city overall.”

Camden Smith | NT News

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