Delivery via Skywhale? ACT government’s flights of fancy over drones

The government leased land in Greenway to Wing for its Bonython trial, but was not involved in helping it secure its permanent base in Mitchell late last year.


«Canberra is well-placed for the rollout of new and disruptive technologies and I welcome your efforts to engage with local businesses to form part of the expanding product offering,» Mr Barr said in the letter.

Three months earlier, Mr Barr’s advisor, Martin Greenwood, wrote to senior government officials to enthuse about a positive meeting with Wing representatives.

Mr Greenwood, now the chief of staff to City Services Minister Chris Steel, said the Google-backed company had been «very complimentary» about its dealings with the ACT government.

«City‐state agility and being ‘open to business’ has been a key focus of the Chief Minister and
government, and is generally our unique point of difference where we lack the scale of other jurisdictions,» Mr Greenwood’s email read.

«It is great that this has been more than a narrative.»

Mr Greenwood signed off the email by saying: «NB – let’s get some Skywhale shaped drones.»

On Wednesday, Mr Greenwood referred The Canberra Times enquiries about his references to Skywhale-shaped drones to the government’s media unit.

In an emailed statement, an ACT government spokesman said: «The government does not own or operate any of the drones used by Wing and we have no plans to procure any delivery drones».

Commissioned as part of Canberra centenary celebrations in 2013, Patricia Piccinini’s Skywhale quickly rose to become the city’s most talked-about hot air balloon. It’s peculiar design divided public opinion and sparked renewed debate and the value of tax-payer funded public art.


Soon after its unveiling, former chief minister John Stanhope said Skywhale had embarrassed the ACT government and tarnished Canberra’s image. The centenary celebrations, intended to showcase Canberra’s virtues to the nation, would instead be symbolised by a «giant tortoise shape with pendulous breasts», he said.

His successor, Katy Gallagher, said her «eyes nearly fell out of her head» when she first saw diagrams of Skywhale’s design, but later grew fond of the balloon.

Dan Jervis-Bardy is a Canberra Times reporter.

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