Sunday, October 28, 2018

Maitland City Council's new museum plan and the city's historical significance

West Maitland 1890s

Very few people even perhaps in Maitland realise just how historic the city is. Maitland was established in 1820. Melbourne was established in 1835. By then, Maitland and its river port at Morpeth had begun to develop as entrepot for the European settlers now spreading north. It would be decades before the small settlement at Newcastle passed Maitland in population.

I mention this now because Maitland City Council has unanimously backed an action plan to establish a new and revolutionised model for museums in the city.  (Meg Francis, Maitland Council back report on revolutionising city's historical collections, Maitland Mercury, 28 October 2018).

While I have not read the report on which the decision is based, the idea of the creation of an over-arching museum structure that will link together all of Maitland's museums and historical collections strikes me as a good one.

I do get annoyed because so many people fail to recognise Maitland's historic role. not just as an entrepot but as a centre of professional and broader commercial services for New England over many decades. The Maitland Mercury itself was a key journal of record, while Maitland's professionals including lawyers and architects played an important role in the development of New England life including the built landscape.

I hope that the Maitland Council will recognise that and build it into its visitor promotion.  


Wednesday, October 10, 2018

New England architecture and architects feature in this year's NSW 2018 NSW Country Architecture Awards

Armidale - Refuge/Prospect, Armidale, by Virginia Wong-See architecture@altitude. Winner of the Award for Small Project Architecture. Photo by Brett Boardman.
This year's 2018 NSW Country Architecture Awards featured architecture and architects from across the broader New England.

Byron Bay architects Dominic Finlay Jones Architects took out no less than five awards and three commendations. These honours included the award for Residential Architecture – Multiple Housing presented for the Habitat Live Work project, which provides a new building prototype featuring basic, good-quality, lower-cost housing with articulated home-office workspaces and is set within a sustainable development encouraging collective creativity.

The jury said: ‘This is an excellent prototype development, which is imaginatively conceived and beautifully executed, and deserving of a multiple housing award.’

Kingscliff architects Aspect Architecture’s Elanora House, a flexible beach home suitable for multi-generational living, was crowned winner of the Residential Architecture – Houses (New) category, with the jury noting the project ‘does a number of small but significant things very well’.

Armidale's Virginia Wong-See of architecture@altitude took out the Small Project Award and Termimesh Timber Award for her ‘small and perfectly formed’ Armidale – Refuge/Prospect garden pavilion.

I really loved this one. Ms Wong-See describes it in this way: "The concept for Armidale Refuge/Prospect began as a simple place of refuge from strong westerly winds, transforming an ordinary place into one that continues to delight through foggy mornings, moonlit nights, fireside conversations and enjoyment of the surrounding trees and the birds that come to rest there."

The Armidale Express story on this particular award provides more details and a broader range of photos. Have a look and you will get a feel for why I really like this is a truly imaginative work.

The award for Urban Design went to Coffs Harbour’s Jetty4Shores Revitalisation project by Fisher Design and Architecture (Bellingen) with Mackenzie Pronk Architects (Sydney) and Coffs Harbour City Council. ‘The project effectively communicates the spirit of place and the genuine community affection for this site,’ the jury noted. ‘The cultural and environmental meanings of the site have been enshrined within the design.’

The final award in the program, the People’s Choice Award, was also announced at the Awards presentation night, held at the NSW Regional Architecture Conference on Thursday 4 October. This year the honour went to a project in the newly introduced Interior category: the Byron Shire Council Foyer, Mullumbimby, by Byron Bay architects SPACEstudio.

NSW Chapter President, Andrew Nimmo, congratulated all of this year’s award winners and noted the important contribution the profession as a whole was making to deliver more sustainable, cohesive communities.

‘Architects apply design thinking to everything they do in order to do more with less and help clients realise opportunities that they did not know existed,’ said Mr Nimmo. ‘This is just part of the value we describe when we speak of the design dividend, and each year we see the bar raised when it comes to the innovative design solutions and practices architects are implementing across regional NSW.’

If you would like to see photos of all the ward winners you can find them on the Australian Institute of Architects Facebook page.

Monday, October 08, 2018

Cultural Tourism: telling the story of New England's Aboriginal past

I have long been frustrated about what I see as neglect of the opportunities offered by Aboriginal cultural tourism in Northern NSW, the broader New England that I write about. 
A number of things contributed to that sense of frustration. One was the absence of material and supporting infrastructure to attract, interest and hold visitors, A second was the way that Aboriginal cultural and historical tourism in the broader New England was fragmented and submerged by tourism promotion that focused on the Sydney basin. Essentially, you had Sydney and a then series of small dot points scattered across the rest of the state. A third frustration lay in the way that disputes and disagreements in and between Aboriginal communities made it difficult to tell stories and to take action.
I accept that there has been great improvement since I first looked at the matter when I was chair of Tourism Armidale in the mid nineties. Historical research has provided more information. Aboriginal communities have begun to organise, collecting material and making that and their stories accessible to a broader audience. However, problems of fragmentation remain. 
Against this background, I was pleased to see a story by Steve Evans in the Glen Innes Examiner ( Tourists want to see Aboriginal cultural sites so more skilled people needed) that TAFE colleges in Armidale, Glen Innes and Inverell have launched a course on Aboriginal cultural tourism to upskill local Aboriginal people. I was also pleased to read this quote from Tom Briggs, CEO Armidale Local Aboriginal Land Council:  “There are many spectacular tourism sites and traditional walking trails across the Northern Tablelands that we as Aboriginals want to explore and make available for our Members and the broader community.”  
Problems of fragmentation remain. The remarkable story of Aboriginal New England is not just localities or even language groups, but of a complex pattern of cultural, economic and political interactions over space and time. This story has still to be properly told and integrated into tourism. Once this is done, both locals and visitors will then be able to properly appreciate and enjoy the story of Aboriginal New England. In the meantime, the new course is a small step forward.