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Coalition pledges $3.5m for cultural centre

Wednesday, 8th May, 2019

Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Nigel Scullion, with Parkes MP Mark Coulton in front of the site for the new Baaka Cultural Centre in Wilcannia yesterday. PICTURE: Supplied Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Nigel Scullion, with Parkes MP Mark Coulton in front of the site for the new Baaka Cultural Centre in Wilcannia yesterday. PICTURE: Supplied

By Myles Burt

Wilcannia’s new Baaka Cultural Centre has been secured after the Coalition Government yesterday pledged $3.5 million for the project. 

Parkes MP Mark Coulton and the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Nigel Scullion, travelled to the town to make the announcement and said they were delighted to have been able to help. 

The project’s aim is to showcase Aboriginal culture and the traditions of the Baakintji Nation and boost the local economy. 

It was granted $3.5 million in January by the NSW Government, on the condition that the Federal Government matched it. 

Bob Constantine, Project Leader of the Baaka Cultural Centre Wilcannia Aboriginal Corporation, said the announcement presented a great opportunity for the town.

“It is an amazing opportunity to breathe fresh life into Wilcannia, once known as the ‘Queen City of the West,’” Mr Constantine said.

“The proposed Baaka Centre to be built here in Wilcannia, with its magnificent sandstone buildings, river port history and more, will showcase a proud Baakantji culture and tradition.”

Mr Constantine said the centre will become a cornerstone asset for the tourism industry in Wilcannia. 

“Everything that’s important to the Baakintji Nation in terms of their culture or their physical culture, plus the stories, photographs, manuscripts and things we might be able to get hold of,” he said.

“That’s the key thing and then in addition to that there will be workshops for the young people to learn traditional craft.

“We’ll be inviting tourists to come in and try their hand at doing some of the work by getting them involved with the young people so that we share the knowledge of all these things with the tourist community and others.

“We’ll also have a gallery for presenting Aboriginal works, dance or whatever might be going on in the community at the time.

“The basement of this particular building will be dedicated to Baakintji artefacts and things.”

“They’ll be a separate space for women’s business and another place for men’s business, then the centre will be a conversation area where they can sit round and discuss Aboriginal matters or Baakintji matters.”

The centre will not only showcase culture but maintain it as well through workshops and interactive experiences.

“A lot of it is being lost because of modern trends and one of our aims is to reintroduce Baaka culture to the young people,” Mr Constantine said.

“It is so important to them and to their family and elders. It has to be interactive.”

Mr Constantine said he hoped that Wilcannia locals will be involved in the construction of the centre and trained to fill positions once it is completed.

“We hope that we’ll be able to develop someone who has the capacity to manage the place, supervise the people, and through various NGOs we hope that we can get young people trained to come and work on the site when it’s being built,” he said.

“Our objective is to employ all the people we can and buy as much material as we can in Wilcannia so the money that we’ve been kindly granted by the federal and state will be going back into Wilcannia rather than disappearing somewhere else in NSW, leaving no benefit to the local economy.”

The Baaka Cultural Centre will be built on the corner of Myers and Reid streets, the site of a derelict building that has been abandoned for about 17 years, according to Mr Constantine.

“We’ll be building a building that has appeal and more importantly the content will have contemporary excellence and our intention is that we’re not just going to be another cultural centre,” he said.

“We’re going to be an excellent cultural centre so that we can attract tourists from all over Australia, internationally, plus academic people coming to learn about the Baakintji Nation’s culture.”

Mr Coulton said he was very pleased to have been able to get the project for Wilcannia.

“Having fought hard to secure this funding, I am delighted to announce that $3.5 million has been committed to Central Darling Shire Council for the development of the Baaka Tourism and Art Centre in Wilcannia,” he said.

“This project will go a long way to grow Wilcannia’s tourism offering in the long-term.”

Minister Scullion said the Coalition had worked in partnership with Aboriginal communities to make such projects happen through its Indigenous Advancement Strategy of delivering more jobs for Indigenous Australians.

“Mark Coulton has championed this project and I can’t wait to see the benefits this Centre will bring to the local community and the region.”

The General Manager of Central Darling Shire Council, Greg Hill, welcomed the announcement.

“This is fabulous news for the Wilcannia community and the entire Central Darling Shire,” Mr Hill said.

“The Baaka Tourism and Art Centre will help ensure we can continue to be proud of this region and its unique heritage.”

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