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Baaka Cultural Centre begins to take shape

Monday, 9th March, 2020

The Option 2 proposed concept design, viewed from the Wilcannia Bridge of the Baaka Cultural Centre. PICTURE: Kaunitz Yeung Architecture The Option 2 proposed concept design, viewed from the Wilcannia Bridge of the Baaka Cultural Centre. PICTURE: Kaunitz Yeung Architecture

By Myles Burt

The concept designs for the Baaka Cultural Centre are edging closer to completion with Wilcannia locals happy with the process.

Project Leader Bob Constantine said feedback from three public design meetings had been good, with most supporting “Option 2”, an integration of a new modern exterior building and the pre-existing Knox and Downs colonial building.

Mr Constantine said the retention of heritage features from the old building had been a key area of interest with Wilcannia locals.

After meeting architect David Kaunitz, Mr Constantine said a vast majority had endorsed the general concept plan that was made available to the public via the Wilcannia Community Hall.

Mr Constantine hopes to have the final concept design approved in April, so expressions of interest can be sent to potential builders.

So far, Mr Constantine said the project timeline is ahead of time.

“It’s all coming together beautifully I think,” Mr Constantine said.

“The people who are helping us in getting this thing up and running have been absolutely superb; you couldn’t ask for better.

“We’ve got so much goodwill to the Baaka Project; it makes me feel quite sentimental of the success of how it has been embraced.”

Mr Constantine said the project hasn’t been without criticism from the community, with some locals worrying the $7 million build will take away from funding domestic violence issues and the local Aboriginal community. Mr Constantine said there is still some local confusion of the Baaka Cultural Hub being an art gallery when the building will be functioning more along the lines of a community hall and an information centre.

He said the new Hub would need local people working around maintenance, curatorial positions, administration, tour guides and jobs within the information centre and cafe.

He hopes some locals are entrepreneurial enough to create local tours, which will be supported and run out of the Baaka Cultural Hub.

“It’s there to embrace the things or the activities that they want, and not only that; it’s there to create jobs, meaningful jobs,” Mr Constantine said.

“The whole thing is beneficial to the community, when and as they embrace it.”

More work is being done to expand the building already, as the NSW Government looks to acquire a neighbouring block of land which has already been added within the latest concept design.

“That’s another plus because if we stayed on one block activities would be confined to the building mainly,” Mr Constantine said.

“By going out into the other block, we create open space for people to converse, to have performance, which some of the boys are really keen to do on a regular basis for tourism.

“So little Bob couldn’t be happier mate.”

Mr Constantine said local Aboriginal dancers Brendon Adams and Owen Whyman were pleased to see a dance pit featuring in the new concept design.

Mr Constantine said they were fortunate to have their feedback on the designs, after they raised the issue of needing male and female change rooms so that performers would be able to paint up for dance events at the Baaka Cultural Centre.

“That’s typical of the benefit of communication because none of us thought of that,” Mr Constantine said.

“We really stress the necessity for community engagement, and that’s been good, which I think is encouraging for the whole thing.”

Architect David Kaunitz said he had spent a lot of time in Wilcannia meeting with stakeholders, Elders, the local school and as many residents as possible to construct a vision of what the Baaka Cultural Centre should look like and how it should be used.

Mr Kauntiz said it had been a unique and challenging experience to integrate a new design with the old and damaged Knox and Downs building.

“Unfortunately there’s not much left of the old building, so there’s been a bit of a discussion about whether we rebuild it, knock it down or whether we do something in-between,” Mr Kaunitz said.

“Really, the design as it stands now is about designing a contemporary building that talks about a kind of more optimistic future.

“But also quite sensitively integrates with the old materials and the old way of building in Wilcannia, because obviously, it’s a beautiful stone town.”

Mr Kaunitz said the concept design would continue to evolve over the next two months.

“Then we’ll have some really refined images, and everything will be much more locked in,” Mr Kaunitz said.

“I’m just trying to get the community to a place where they’re happy to be, and I think we’re definitely almost there.”

Mr Constantine said the rough completion date of the Baaka Cultural Centre will be around early 2021.

The Baaka Cultural Hub, based on the latest concept design, will feature a tourist information centre, commercial kitchen, administration office, meeting room, male/female toilets, language nest, multipurpose rooms for exhibition, cafe seating and conference meetings, studio/workshop, public keeping place, male/female keeping places and documents keeping room.

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