Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Culture Revisited.

The talk surrounding the possible building of a Cultural Precinct in Cairns has stepped up a notch with the election of Warren Enstch as our federal member and his well known opposition to the idea. His preference is for sport to be the focus of new facilities, the art sector loses out and the performance space shrinks significantly. It has been suggested that perhaps the reason he won was due in part to his alternative proposal and that the precinct is not something most locals are in favour of.

What rot. Almost all of Cairns is in favour of supporting our local artisans and fabulous performers by supplying them with a suitable building. Locals are keen to have a hub for creativity along the waterfront with adequate space for conferences and large expos if possible.

What they do object to is the cost and the design as it currently stands. It is my understanding that the cost could be lowered if the retail outlets were removed from the plan. Realistically, we are struggling to fill shop fronts all over the region so putting more in would be a bit silly really. The costing is based on the total structure and surrounds at completion and as it is able to be built in stages the funding will not be a giant lump sum required all at once.

The design is not the final one, in fact the final design will look nothing at all like the 'Valcano' plastered all over the paper. The design originally touted was effective for it's purpose however. It started the debate, planted the seed for thought and it got the State and Federal Governments to look at the idea, find it plausable, and started the funding process. As a concept it was very successful. As a final design, it is really ugly.

I have spoken before about my ideas for this building and the surrounding precinct but having had the benefit of more thinking time I have several more suggestions to add. As previously stated, I firmly believe that the Precinct should reflect the environment and the cultures surrounding it. I thought that a wavy roof reflective of the Convention Centre would tie in well, large metal mangroves should mark the entrance by forming part of the structure and be large enough for kids to run under the lower limbs. The giant fish in the lagoon are proof that something iconic does not have to be ugly. I also suggested that the walkway between the Convention Centre and the Cultural Centre should be serpent like, indicitive of the Rainbow Serpent present in much of the Aboriginal Dreaming. Now I would like to add my new thoughts.

Why not have one of the walls be a wall of timber slats, where every few metres a frame is built into it, and a painting by a local artist is displayed, permanently. These 'canvases' would be made from render and painted in paint hardy enough to withstand our climate. This way, an entire wall would be a gallery of sorts.

My pet peeve with any council built facility is the way in which they plant the trees. They rely too much on the trees growing large enough to provide shade but let the public swelter while we wait. Large wooden poles placed throughout the plaza area should have white shade sales attached, reflecting the sails on the boats and the waves of the sea. These poles should be painted or carved, by local cultural groups and artisans. Somne could be dot paintings, some carved totum poles, some having seascapes, some rainforest scenes. Once the trees planted have grown to a decent size, the sails can be removed, leaving beautiful, colourful poles dotted around the space and continuing to create interest. I can actually picture tourists choosing a pole they like and having photo's taken beside it, much the same way they would the mangrove structures, the artists wall and the serpent walkway.

Seating around the place should be in timber and carved to reflect the surroundings. Some could be dug-out canoes with a space cut out for seating, others could be carved to look like crocodiles, serpents, tree frogs....the list is endless.

We live in an area filled with beautiful surrounds and with talented individuals and groups. We should be excited that we have the opportunity to give that community a space to show the world what they are capable of. We should be eternally grateful that we will be close enough to have the first look at some of the amazing productions, compositions and art coming from the Cairns region.

We need to be much more vocal in our enthusiasm for this precinct. We need to trust that the many architects asked to consult on this right now, are looking at the Cairns region and our environment and people for ideas, and not their own potential to star as the creator of a building that is iconic, but not reflective of who we are. I look forward to seeing the ideas from them shortly and sincerely hope that they do not focus on cement and palm trees because we are much more interesting than that!


  1. Well said. I have posted a letter off to "The Cairns Post" about the need for a modern museum in Cairns. The museum is part of the Cultural Precinct plans.
    I have also raised the need for upgraded international standard convention facilities for Cairns, also contained within the Precinct Plan. Our economy must diversify, and being able to host international conferences such as ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) will give us a leg-in to the booming economies of South East Asia, with trade, diplomacy, technology etc. Cairns can become a very important city in ASEAN, however we must start those dialogues as soon as possible. A further development from being able to host international standard conventions will be the establishment of increased government services, ie dimplomats, quarantine, customs etc.
    More flights and services to Asia and ASEAN nations will ensue as well.

  2. The forces trying to move the cultural centre away from the waterfront have only one thing in mind - more money for the developers. There has NEVER been a port authority plan for expansion of the wharves next to the cruise ship terminal. There is more than adequate wharf space further up the inlet. If the cultural centre is pushed somewhere else, the port authority will just go back to their original plan - A 15 STORY HOTEL on that site! More blockage of the waterfront from the public! Bob Norman and others are just shilling for the developers. Who ever consulted the public about Harbour Lights? NO ONE. Just steal the waterfront land for overpriced units and no one will care!

    The cultural centre and museum on the waterfront guarantees these areas are open to the public in perpetuity.

    Oh, and John Mackenzie is a jerk.

  3. Doesn't the Council own that waterfront land??

  4. The land was owned by the state Government and was given to the Council as it's contribution to the start of the process. It is valued at $40 million (I think) and gave the Council the freedom to persue seriously what was until that point, just a great idea.