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An open letter to the Swan Hill community

An open letter to the Swan Hill community

To my fellow Swan Hill residents,

Council’s decision to build Our Place at the Pioneer Settlement has drawn strong criticism from some people in our community.

Council formally received two petitions about Our Place this week, and we will conduct some consultation with you as we consider our response. We will also be investigating whether it would be possible and feasible to build Our Place further south on Monash Drive, in the area where Spoons, the gallery and the associated carpark is now.

In the meantime, I wanted to write to you to explain the process so far, and relay some facts about the planned building.

Firstly, I want to reassure the community that my fellow Councillors and I are in this for the betterment of our community.

In every matter that comes before us, we consider all relevant information and views before making decisions that we believe are in the best interests of the community. This is what we are elected to do. And this is what we will continue to do with Our Place.

My family moved to this district in 1927, and three generations of my family went to St Mary’s Primary School. My extended family and I still live and work right here. Like many of you, I have a strong emotional and historical connection to this community. That is why I chose to nominate for Council, and that is why I want this community to thrive.

Our Place is proposed to be a new building to house the art gallery, information centre, Pioneer Settlement entrance and a new Aboriginal cultural experience.

Our Place came about from our investigations into a planned new interpretive centre. During these investigations it became clear that co-locating other tourism and cultural services would have benefits far beyond those that could be achieved with a standalone interpretive centre.

Council engaged an independent investigation into the suitability of five proposed sites. Other sites were discounted due to ownership and the cost to demolish or relocate existing buildings.

The current proposed site was chosen because it was identified as having the greatest potential.

It would:

  • achieve a much-needed new public art gallery
  • create a riverside space to tell local Aboriginal stories
  • further progress the Settlement into an up to date tourism attraction and build a permanent Settlement entrance
  • enable a modern-day information centre right next to our region’s biggest tourist attraction
  • consolidate and improve on Council services, ultimately saving ratepayer money.

As we add Our Place to the long list of improvements along the riverfront – like the adventure playground and new pathways – tourists will be immediately drawn to this area.

The building concept plans that have been advertised for Our Place are only concepts. Council has not decided how the building will look, what it will be built from or even exactly where it will sit on that site.

Echuca-based architect firm Brandrick has been appointed to progress designs. These architects were chosen because they know our climate, our river environment and our heritage values, and can be sympathetic to this. They will also be involved as we investigate the alternative site. They will combine community input with their professional judgment and expertise to advise Council on the final design.

It is clear from recent feedback that the Pioneer Settlement holds a strong place in the hearts of many local people. As a local person, I understand this sentiment. As a Council, we do too, and we want the Pioneer Settlement to thrive well into the future.

We believe that for the Settlement to thrive, we must innovate to meet current and future expectations in a very competitive tourism market.

The Heartbeat of the Murray laser light show has started the ball rolling. Night-time visitors have increased from 6,600 to almost 19,000 last year. It proves that modern infrastructure can be incorporated into this historic area and can tell our Aboriginal and pioneering history together in the most modern ways.

We think Our Place can do that and more.

As I said earlier we are now seeking opinions from the entire Swan Hill community on this plan, including the feasibility of the alternative site where the gallery, Spoons and carpark are now.

If you have a view – either for or against – we would love to hear directly from you. We’d also love to talk to people who might want to get the facts before forming their opinion.

Please come along to one of the five planned community information and feedback sessions. You can always contact a Councillor directly too – our details are on the Council website or available from Council offices.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Cr Bill Moar
Swan Hill Rural City Council

Our Place community information and feedback sessions details