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Executive summary

Developing a Western Australian Aboriginal Cultural Centre, located in Perth on the traditional lands of the Whadjuk Noongar, is a key priority of Government and the benefits of doing so are substantial.

A flagship Aboriginal Cultural Centre with State-wide significance has been identified as a major cultural infrastructure need for Western Australia, and presents an extraordinary opportunity to celebrate Western Australia’s diverse Aboriginal art and culture and share it with the nation and the world.

The draft State Infrastructure Strategy recommends the Western Australian Government (WA Government) increase its investment in existing and new arts, culture, sport and recreational infrastructure across the State to ensure they are fit for purpose. This recommendation serves to reinforce the WA Government’s decision to continue with the planning and development of a business case that will allow for an investment decision by Government to deliver a landmark Aboriginal Cultural Centre of global significance as well as broad cultural appeal right here in Perth.

Arts and cultural infrastructure is recognised in the 2019 Australian Infrastructure Audit as having a crucial role in the socio-economic empowerment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. While there is high demand from both domestic and international visitors for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and art in Australia, there are few dedicated art and cultural centres catering to this demand. To maximise this potential, investment in cultural infrastructure is necessary. In doing so the WA Government will recognise and celebrate the world’s oldest and continuing culture, and uncover previously untapped pathways for Aboriginal enterprise in local, national and international markets.

Intrinsic artistic activities in Aboriginal cultures and communities have existed for more than 65,000 years. An Aboriginal Cultural Centre in Perth will play an important role in revitalising, maintaining, and strengthening Western Australian Aboriginal cultural practices. It will also represent a tangible expression of acknowledging and paying respect to the deep traditions of Aboriginal cultural heritage, connecting the past with the continuum of contemporary living culture of Aboriginal Western Australia.

Perth’s Aboriginal Cultural Centre will celebrate and the promote diversity of the State’s Aboriginal cultures and inspire visitors to explore all regions of the State to experience first-hand the unique experiences available in Western Australia. The Centre will also cultivate the visitor experience by promoting links to facilities in other Australian jurisdictions as part of a proposed national program of Indigenous art and cultural centres. Visualise the many visitors starting their encounters right here in Western Australia, before moving on to other States and Territories as part of an holistic national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural experience.

This cultural investment will lead to flow-on social and economic benefits across the State and the Australian economy. A purpose-built facility promoting arts and cultural participation will support cultural identity, economic empowerment, community connectedness, raise awareness, and promote wellbeing in Aboriginal communities across the State. The presence of a globally significant Aboriginal Cultural Centre will contribute to improving social circumstances of Aboriginal people, and advance the progress of reconciliation. For Aboriginal people, efforts for reconciliation include acknowledging past wrongs and understanding the historical circumstance that effect Aboriginal people today.

The idea for an Aboriginal Cultural Centre is not a new one, but while previous Western Australian Governments have acknowledged its importance, the concept of an Aboriginal Cultural Centre has not gained significant momentum- until now. The Western Australian and Australian Governments have co-funded this pre-feasibility study, with the Department of the Premier and Cabinet charged as lead.

On 22 February 2021, a $217 million plan was unveiled to increase tourism offerings and support the sector through COVID-19, when the Western Australian Government announced it would invest a further $50 million in the Aboriginal Cultural Centre.

This allocation of funding recognises the importance of celebrating Western Australia’s unique Aboriginal culture and history, and represents the most substantial commitment by any WA Government toward developing a State Aboriginal Cultural Centre. To bring this vision to life, this substantial investment will go toward planning, design works and seed capital of for an Aboriginal Cultural Centre located near the culturally significant Derbarl Yerrigan (Swan River).

The term ‘culture’ has many applications, and is used to describe art, dance and other creative enterprises that are an embodiment of Aboriginal cultural knowledge, processes and systems. With that richness and diversity, it was necessary to apply a broad definition to cultural expression when planning for the Aboriginal Cultural Centre and during the development of this Pre-feasibility Report.

As the approach to the pre-feasibility study was planned, a number of parameters/assumptions were made. These included ensuring the focus remained on Western Australian Aboriginal art, culture and heritage; and that the Centre be located and built on Whadjuk lands in proximity to the Derbarl Yerrigan; and to make sure that the significance of such a Centre is represented in the form of iconic architectural design. As with the first stage of planning for any project of this size and complexity, many elements are still yet to be determined, and will form the basis for future stages of planning for the project.

An important aspect of the study has been planning for extensive consultation involving Aboriginal communities across the State. Support and involvement of Traditional Owners in planning, concept, design and operating the Aboriginal Cultural Centre is essential, and must continue for a project of this significance to succeed.

The development of an Aboriginal Cultural Centre on Whadjuk Noongar land requires a carefully planned process that takes into account cultural protocols with Whadjuk Noongar as host nation, while also connecting with Aboriginal communities across the State. A hub-and-spoke approach embodies a model where the Aboriginal Cultural Centre is positioned as the hub, offering a full array of services, and is complemented through a network of secondary spoke destinations in the regions.

With culture at the forefront, the intent is to ensure the Aboriginal Cultural Centre is a dynamic and engaging hub of creative activity for the Aboriginal community, other members of the public and visitors to the State. It is envisioned the Centre will include gallery, performance and community spaces, in harmony with commercial activity as well as research and academic spaces. Striking the right balance is vital, and as the project evolves, each of these elements will be considered in more depth.

Situating the Aboriginal Cultural Centre in the right location is of paramount importance to the project. The site will need to connect with Aboriginal people, be considered a place of significance with cultural connections to other places. A site that is a landmark site will also capitalise on visitor access. State-owned sites in proximity to the Derbarl Yerrigan in Whadjuk Noongar country, with easy access to the Perth Central Business District, were assessed for suitability. The study examined planning and regulatory approvals, and cultural appropriateness for each site identified. Applying the principal criteria, potential sites were shortlisted to include Dumas House grounds and Kings Park, both situated in West Perth; Langley Park and Terrace Road car park in central Perth; and Heirrisson Island (East and West) located in East Perth. Heirrisson Island (West) was removed from further consideration following cultural advice. Suitability of the remaining shortlisted locations will be further explored during the development of the business case.

High-level benchmarking against projects of a similar nature was used in the study to provide indicative timeframes for development and a high-level cost estimate. A recent and comparable example is Boola Bardip (WA Museum); a complex project that also involved extensive consultation, costing around $400 million and taking eight years to complete. With Boola Bardip in mind, it is anticipated it would cost between $400 and $500 million to deliver an Aboriginal Cultural Centre, and is targeted for completion and operation by 2029.

As the concept for an Aboriginal Cultural Centre transitions from pre-feasibility, the business case and project definition plan will provide greater clarity on how much, and how long, it should take to deliver such a pivotal and iconic structure and operating model. These key elements will be refined, including confirmation of site selection, a detailed cost estimate and a comprehensive schedule for the State to deliver a world-class Centre for the enjoyment of all that live in, and visit, Western Australia.

An Aboriginal Cultural Centre is the key to Western Australia’s vision of becoming the premier, Aboriginal tourism destination in Australia, inspiring visitors to venture further into regional Western Australia, where they can experience first-hand authentic Aboriginal cultural experiences. As Aboriginal people share their stories, experiences and traditions, and we showcase the world’s oldest living culture to visitors from far and wide, the natural progression will be for Aboriginal tourism to be regarded as part of Australia’s mainstream tourism industry.

Establishing an Aboriginal Cultural Centre builds on the invaluable and extensive network of cultural capital found throughout Western Australia’s regions and across the nation. Celebrating diversity of Aboriginal culture is our opportunity to promote the rich tapestry of Aboriginal art centres and cultural experiences to the world, as a journey of discovery for visitors and guests, offering unique, culturally rich displays in the State’s capital city.

Page reviewed 11 September 2023