Revitalising rural towns gives UTS Design students ‘big picture’ purpose
Curiosity about a young academic’s family history has sparked a grand revitalisation project led by UTS Design academics and students, in two NSW Central West regional communities.
Lake Cargelligo and neighbouring town, Murrin Bridge, are at the centre of a dual plan to establish vibrant new community and recreational hubs by transforming and reimagining neglected buildings and public spaces.
“It all started when UTS PhD student and town planner, Allan Teale, learnt about his Aboriginal heritage, which he eventually traced back to the Euabalong area,” explains Campbell Drake, Interior and Spatial Design lecturer at UTS Design, Architecture and Building.
“He travelled to Murrin Bridge to spend time with the elders where they shared with him their increasing concern for the future of the town’s younger generation, mostly compounded by rundown facilities no longer servicing the community well.”
Three years later after intense planning with local authorities, 35 UTS students from 2nd year Interior and Spatial Design arrived in town to spend five days interviewing residents, visiting sites and pouring over historical documents. Their research helped develop feasible proposals which aim to counteract further disengagement and enhance existing resources.
“From our perspective, the project highlights how we, as designers, can help address the problems grappling many rural towns: isolation, fractured histories and declining infrastructures, so that we can foster more inclusive and cohesive communities,” says Campbell.
“It was especially poignant for our students to step outside of their city studios and connect with our land’s deep history, especially during this era of intense digital distraction when it’s easy to overlook such matters.”
The brief for Lake Cargelligo included converting the old majestic art deco Civic theatre into a thriving arts and culture space, renewing the 100-seat cinema, and reinvigorating the old foreshore community club, into the town’s new events venue, next to the picturesque lake.
Priorities for the 120 residents of Murrin Bridge, included to retrofit the existing health building into a self-sustaining, multi-purpose community centre suitable for hosting events and a range of service providers. Beautifying the town’s cemetery, as well as modifying the sports ground to make it operational, were also key requests.
For German exchange student, Leyla-Elisa zu Stolberg, the experience has filled her with an intense sense of responsibility, hoping that the transformation will have a positive impact on the community.
“We spent a lot of time listening to the residents and got a sense that they don’t feel valued or hopeful for the future. Not having access to recreation facilities is also really contributing to a lack of optimism.”
“We’ve made sure to include designs for an outdoor gym, bike and skate park, with the intention of having the community help build these facilities – these activities will hopefully provide some much-needed inspiration and motivation.
“Plus, we’ve also suggested refurbishing the old men’s shed into a working garage or workshop space where community members can collaborate, share and learn from one another, building on valuable technical skills.”
Following proposal presentations to both towns, their efforts received high praise from local residents, including from Senior Engagement Officer, with the Indigenous Affairs group, Paul McFadyen:
“Murrin Bridge has had a tumultuous history as it was originally set up as a mission town in 1949. The stolen generation happened on our doorstep and Aboriginal culture and language was stripped away.
“This project provides an opportunity to really bring that back and create welcoming and safe environments where locals can congregate, share ideas and support each other - it’s really brought everyone together to shape both towns’ futures and celebrate their resurgence.”
The studio subject, “Spatial Agency” is being led by Campbell Drake and Robert Barnstone. Joint collaborators include UTS Animation lecturer Deborah Szapiro and 2nd year UTS Animation students who are working with teenagers from the local high school on creative projects. Plans are also underway to develop an implementation program for UTS Construction Project Management students to see through the project’s vision in 2017.