It was gold that lured people to Muttama back in 1882, but a new venture will give the old village a glimmer that likely hasn’t caught anyone’s eye for 139 years.
For the 131 locals – give or take – the conversion of a century-old church into a multi-purpose cultural tourism space is set to stamp Muttama’s name indelibly on the region’s map.
A $982,485 grant will see the transformation of the 113-year-old Church of the Immaculate Conception into a multi-purpose cultural tourism destination that’s set to increase regional tourism and create local job opportunities.
Artistic organisation The Wired Lab announced it has secured the funding to redevelop the church to facilitate community activities and provide access to deep listening arts experiences by internationally renowned artists.
The development will also include permanent installations by leading Australian artists as part of its built works.
Located 10 minutes from the Hume Highway and 90 minutes from Canberra, the site, according to CEO and Artistic Director of The Wired Lab, Sarah Last, is ideally situated for domestic and international tourism.
She explained additional onsite boutique accommodation would supplement the region’s established tourist destinations, along with its growing farm stay, food and wine offerings such as The Sir George, Kimo Estate, Nimbo Fork Lodge and Highfield Farm & Woodland.
“We’re thrilled to realise our vision for this exciting project,” Sarah said.
“Since The Wired Lab’s inception, we have set out to re-centre cultural experiences to ensure they are inclusive of the regional and rural context.”
“The church project does this and will be the first of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere,” she added.
Made possible through a combined NSW and federal government grant from The Bushfire Local Economic Recovery Fund, the project has the support of more than 10 regional stakeholders including Wiradjuri, government, tourism groups and operators.
Wiradjuri culture, says Sarah, is embedded in the site’s planning with local Wiradjuri elders engaged as project consultants. A Wiradjuri Yarning Circle will be situated in the middle of the space as part of the centre’s ongoing commitment to First Nation cultures.
Aunty Cheryl Penrith, local Wiradjuri leader and The Wired Lab board member, said the church redevelopment would be an on-country space that provides opportunities for cultural exchange.
“In particular, the Wiradjuri Yarning Circle centrally locates First Nations culture on a site where we were once excluded,” she said.
“This gesture is incredibly powerful and meaningful, especially as the Wiradjuri Yarning Circle will enable us to share culture with our community and visitors,” Aunty Cheryl said.
The development has the strong support of Member for Riverina Michael McCormack who recognises the remarkable community, cultural and tourism impacts it will have on local and surrounding communities.
“This is a fantastic development for the region, not just because it helps the bushfire recovery immensely by creating jobs and attracting visitors, but also because it is building valuable arts and community infrastructure and includes Aboriginal people, respecting and growing their culture which can be shared by all for the benefit of all,” Mr McCormack said.
Regional councils affected by the devastating impacts of the bushfires are also excited to benefit from this innovative project.
Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council Mayor, Abb McAlister, said the local government area had seen significant economic impacts of drought, bushfire and the COVID pandemic.
“Businesses have closed, major banks are closing, employment has been drastically reduced,” he said.
“We’ve also seen less local, national and international tourists in the region as a result of the pandemic.”
“The funding announcement for The Wired Lab will assist in bringing tourism back to the Cootamundra-Gundagai local government area when the project is complete,” Cr McAllister said.
Snowy Valleys Council executive director, Paul Holton, said Snowy Valleys Council had a long-standing relationship with The Wired Lab, promoting and hosting community cultural development activities and multi-year projects to residents of the Snowy Valleys region.
“Since the bushfires, we have been working with the community, government and NGO agencies to develop strategic initiatives to heal the community and build skills that will generate economic vibrancy and visitation,” Mr Holton said.
“The Wired Lab’s strong track record of community-led and culturally-oriented project delivery makes us confident their church project will provide a range of wellbeing, recovery, resilience and economic benefits to the Snowy Valleys and its adjacent communities.”
The building conversion and landscaping will be developed in collaboration with Castlepeake Architects and Somewhere Landscape Architects based in Young.
Mark Oxenham from Castlepeake Architects said the materials and landscaping would be representative of the local area and would surround the old church which will retain its simple, pure white form.
Destination Riverina Murray general manager Yvette Myhill said the project would have a lasting impact on the local visitor economy and would be ‘one to watch’ going forward.
“We can’t wait to see what amazing artistic and cultural programs come out of this new space, particularly the Wiradjuri Yarning Circle on Wiradjuri Country,” she said.