The visionary plan to establish an iconic wildlife art museum and an Australian botanical garden in the foothills of the Grampians (Gariwerd) Ranges reached a major milestone at the weekend with a formal 'Welcome to Country' ceremony and symbolic tree planting.
The concept of the Wildlife Art Museum of Australia (WAMA) has been proposed by the Australian Wildlife Arts Foundation in partnership with the Northern Grampians Shire Council and the Melbourne School of Design (MSD) at the University of Melbourne.
At the weekend ceremony the Foundation publicly announced its collaboration with the MSD and renowned firms, Bates Smart (Architecture) and Tract Consultants (Landscape Architecture), who have been commissioned to propose design concepts for the museum and gallery along with the layout of the surrounding botanical gardens.
The project is hailed as a major new economic, tourism and culture venture on 16 hectares of natural bushland on the Halls Gap-Ararat Road less than five kilometres from the township of Halls Gap. The main museum will eventually house a collection from outstanding Australian wildlife and natural history artists and provide a learning environment for current and future generations.
Despite wildly unpredictable weather, the weekend had the site as home to a tent village of 14 Master of Architecture and Landscape Architecture students, their faculty heads, Professor Philip Goad (Architecture) and Professor Gini Lee (Landscape Architecture) and the Bates Smart representatives who camped overnight.
"We're very excited," Professor Lee said.
"This studio is a model for ways in which communities can work together with a common goal, and where students can immerse themselves in a real setting and test creative solutions for the future."
Bates Smart consultant, Karen Wong expressed her enjoyment of the weekend.
"It was wonderful to see such passion and drive expressed by the various groups and we are sure that this will have a fantastic influence on the students' research and projects."
On Sunday, stakeholders including Northern Grampians Shire Mayor, Cr Kevin Erwin, elected members and supporters of the venture, celebrated with a traditional smoke cleansing ceremony conducted by local identity Aaron 'Roony' Grambeau, representing the Jardwadjali and Djab Wurrung peoples. This was followed by a ceremonial tree planting of one of our region's most recognisable endemic plants, Grampians Thriptomene, by botanist Neil Marriot.
WAMA patron Glenda Lewin believes that the project has achieved this important milestone through the commitment and shared vision of so many supporters.
"Together we are encouraging people of all ages and cultures to understand and appreciate the connection between our wildlife art heritage and our unique environmental landscape," she said.
"We are thrilled that after months of detailed planning we have finally commenced the exciting design phase that will enable us to further promote the benefits of this ambitious project to government and the private sector."