17 October 2023

New centre will help preserve the culture of Olkola people

| Sarah Martin
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Construction is well underway for the unique open-plan eco-friendly building.

OLKOLA Elder Mike Ross’ vision for a hub to keep culture alive in the heart of his Country is underway, with the decking nearly finished on the new Olkola Cultural Centre.

Set on the banks of a lagoon at Sandy Creek, near Laura, the building grows seamlessly out of the rugged landscape, featuring an open plan design and red rammed earth walls made from the very soil it stands on.

“It’s really about bringing everything home,” said Shania Ross of her grandfather’s long-term dream.

“The centre will have many uses, when people come to visit Olkola country they will have somewhere to camp, to see our stories and artefacts.

“It’s also a way for us to protect Country; people are coming off-road a lot more and we want to make sure there’s somewhere they can go to learn about the cultural significance of the area and how to look after Country.”

Funded by the Growing Indigenous Tourism Fund, the project’s first stage, the cultural centre, is on track to be completed in mid-2024, with a ranger base as part of a second stage to be constructed in the future.

An artist’s impression of the Sandy Creek site, complete with the cultural centre and ranger base.

The eco-friendly building was designed to suit the country by Olkola Traditional Owners in partnership with Melbourne and Monash University staff and students, volunteers, Arup and the Centre for Appropriate Technology.

The centre will include a commercial kitchen, training room and air-conditioned space for artefact storage and display. “A big part of the design was that we wanted it to look like it was coming out of the country with the rammed earth walls,” Ms Ross said.

“It has been built out of on-country materials as much as possible and is eco-friendly, mostly open plan so air-conditioning isn’t needed all the time.”

Information is something else the Olkola people are keen to bring home, with the centre providing a hub for visiting researchers and scientists to collect and share data.

“It’s for everybody,” Ms Ross said.

“It’s a place where Olkola people can go back and see the stories, and it also provides a hub when people come up to do research on Country so we can make sure the data they collect stays with us as well.

“The Elders are really happy for us to have something solid where we can keep information and hand it down.

“It’s such a big thing because so much culture and history gets lost along the way.

“The cultural centre is a way to keep it alive and have something for the younger generations.”

Traditional Owners Ash Ross, Debbie Ross-Symonds and Mike Ross on Olkola country with Hannah Robertson.

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