A centre for all: Wathaurong Co-op appoints architect for redevelopment

February 24, 2022 BY

Bronwyn McColl (principal, Woods Bagot), Rose De Jong (Infrastructure Manager, Wathaurong), Simon Flagg (CEO, Wathaurong), Jasmine Kerdel (graduate, Woods Bagot) and Tahlia Landrigan (interior designer, Woods Bagot) in front of the existing Wathaurong Co-Op building. Photo: SUPPLIED

THE Wathaurong Aboriginal Co-operative says its new home in North Geelong will be a hub for the community as well as bringing all of its staff together.

Earlier this week, the co-operative announced it had appointed international architectural firm Woods Bagot to lead their proposed $26 million Morgan Street redevelopment project.

The existing facility at 62 Morgan Street opened in 1996 and staff levels have grown considerably since then, leading Wathaurong to lease more space in North Geelong and Geelong West.

Wathaurong chief executive officer Simon Flagg said the vision to renovate the existing site had been a long journey and started more than 10 years ago.

“There’s been a number of concepts, plans and discussions but no actual movement, but we’re now at the point we need to; we’ve exploded as an organisation.”

He said staff numbers had almost tripled from 60 in 2015-16 to 170 today.

“For our community and our organisation, our Morgan Street site is our home, so want to really redevelop this site so it supports the foundations of who we are as an organisation, which is culture and community at the centre of everything we can do.

“We need a place where community can gather and do events, so we want to incorporate a function centre at the top of the building so we can hold a lot of things in-house, like funerals and weddings.

“We’re not building just for the now, it’s also for future growth. Ultimately, we’re not going to sacrifice the vision for our community … we’ll advocate for funding at all levels so we can get the best building for our community.”

The redevelopment will also include a health service, administration building, cafe, and early years childcare centre.

Mr Flagg said the full project would take about five years, with soil to hopefully be turned early next year and works to be done in stages.

He said the new centre would most likely be a multi-storey building.

“This is one of the complexities for Woods Bagot: how to make it so it still has a cultural and connected feel, and not a model straight off the shelf.

“It should not be mainstream, it’s really important that it fits the landscape that we’re in – because we’re all about looking after Country, and Country looks after us – so it has to fit this place and also the way we want to operate.”

Woods Bagot principal Bronwyn McColl stressed the importance of connecting with the local Wathaurong community to create a cultural hub.

“We’re incredibly excited to begin our long and deep conversation with the Wathaurong community, to learn and bring their vision for the co-operative to life, embedding genuine Aboriginal influence and agency into this design process,” she said.

Geelong MP Christine Couzens welcomed the announcement.

“As service and community needs have grown, so has Wathaurong’s need for a new culturally appropriate space at their Morgan Street site,” she said.

“I congratulate Woods Bagot on their appointment as the architects for this project, and look forward to seeing the plans for the new building that will both meet the needs of community and celebrate Aboriginal culture.”