Architecture group HASSELL has developed several concepts for an indigenous cultural centre at the East Perth Power Station site. Image: HASSELL

Indigenous tourism a rich opportunity

An authentic indigenous cultural centre could be a key element in the revival of Western Australia’s ailing tourism sector, providing a unique attractor for interstate and international visitors, a recent forum has heard.

Panellists at an event hosted by property advisory group Slattery in Perth were unanimous in agreeing that an indigenous cultural centre could provide a substantial positive impact in WA tourism.

A recent report by the Tourism Council WA indicated 1,200 jobs had been lost in the sector in 2017-18, on the back of a continuing decline in spending from both interstate and international visitors.

The latest data from Tourism Research Australia showed international spending in the 12 months to the end of September last year fell by $166 million compared with the previous 12 months, while interstate visitors spent $181 million less in 2018 than in 2017.

Slattery director of client services Belinda Coates said a tailored cultural offering could help reverse those declining trends, similar to the positive impacts provided in Tasmania by Hobart’s heralded Museum of Old and New Art (MONA).

MONA attracted 1.3 million visitors in the year to September 2018, according to Tourism Tasmania, with those visitors spending $861 million while in the state.

Ms Coates said the new WA Museum would be a bonus for WA tourism, but the state nonetheless needed a broader range of cultural attractions.

“The thing about the museum is it’s incredibly exciting, but every city needs a good museum,” Ms Coates told Business News.

“The museum needs friends.”

One of those ‘friends’ would be an indigenous cultural centre, Ms Coates said, with an authentic facility having the potential to establish Perth as a true gateway to Australia, particularly for Asian visitors.

“The United Nations World Tourism organisation suggests that 50 per cent of tourists worldwide are motivated by a desire to experience culture and heritage as part of tourism,” Ms Coates said.

“Sure, they’re going to Perth for the ocean and the blue skies and the wineries, but they want to experience the art and culture.”

HASSELL principal Peter Lee, who participated in the panel discussion, said the most important aspect of an indigenous cultural centre would be participation from the Noongar people themselves.

“This isn’t about telling a curated story, it’s about telling their stories warts and all,” he said.

“We should not try to imagine or dictate the types of stories told, but should ensure that challenging stories can be shared in a safe, engaging and appropriate environment.”

Mr Lee said research showed a large proportion of international visitors sought Australian indigenous experiences, but Perth had yet to put together a compelling offer.

“Imagine if we could get the East Perth Power Station site redeveloped and also incorporate an indigenous cultural learning centre somewhere on the peninsula,” he said.

“That would indeed be a powerful indigenous learning precinct where elders could explain their culture and tourists could be immersed in the Australian indigenous story.”

Committee for Perth chief executive Marion Fulker said sustaining belief in cultural projects would require political bravery, but would be necessary to capitalise on the rapid revitalisation of the city that had occurred during the past decade.

“People want to visit a city that is rich in offering, a place that presents a unique, rich tapestry,” Ms Fulker said.

“Developing an investment, engagement and attraction strategy is key to leveraging our natural beauty and all the new infrastructure on offer, as well as guide decisions on what comes next.”


1st-Hames Sharley31
2nd-Taylor Robinson Chaney BroderickNFP
4th↑Parry and Rosenthal Architects17
5th↓Cox Architecture16
69 architects ranked by number of full-time registered architects in WA

Interior designers

3rd-Hames Sharley14
7th↑SPH architecture + interiors6
31 interior designers ranked by number of interior designers in WA

Ranked by total number of registered landscape architects in WA

4th-Blackwell & AssociatesNFP
5th-Josh Byrne & AssociatesNFP
28 landscape architects ranked by number of registered landscape architects in WA

Full-time town planners

13th↑Dynamic Planning and Developments3
14th↑Masterplan Consultants WA3
16th↑Peter Webb & Associates PWA2
17th↑Statewest Planning2
21 town & regional planners ranked by number of full time town planners in WA