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This rose of many names doesn't smell so sweet

It’s a riddle! How to turn a Sphinx into a Phoenix (some might ask ... "How to turn a dogs breakfast into a facility the community will actually enjoy and use?")

The inclusions, let alone the name of the proposed Mackay Park precinct are as fluid as milk – will they sour or set is the question. "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet" and this rose of the proposed $51m Mackay Park Centre is taking on a sickly sweetness that is becoming a bit.... on the nose

Is it the Performing Arts Centre that Indi Carmichael referred to in her interview on 2EC on 29th May (mmm, the day after the petition to keep the Batemans Bay Community Centre was tabled in Council)

Or a ‘vibrant community centre’ as the Mayor referred to it as, in her interview on ABC South East radio on the 31st May 2019?

Is it the REGIONAL AQUATIC, ARTS AND LEISURE CENTRE Mayoral minute 27 MARCH 2018 or,

from the report of the same day/meeting, ‘an arts and cultural centre’? What happened to the word Regional? Looks like as soon as they got their Regional Funding from the State and Federal Regional Growth funds they dropped the word regional like a hot cake because - when it is built the whole region will pay for it in their rates, irrespective as to whether they use it or not.

And what ARE we building for the ARTs in the Bay in this so called Cultural Centre?

What exactly are the inclusions for the Arts? Let’s see if we can figure out what they may be.

The preliminary concept and Otium business case (August 2017) includes:

  • an arts and cultural centre with a large flexible, flat floor auditorium with retractable seating for up to 500 people, dressing rooms, green room and storage, gallery/exhibition space and storage, rehearsal/ dance studio/ music room, ‘wet’ arts workshop space and storage (for pottery, painting, etc), ‘dry’ arts workshop space and storage (for drawing, textiles, etc), meeting and multi-purpose rooms and amenities.

In that same month (August 2017) the vision changed again – now we have:

  1. Soundproofed rehearsal/dance studio and

  2. Music/recording studio

  3. Kitchen (not kitchenette)

  4. Gallery and theatrette

But wait, there is more:

from 29 August 2017 Extraordinary Council meeting downloaded 31/05/2019 Council described:

Purpose-built arts, cultural and community facilities:
  • Main auditorium with retractable seating for 500 people that can be used for exhibitions, rehearsals and performances

  • Wet and dry arts workspaces

  • Soundproofed rehearsal/dance studio

  • Music/recording studio

  • Large and small meeting rooms

  • Kitchen and storage facilities

Tourism, food and retail
  • Shared front entrance and foyer

  • Gateway Visitor Centre

  • Café and retail space

  • Gallery and theatrette

In March, from the Mayoral minute 27 MARCH 2018 Page 1 MR18/001 REGIONAL AQUATIC, ARTS AND LEISURE CENTRE AT MACKAY PARK, BATEMANS BAY File Ref: E12.6442 tells us we will get a different story again:

 An arts and cultural centre with:

  • large flexible, flat floor auditorium with retractable seating for 500 people

  • dressing rooms, green room and storage

  • gallery/exhibition space and storage

  • rehearsal/dance studio/music room

  • ‘wet’ arts workshop space and storage

  • ‘dry’ arts workshop space and storage

  • meeting room (note singular tense)

  • multi-purpose room (note singular tense)

  • amenities

 Shared facilities with:

  • foyer

  • café

  • visitor information service

  • administration offices

  • plant and support services

And from Mayoral minute from above meeting:

  • ……….suitably designed venues for performing arts, exhibition space for visual arts and workshop spaces.

Come: 19th Feb 2019

Then in April 2019: $25m from Federal Government confirmed for Mackay Park project April 1, 2019 Ann Sudmalis, on giving us the extra $25mill “The successful project will see the construction and fit out of a 25 metre 8-lane pool with ramp access, therapy pool and spa, gym and group fitness area as well as a café, 500-seat auditorium and a gallery and exhibition space.”

However, as part of the community consultation on the concept plans (Jan/Feb 2019):

Why is the proposed theatre capacity (now) 350 seats? It was a decision made by the architects, based on best practice and consultation with industry, to include a 350-seat theatre in preliminary concepts for the facility. Council also consulted with theatre companies likely to come to Batemans Bay. They said their key driver was theatre quality over quantity of seats – things like lighting, the sound system, and fittings. They indicated if a performance sold out, they would add another show. Performers also indicated they preferred performing to a smaller, packed house, than a large half-filled theatre. Council also visited and spoke with operators of other Council-run theatres in NSW and Victoria. All advice indicated a 350-seat theatre was the most sensible capacity to meet community needs, taking into account current and future demand. The theatre design will include scope for a small increase to seating once it’s built.

The month of May gets quite active. Hence a comment on the Mayor (ABC SE radio 31 May2019) referring to the proposed Mackay Park centre as ‘a vibrant community centre’:

‘Mayor Innes refers to the 'new community centre'. Is she serious? The new wonderful exciting complex is supposed to be a 'state of the art' Aquatic/Arts facility, not a community centre.‘ (Comment on Beagle post Council meeting of 28th May 2019)


Two days before: Council’s Arts officer Indi Carmichael discussed her/their credentials* on radio, which, as we know from her talk to the Sunset Committee and later the Arts groups, are impressive – from the participant point of view – but NOT theatre management.

May 29, 2019 Kimmi interview from 2EC's morning show "The Brekky Bar" chats with Eurobodalla Council's Indi Carmichael

* What was troubling was that Kimmi referred to the Mackay Park Centre as the ‘Performing Arts Centre’ and Indi did not correct her.

As at 31/05/2019 the Council FAQs still refer to there being a 500 seat theatre with retractable seating.

Yet the three concept plans shown to the public for comment in January and February 2019 had an immovable core of 350 seat theatre with raked, fixed seating

Council’s official title as described on its State and Federal grant applications is BATEMANS BAY REGIONAL AQUATIC, ARTS AND LEISURE CENTRE

What is it that we are really getting in the way of Arts ?

What seems to be shaping up is Council planning that Moruya will be the ART centre (the BAS), the Batemans Bay will get Theatre, and the Botanic Gardens will get workshops. But they won’t come out and say it clearly.

Is it viable? Is there enough support for this?

All the input from the Visual Arts people, and the Arts people broadly, was for a vibrant centre for creative minds. Sounds like that has disappeared from the radar

In 2018, with great confidence, Jeannie Brewer wrote in a Perfex newsletter: ‘You and your groups can now start planning how you might use this building and what it means to you. At last we will have a coming together of all our disparate groups into one building, which was always the PerfEx vision – a coming together of creative minds and a coming together of likeminded people. There will be an opportunity for coffee in an arts’ café after workshops, or dance classes. The possibilities are endless…This is your artistic future and who knows where it will end up! Exciting times ahead! ‘

What is Council vision of the role of the Arts Centre in the Bay/Shire? It is clear they have one for the Pool complex, but the Arts centre inclusions and concept changes constantly – 500 seats with retractable seating for versatility plus a 200 seat black box; suddenly becomes single rigid 350 tiered; visual arts spaces are there – then they are gone.

Is it

  1. an entertainment centre? If so who will entertain there?

  2. A performing Arts Centre? If so who will perform there?

  3. a theatre arts centre? If so who are these artists, companies and what fee will they pay

  4. A thriving Arts centre for the meeting of arts (mainly visual) in the community (as it was originally to be)? If so what space is available, who will curate and what fee will be applied to this space?

  5. a quasi community centre cum theatre

Council clearly does NOT have a concept that matches the submissions by the Arts community, or one that is coherent and viable.

1. If its an entertainment centre, they have to make a lot of changes to their original plans, and the size of the theatre must be larger (and attendant spaces) to make it commercially viable, but then: can the community afford and do we need three theatre spaces being Bay Players Theatre, the proposed Mackay Park and then the more than capable 500 capacity Batemans Bay Soldiers Club. Bay Theatre Players own their own space and provide several highly successful performances a year. The Batemans Bay Soldiers Club is a well used venue that is supported by staffing, bars and restaurants. Where are the visual arts in the concept plans? In cupboard size spaces in less than accessible spaces as if it was some token after thought.

Will the Mackay Park aquatic facility become a thriving arts meeting centre? Not with the present balance in the three concept plans presented earlier this year. it is understood that the visual art people have resigned themselves to no big space asking "why should we use the centre at all?" The rest of the visual art needs can be accommodated – albeit fractured – across the local area and its amenities as has been evident with the recent River of Art. Expected fees of at $700 a day (for the theatre space) or approx. $40ph for meeting spaces, as touted in the Otium business plan are not appealing to arts or community groups. Is the Mackay Park edifice a white elephant coming up? Councillors have been duly informed however they appear either ignorant to the community alarm or are blissfully going forward assured by the positive perceptions of their consultants and senior staff.

What does appear is that Council have added a new element to the naming of the centre to also include Community Centre. With no decent kitchen, with poor meeting spaces and with the provision of a leased kiosk cafe the community are coming to realise they are being shafted and are now saying "No Way".

In the Mayor’s 19 Feb 2019 media release she made no mention of the visual arts at all, only that Mackay Park would have theatre and dance rehearsal spaces and meeting rooms. Some might ask where did this dance profile come from? Apart from it being a strong activity for youth it was not in the original brief.

So what is going on?

Council and councillors should at least be talking about this with the Sunset Committee (remember them? They were the hand picked council community committee charged to work together to create this complex?) and updating them on costs and any business case revision at the minimum. Have Council done this? No.

It is time to get clear on council’s vision on what is to be in the Arts Centre because Council staff nor the Mayor and Councillors seem to be able to offer any clarity.

Do any of their descriptions around what the arts component including exhibition spaces and theatre match the community’s wishes, as expressed in so many submissions, focus groups and public consultation? Do the Councillors have any idea of what are the implications and possibilities of their decisions around the arts component of the upcoming Concept D and in measuring the proposed incomes, utilisation and overheads?


There are two critical factors in continuing to be successful with our grant funding applications:

1. A strong business case demonstrating that the proposed centre is affordable now and

into the future.

2. Demonstrated community support for the proposed centre.

So far we are not meeting EITHER of these conditions At the end of the day, with the building community disquiet one might ask "how did we get the money?" Most likely the State Government Grant and the Federal Grant came about on their own merits and had nothing to do with the fact that it was an election year.