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Funding pledges support $446m Kakadu town masterplan

The Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation (GAC)’s $446 million plan to transform the mining town of Jabiru in Kakadu National Park into a tourism destination has received a funding boost, with the federal government and opposition both pledging support for the plan.

The Coalition and Labor simultaneously announced $216 million and $220 million respectively for the national park, which includes the town of Jabiru, originally built to service a uranium mine.

In July 2018, GAC, representing the Mirarr Traditional Owners, presented a detailed masterplan setting out a vision for the future of the town following the scheduled closure of the nearby Ranger uranium mine in 2021.

A proposed World Heritage Interpretation Centre in the masterplan for Jabiru by NAAU and Enlocus.

A proposed World Heritage Interpretation Centre in the masterplan for Jabiru by NAAU and Enlocus.

Image: NAAU and Enlocus

Developed by Stafford Strategy Consultancy Group with Melbourne-based architecture collective NAAU and landscape architecture practice Enlocus, the masterplan includes provisions for luxury accommodation and “glamping,” a $57.7 million World Heritage Interpretation Centre, as well as education and health services.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said, “One of the most exciting initiatives will be an Indigenous-led World Heritage Kakadu Visitor Centre in Jabiru that we will fully fund with between $20-60 million alongside commercial partners.” The remainder of the government’s funding includes up to $70 million for road upgrades, up to $111 million for tourism infrastructure and $35 million to support remediation of Jabiru.

Meanwhile, shadow minister for cities and regional development Anthony Albanese announced $25 million towards the interpretation centre, as part of Labour’s package for the region, which includes $100 million for road upgrades, $45 million for asbestos remediation work in Jabiru and $44 million environmental and national park infrastructure upgrades.

The Bininj (Traditional Owner) Resource Centre in the masterplan for Jabiru by NAAU and Enlocus.

The Bininj (Traditional Owner) Resource Centre in the masterplan for Jabiru by NAAU and Enlocus.

Image: NAAU and Enlocus

While the Northern Territory government gave the plan in-principle support in 2018, the plan is contingent on federal funding. The announcements from the Coalition and Labor on 13 January represent the first indication of federal support. GAC welcomed the funding, stating it would now work with state and federal governments to progress with the town’s transition.

“Today’s announcements are very welcome and timely as the town needs certainty for its future viability and Kakadu is in dire need of a refresh,” said Justin O’Brien, CEO of GAC on 13 January.

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“For this investment to succeed it needs the genuine engagement of Traditional Owners, outside the usual bureaucratic processes of the National Park Board of Management. This means a direct hand in the new tourism masterplan and roads strategy for the Park, and more direct control over the protection and care for the significant Indigenous cultural heritage in the Park.”

The design team and the Mirarr people’s plans for its revitalization will see the town reorientated around a rehabilitated lake and recreated wetland, with a series of integrated paths, boardwalks and lookouts established. The proposed World Heritage Interpretation Centre would be located at the edge of the lake and wetland.

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“The architectural forms emerge from the Jabiru landscape and lake like the Kakadu escarpment emerging from the wetlands,” said the design team. “The tactile rammed earth walls, produce a striated effect that echoes the ancient geology of the escarpment.”

The redevelopment of the town is being slated by all sides as a way to ensure the economic future of Jabiru and its residents in the face of the Ranger mine’s imminent closure, while also encouraging more people to visit Kakadu. Visitors to the national park have plummeted from around 300,000 per year in the late 1980s, to 185,000 per year.

A swimming hole in the masterplan for Jabiru by NAAU and Enlocus.

A swimming hole in the masterplan for Jabiru by NAAU and Enlocus.

Image: NAAU and Enlocus

“Better services and infrastructure for Kakadu will mean more visitors and that means more jobs not just for Jabiru, but for the whole Territory,” said the prime minister Scott Morrison.

The federal government said it would now seek to finalize the deal by entering into a Memorandum of Understanding with the NT Government, Energy Resources of Australia, and the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation.

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“We look forward to welcoming more people to Jabiru and Kakadu to share our country and cultural heritage,” said Mirarr Traditional Owner Simon Nabanardi. “As the town changes, we hope Jabiru will be recognized around the world as a significant Australian cultural destination, a place where learning about living culture is accessible in a meaningful way.”

Jabiru is home to the Bowali Visitor Centre by Glenn Murcutt in association with Troppo Architects, which was awarded the Sir Zelman Cowan Award for Public Buildings at the 1994 National Architecture Awards, and a crocodile-shaped hotel designed by Wilkins, Klemm and Morrison, which opened in 1988. It was at the centre of the Northern Territory’s longest-running native title claim before Jabiru and surrounding areas were returned to the Mirarr people in 2013.

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