Sea, swans and industry are three words that describe the location of Techno Park Studios. Nestled in a quiet Williamstown location where nature and an oil refinery meet, Techno Park Studios is about dissolving boundaries – between gallery and studio, inside and outside, nature and the built environment. This artist-initiated and -funded project is a ‘work in progress’ that encourages new and experimental approaches to environment and contemporary art practice.
Techno Park Studios is the concept of Kim Donaldson, a visual artist, curator and Lecturer in the Painting Program at the VCA School of Art, The University of Melbourne.
HISTORY OF THE SITE
Around 1835 the location of Techno Park Studios was described by John Helder Wedge, a European surveyor, as ‘a low piece of ground which has the appearance of being covered with water in wet weather – and then skirted by a sheoak forest which fringes the Bay, … The soil in the narrow belt of oak is of a light sandy description with good grass.'
This is the territory of the Bunorong people and was inhabited by the Yallukit-willam tribe. Looking now at the vast industrial landscape, known to local children as ‘the fairyland that stinks’, it seems hard to believe that the people who lived here ate shellfish from the sea, and birds, fish, eels, eggs, lizards and snakes from the swamps and creeks. There were also plenty of kangaroos and possums.
European settlement increased as a consequence of the gold rush in Central Victoria and the site of Techno Park Studios was developed as Williamstown Racecourse. In 1873 an iron-roofed grandstand was erected and trees, flowerbeds and lawns were planted. It was the third largest course in Victoria with Pharlap (the horse with the big heart) and other famous horses racing here. During World War II, all horse racing at the course was suspended and the Australian Army took it over and established a camp. After the war many of Victoria’s racetracks closed. Williamstown’s course not only closed but the grandstand was destroyed by fire in 1946. Evidence of this past can still be seen and includes a lone date palm and the ruins of the grandstand.
After WWII hundreds of thousands of displaced persons and assisted migrants came to Australia. In 1949 the Nissen huts from the army camp became the Williamstown Hostel. Most of the people who came here were from Central Europe and many of them later settled permanently in the area. From 1951 it also became the home of many British migrants. Apparently they found the smells from the nearby meatworks and oil refinery, as well as mosquitoes from Kororoit Creek, depressing. They also objected to sharing the hostel with non-English-speaking migrants. By 1952 there were over 800 people living at the hostel, however it was not until 1969 that concrete and brick units replaced the Nissen huts. At this time it was renamed the Wiltona Hostel and the building that now houses Techno Park Studios was erected as a custom built kindergarten. The hostel closed temporarily in the mid 1970s then reopened in the late 70s to house Vietnamese refugees before closing permanently some time in the 1980s.
By this time human activities in the area, especially the development of heavy industry, had brought rapid despoilment of the land and waterways. Techno Park Studios abuts Kororoit Creek and up until the late 1980s this waterway was known as Melbourne’s ‘most polluted creek’. Since then, a growing awareness of environmental degradation has meant that Kororoit Creek and the wetlands around it have been reclaimed and revegetated with plants that are indigenous to the area. Unfortunately though, it was too late for some species, such as the white mangroves, which are now extinct. This area is now the Williamstown Wetlands Reserve, which has a bicycle and pedestrian path going past the entrance of Techno Park Studios. It is a short bicycle ride from Williamstown North train station. The abundant bird life, which includes black swans, pelicans, ibis, egrets and spoonbills, is quite remarkable so close to Melbourne’s CBD.
After its closure the complex was sold and renamed ‘Technopark’. At this time the kindergarten and the land surrounding it were sold to a company called ‘Hyde Signs’. ‘Hyde Signs’ ceased business around 2006. The building and land were then sold and demolition and redevelopment were pending. This did not take place and on 12 September 2008 Kim Donaldson leased the building.
Refurbishment then began on a very ‘unloved’ building. Two of the classrooms were established as studios and a third became an exhibition space. On 29 November 2008 Techno Park Studios was launched with Kim Donaldson’s ‘Small, medium and large moving-in sale’, and a group exhibition, ‘The makeover team’, which included the work of all the people that had helped make Techno Park Studios a reality.
In keeping with its original function as a kindergarten, the building has maintained many of its original features which include the linoleum floors, coloured doors, ‘Stramit’ ceilings and shelving.
Photography for this site by John Brash, Elly Clarke, Ross Coulter, Sue Dodd, Kim Donaldson, Dan Miller, Sandra Radovini, Kate Robertson and Nick Stephenson. Website by Kim Donaldson. Graphic concept for Techno Park Studios by Dylan Statham. Techno Park Studios also gratefully acknowledges the ongoing support of Sue Dodd, Techno Park Studios resident artist.
Enquiries about Techno Park Studios are welcomed.