Inhabiting every Australian home is a bush ballad, Waltzing Matilda. While having nothing to do with dancing, the famous whimsical folk music and poetry cast itself as a beacon of hope during community hardships faced in outback Australia from the 1800s. Banjo Patterson based his poem on the events he witnessed around the shearer strike of 1895 in Winton, Queensland. Waltzing Matilda kept the cause for social justice in front of the public’s mind resulting in them rallying behind the shearers. Ever since the poem traveled through the country, touching emotions, various folklore dawned around it. Holding significance in Australia’s culture, the 30 versions of Waltzing Matilda have a dedicated museum at its birthplace.
Antecedent to Redesigning
Banjo Patterson penned Waltzing Matilda to represent the poverty and exploitation an itinerant went through during the economic depression of Australia. Named after the (unofficial) national anthem, the Waltzing Matilda Center not only celebrates the ballad but is a tribute to the people and land of the outback, Winton. The sparsely populated region of parched and remotely grazing land made tourism an important economic driver. The original cultural center tragically lost its valuable artifacts and memorabilia to fire in 2015, leaving a void in the hearts and tourist trade of the township.
Three years later, in 2018, the re-envisioned Waltzing Matilda by Cox Architecture was augmented to its past glory. Cox translated the geographical identity of context to design a monolithically striking structure. The design abstracts the form of rock formation of jump-up to stark, angular planes and fluid punchers. The aim was to sublimate, change the body of spaces in the land of ashes to create an impact without losing the essence of bush life and its historical material.
Draping of Function
Situated beside a highway crossroad and the main street, waltzing matilda center is an unmissable centerpiece of regional tourism. Following the language of rugged jump-ups, the punctured cafe, gift shop, and entry foyer on the textured facade directly address the front street. Tucked behind are exhibition and reading spaces, leaving a central garden between the existing fraction of the saved structure. Cox architecture accommodated spaces in a way that allowed visitors to hopscotch through each function representing the poetic memories and journey of the outback.
The brass-finished foyer canopy catches the eye against the earth-toned facade, reflecting light from dawn to dusk and allowing visitors to look through the perforations at the cloudless sky, entering with a slightly ethereal experience.
Transitioning from the jagged gold-like to a more rusted wood canopy, one enters to waltzing matilda center. Encapsulating the nature of the outback’s landscape, the entrance walls with jagged punchers have a tambour effect concrete cladding. The light pours in through the mountainous skylight lined with a brass finish, brightening the warm interiors. Taking the clear twinkling night sky inside, the integral group responsible for the illumination of the center arranged the downlights in a constellation pattern. As a tribute, the star sign of Banjo Patterson was one of the constellations installed on the foyer ceiling.
Taking the natural occurrence of opal in Queensland metaphorically, Cox Architecture embedded opals on the polished concrete floor of the welcoming array, giving it an arroyo look. This path cuts across the new building, joining the outside directly to the central garden that leads to exhibits of old locomotives and transport of Winton.
To minimize the impact of a tall volume on the human scale, the library has walls with insets increasing from floor to ceiling that lay out a tranquil air to the readers. The ribbon-like lanterns throughout the structure represent the fluid nature of billabongs reflecting the dream-like golden sunset of the outback through its perforated skin.
The exhibit that houses memoirs of waltzing matilda, the ballad, has a multi-sensorial experience for the visitors. Movement, memories, melody, and visuals are manifested off the ballad to create an immersive environment. The space is in a sequence that tells the story, starting from its origin to the now-celebrated version of the waltzing matilda, history, and artistic expressions of the outback. As the ballad fills the air softly, the lights dim in and out, and one can find themselves resonating in the fluid edges of the artistic visual interpretation of the ballad.
A crude delicacy
Delicate in detail yet crude exterior best describes the architectural language of the waltzing matilda center. From gold to rust materials, contrasting fluid interiors and rough exteriors, of all things beautiful, raw, and robust, cox architecture crafted every part of the museum an omnipresent of remote Australia. It gets easier to understand why waltzing matilda is used to echo the Australian outback through a structure. This cultural project not only gave hope to the locals by preserving its history in materials but left foreign visitors with an impactful experience, acknowledging the years of hardships, faith, and change the country went through with the ballad.
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Dev (2019) Waltzing Matilda Centre – inde.awards: Our region’s design on the global stage., INDE.Awards. Available at: https://www.indeawards.com/the-building-2019/waltzing-matilda-centre/
Griffiths, E. (2016) The history of waltzing matilda, Culture Trip. The Culture Trip. Available at: https://theculturetrip.com/pacific/australia/articles/the-history-of-waltzing-matilda/
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Waltzing matilda centre (2021) Museums and Galleries QLD. Available at: https://magsq.com.au/museum-gallery/waltzing-matilda-centre/
Waltzing matilda centre (2022) Integral Group. Available at: https://www.integralgroup.com/projects/waltzing-matilda-centre/
Waltzing matilda centre (no date) COX. Available at: https://www.coxarchitecture.com.au/project/waltzing-matilda-centre/
Waltzing matilda centre: Cox architecture (no date) Archello. Available at: https://archello.com/project/waltzing-matilda-centre
Outback rock formation of Winton (no date) Wikimedia. Available at: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/00/Sedimentary_Rock_Layers_Zabriskie_Point_Death_Valley_USA.jpg
what is waltzing Matilda by cox architecture (2018) segd.org. Available at: https://segd.org/waltzing-matilda-centre