The main Westside structure currently sitting between Commonwealth Avenue and the West Basin of Lake Burley Griffin is off to become a stop-gap in another recreational space in the capital, at Stromlo Forest Park.
The shipping container village was never meant to be a permanent fixture, but presented an opportunity for Canberrans (and several businesses) to use the prime lakeside space while the Government worked through its longer term plans to redevelop the site.
At times, it seemed a bit of a boxy ghost town, but on other occasions, it was a lively venue for arts festivals, parties, children’s outings (we visited the animal nursery a couple of times), coffee breaks and even pre-election community consultation sessions with ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr.
Mr Barr was a tireless advocate for Westside in the face of repeated attacks. It slotted right into his ‘cool little capital’ vision, adding a touch of grunge to the otherwise fairly bland space that exists between the city and the lake. It was that edginess that made it the perfect venue for events tying in with the Art Not Apart festival, for example, and it was at just such an event that I first visited the site with my family.
Arriving was like walking into the sort of international arts event you’d find in Berlin, Rio or Melbourne. There were street performers, trapeze artists and acrobats popping up all over the place, colourful swings hung from the rooftop alongside streamers of brightly hued fabric, there were DJs mixing music that made you want to stay all night, there were stunning views from the bar upstairs, there were shipping containers filled with works of art and there were beautiful people everywhere … and this was at lunchtime with the kids! Imagine what it must’ve been like later.
Art Not Apart’s promotional blurb for an event held at Westside in 2016 reads thus:
“When night falls, think of a dystopian stomping ground. Blur the lines between present reality and virtual futurism with electronic beats, projection art and exhausted dancing. Tonight is called F_ck Art, Let’s Party. Enough said.”
I might’ve chosen a different name, but I’m not a director of edgy events or a marketer specialising in appealing to the hip crowd.
The point is, while many Canberrans will be glad to see Westside dismantled, it had its place in this city, a city that is growing up and developing a new identity for itself.
In its new home at Stromlo Forest Park, Westside will once again serve as a temporary facility to fill a gap where there is a need for retail and hospitality services but no structure yet in place.
Thousands of people visit Stromlo Forest Park each week. Now they’ll have somewhere to grab a coffee, perhaps hire a bike or, well, perhaps you have a business idea you can pitch to the Government? They’ll be advertising for expressions of interest in operating businesses at the site shortly.
Eventually, there will be extensive further development at Stromlo Forest Park, with retail facilities, playing fields and a gondola operating from the carpark to the peak of Mount Stromlo.
In the meantime, from later this year at least, Westside will be there – and before you groan about how it’ll interfere with the views as you run or cycle, note it will be positioned at ground level, rather than elevated as at West Basin and will be reconfigured and improved to better suit its new home.
According to the ACT Government, two of the containers in the tower structure are privately owned and will be returned to their owners during the deconstruction and removal process. Two other containers, owned by the Territory, will be used to provide suitable spaces for a cafe, bike repair facilities and storage.
Government-owned containers not needed at the Stromlo site have already been requested for use by other parts of government for storage.
For a while, at least, that space by the lake will be empty. Would it have been better to leave it empty all along? But what would the city’s commentators have had to whinge about then?
I say let’s give the ACT Government and the businesses that operated there some credit for giving the shipping container concept a go. Sure, it wasn’t pretty, but it had its moments, and I look forward to checking the revamped version out at its new home.
Will you be glad to see the end of Westside by the lake? What do you think about it’s new temporary home? Will it be an asset or an eyesore at Stromlo Forest Park?
Pictured above are performers and attendees at Westside during Art Not Apart. Photo: Art Not Apart