Community initiative puts Northcliffe on the map

Article image - Community initiative puts Northcliffe on the map

Covering more than 7,000 square kilometres, some 85 per cent of Manjimup Shire Council is National Park or State Forest. One of the Shire’s major towns, Northcliffe, is situated 360 kilometres south of Perth. This small regional community recently celebrated the opening of the Southern Forest Sculpture Walk, the town’s new
$1 million information and visitor centre and Walpole’s Swarbrick Discovery Centre.

The Swarbrick Discovery Centre is not what most people would expect. There is no building, but a walk in old growth karri forest with a 39 metre long, mirror finished steel wall at the entrance and sculptures among the trees. The wall is designed to show how people influence the forest and how they have been influenced by it, beginning with Indigenous stories and taking in forestry workers and those in the group settlement scheme.

The Southern Forest Sculpture Walk was a community initiated and run project. Local artist Fiona Sinclair came up with the idea as part of Council’s initiative to relocate its library, telecentre and visitor centre into one new building.

Community Development Officer, Naomi Davey, said Council offered Fiona much support and helped her in the direction of the right government grants and their availability.

“We assisted Fiona to establish a business plan, and also facilitated meetings with relevant stakeholders and grant providers,” she said.

Naomi Davey said although Council was initially involved in facilitating the walkway development, Fiona eventually took control through the establishment of the Southern Forests Arts Association.

“The end result is incredible, especially for such a small community,” Naomi Davey said. “Performing arts is quite popular in the Northcliffe township, and the artistic community really came together to achieve something great here.”

The Southern Forest Sculpture Walk is Australia’s first purpose built walking trail to feature a permanent display of contemporary artworks. The 1.2 kilometre walk runs as a loop from the visitor centre and includes four boardwalk sections.

Some of the State’s best artists, writers and musicians were invited to contribute to the project, which features nine permanent sculptures. Children are invited to pause in five special nooks and listen to stories. Audio tours are available with poems, stories and music commissioned for the walk. All of the tours detail the relationship of people to the forest.

Fiona Sinclair said feedback from visitors has been tremendously encouraging.

“We have received letters, emails and phone calls from enthusiasts who have travelled specifically to Northcliffe to walk the trail, as well as those who just stumbled upon it by chance as they wandered into the visitor centre on their way to somewhere else,” she said.

The Western Australian Department of Local Government and Regional Development provided $120,000 towards the cost of establishing the walk.

Northcliffe has been a timber town and areas of forest were also cleared for dairy farms and the growing of tobacco.

Now, local people hope to build a new industry based on the forest – tourism.

For further information contact Naomi Davey on (08) 9771 7777.