Cobar museum wins top award

The mayor and architects celebrate.

The revitalised museum and visitor information centre in the far-western NSW town of Cobar has taken out the top prize at the state’s National Trust Heritage Awards held at Doltone House in Sydney on Friday 13 May.

The building took out the Judges Choice Award for Dunn and Hillam Architects and Cobar Shire Council.

The Great Cobar Museum and Visitor Information Centre also won the Conservation – Built Heritage Award and was Highly Commended in the Conservation – Interiors and Objects category, with the jury calling it “an incredible regional project that has completely revived the significant heritage building”.

Mayor Peter Abbott said he was proud of the work both the council staff and the architects have done in producing a first class experience for both our visitors and the local community

“This project has defiantly put Cobar on the map,” he said.

Dunn and Hillam architect and director Ashley Dunn said that the project presented some significant challenges for the architectural team, which is based in Sydney and specialises in civic, heritage and community buildings for clients in cities and regional towns.

“We spend a lot of time carefully looking and documenting the condition of the heritage buildings we work with,” Ashley says.

“That means we can understand the first priorities in terms of conservation.

“We look for damaged building fabric so we know where our attention is most needed; we search out elements of the building that might have been forgotten or covered over; and we elicit all the stories about how the building has changed over time, and the people associated with each stage of its life.

“This intensive process enables the future design and purpose to emerge organically from our research and observations, in response to the client’s brief and budget.”

As well as being lauded by the National Trust Awards as the most impressive project in the state, the $2.8m project breathed new life into the building which was originally the headquarters of the Great Cobar Mining Company in 1910, later used as a boarding house, and converted into the town’s museum in the 1980s.

“The design has completely changed the way we think about our museum, by restoring the beautiful building and allowing it to be properly seen and appreciated for the first time in decades,” Great Cobar Museum Curator Kay Stingemore said.

“The new floorplan – which offers a coherent flow through the interpretive exhibitions – means we can tell different stories that engage our various visitors in new ways.

“It has also changed the way we work, giving us more space and a much healthier environment.”

The Cobar Shire Council – which commissioned the project and has since engaged Dunn and Hillam Architects to work on its youth centre, childcare centre, showgrounds and the museum’s second stage – has been delighted with the community’s response to the new facilities.

“From an operational point of view, Council is overjoyed.” Cobar Tourism Manager Demi Smith said.

“In the first three months of the Museum and Visitors Information Centre opening, we had till takings that equalled the entire annual takings of the previous year prior to renovation, which represented a 400 per cent increase in revenue.

“And from a staffing point of view, the staff are really comfortable and proud of their new workplace and community asset.”

“We have had a huge amount of community interest in holding functions in this new asset for the town.”

The National Trust (NSW) Heritage Awards is an annual celebration of outstanding practice in the field of heritage, awarding excellence in conservation, protection, and interpretation of Aboriginal, built, natural and cultural heritage over the past year.