Published: Wednesday 20th April 2016
What: National School of Arts, Semester 1 2016: Research Seminar Series
Henry Hellyer and the Burnie Makers Centre presented by Associate Professor Simon Ryan
When: 27 April 12pm to 1pm, video conference
Opened in 2009, the Makers Workshop in Burnie, Tasmania attempts to answer a question posed to many civic authorities by deindustrialisation – what do we do now.
Like many towns and cities with vacant or decaying manufacturing sites, Burnie turned to heritage tourism to supply new opportunities. The city council rejected the idea of promoting the city as a ‘gateway’ to Cradle Mountain or to the Tarkine wilderness, instead reaching for a continuity between the heavy, centralised manufacturing past and a disaggregated, specialised and small scale future of ‘makers’.
The Makers Workshop, an odd hybrid of visitors’ centre, museum and craft display attempts to cohere a concept of local identity by reciting a narrative of progress and common inheritance. It does so through celebrating a foundational figure, Henry Hellyer, a surveyor employed by the Van Diemen’s Land Company to examine the 250,000 acres the company had been granted in north-west Tasmania.
Hellyer’s recommendation of Emu Bay – now Burnie – as a deep water port is construed in the Makers Centre as the beginning of a long and successful manufacturing history for the town.
However, there are a number of issues that complicate a simple foundational narrative. The museum is not a reconstructed factory but a postmodern spatially removed from previous sites of industry. The internal design elements are riven with contradictory impulses, narratives and signifiers.
The journals of Hellyer, for example, are taken as a design feature but are made illegible by their incorporation into a visual pun. Moreover, some of the claims to ongoing Burnie industry have been nullified since the centre opened by the same global forces that caused the centre to be established.
And like most heritage attractions, the Burnie Makers centre ‘selectively forgets the evil or indecorous or incomprehensible in acts of oblivion’. Hellyer’s tragic suicide, his brief but troubled interaction with local Aborigines and indeed the actual existence of the Tasmanian indigenous people undergo erasure within the centre.
This paper traces some of these contradictions and erasures that result when traditional foundation narratives meet postmodern design.
Simon Ryan is an associate professor of literature in ACU's National School of Arts, Brisbane.
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