ANU unveils its new ‘meeting place’

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Wally Bell presents Brian Schmidt with the ground-plan plaque. Photo: ANU

“YOU ain’t see nothin’ yet,” ANU Chancellor Gareth Evans proclaimed this morning (February 11) at the official unveiling of the new $260 million “Kambri” precinct at the university, held in the new “Manning Clark Hall”.

The crowd of well-wishers was welcomed by enthusiastic Aboriginal elders, Matilda House and Wally Bell, whose communities had gifted the name Kambri, meaning “meeting place”, to the university and who praised the ANU for acknowledging and collaborating with first peoples in setting up the precinct. House also praised the work carried out in the Tjabal Centre at the university, established back in the 1980s.

House and Bell presented the ANU with a miniaturised plaque version of an indigenous ground map area installed outside near Sullivan’s Creek Bridge. A bush fire pit, indigenous garden and heritage walk are also part of the new development.

Kambri, designed by BVN architects, replaces the old (Evans said: “worn out”) concessions area, ANU Arts Centre and Manning Clark lecture complex with a complex of five new buildings, more than 40 shops and retailers, a gym, pool, cinema, theatre, and a tree-lined promenade opening up University Avenue to Canberra City for the first time since the 1960s.

ANU vice-chancellor Brian Schmidt urged those present not to yearn for Harvard’s ivy-covered walls or the stonework of Oxford, saying: “I have visited the grounds of many of the world’s most impressive universities and I am proud to say that Kambri sets the new standard in delivering a contemporary community space with unrivalled services and facilities.”

‘Eureka Stockade’ in Manning Clark Hall Photo: Helen Musa

Prof Schmidt was keen to talk up the cultural aspects of the new facilities throwing the spotlight on the enormous Sidney Nolan’s 66 copper-panel work “Eureka Stockade” inside the hall. Initially commissioned by the by the first Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia (and former ANU Chancellor) Nugget Coombs, for the bank in Melbourne, it has been relocated to the ANU as a gift from the bank.

He also praised the director of the Drill Hall Gallery, Terence Maloon, for securing the Craig Edwards gift of 120 Western Desert paintings valued at more than $9 million, six of which have been installed in the foyer of the cultural precinct.

Legendary campus identities, he said, had been honoured in the naming of locations, as with the Diana Riddell Student Centre, honouring the 35 years spent on campus by a noted champion of students, the Marie Reay Teaching Centre, honouring the distinguished anthropologist, and Caroline Lane Walk, after “Queen” Caroline Lane, nee Chisholm.

Peter Garrett speaks during the opening. Photo: ANU

Former federal politician, lead singer of Midnight Oil and ANU alumnus Peter Garrett, was on hand to conjure up memories of the old ANU bar, on whose grounds the unveiling took place, describing his years studying arts-law and making music as “among the best years of my life”.

“We’re going to have to dirty up this venue a bit,” he suggested, but felt sure that Manning Clark Hall was “a cultural bonanza in the making.” Garrett was later conferred with an honorary doctorate by the university.

After a speech by ANU student Caitlin Figueiredo and a guitar/didgeridoo performance by William Barton, the formalities were over and the crowd was at leisure to wander through the precinct, which includes a 350-seat cinema with retractable seating and a black-box theatre with, so far, neither seating nor dressing rooms.

Outdoors at the new Kambri Precinct. Photo: ANU

Kambri will house 450 incoming students in the new Fenner Hall. Amenities will operate commercially, with an enormous underground car park, takeaway food stalls, a restaurant and, replacing the University Cooperative Bookshop, an enterprise involving Harry Hartog and Berkelouw Bookstore. So far there is no sign of a post office.

The day wound up with a live concert by a variety of ANU and Canberra bands, hosted by ANU alumna and Canberra comedian Chris Ryan.


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Helen Musa
“CityNews” arts editor

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