Happy birthday Leonardo – Queanbeyan style

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Inspector Keith Price and Matilda House perform the smoking ceremony.

UNESCO-designated World Art Day – that’s today, April 15 – purposely coincides with Leonardo Da Vinci’s birthday, so the arts officers at Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council decided to make an even bigger day of it. 

The new Rusten House Arts Centre in Collett Street was previewed before a select group of arts insiders, gardeners, builders and local identities.

On hand was Queanbeyan sculptor and activist matriarch, Connee Colleen, still able to heckle the speechmakers, and Ngambri elder and artist, Matilda House, who said, “thanks to Connee… your footprint is here, you have walked here with me”.

House was on hand to perform a smoking ceremony and welcome guests to country, but quickly pointed out to those present that they were on stolen land.

A room at the new centre, Connee Colleen sculpture in the corner.

“You can’t wipe history away,” she said, reminding them that two famous indigenous identities, Bobby and “Queen Nellie” Hamilton had died in the heritage house, built in 1861, located in the grounds of Queanbeyan hospital, and formerly a hospital ward itself.

“We are still alive and cooking and kicking,” she said, throwing in a few remarks about former Mayor Frank Pangallo’s council, not known for its largesse when it came to culture, and a few compliments to the present Mayor Tim Overall, under whose watch Rusten House had been refurbished and assigned to the arts.

“We’ve even got a policeman here – you’re not going to arrest me for being cheeky, are you?” House asked local Inspector Keith Price, as she invited him to accompany her in performing the smoking ceremony.

Overall stepped up to the podium to tell those present about the more recent developments and refurbishments at the house.

Connee Colleen (centre) and her son with friend, Sue Jarvis.

Back in 2009, he said, former Labor Premier of NSW, Nathan Rees had announced that the heritage house would be formally handed over from the NSW government to to Connee Colleen as representative of the people of Queanbeyan.

But the house turned out to be riddled with asbestos, Overall said, and Liberal Premier Barry O’Farrell raided his premier’s fund to remove it.

“That’s the way to do it,” Connee Colleen opined from the sidelines.

The council put the refurbishment project out to tender, Overall explained, but found it too expensive so decided to do it themselves to create “a wonderful art centre”.

He praised the builders who had carried out the work and the gardeners who had recently given the heritage landscaping a quick go-over, and who told us they’d be putting in new plants and shrubs in the coming weeks.

Inside the building, there were works by local region artists with the centrepiece an exhibition backed by the Queanbeyan Museum, sketching the history of Rusten House.

Now, filled with artwork from the Queanbeyan Palerang region, the poky rooms seemed capacious and capable of housing more than just visual arts – book launches and poetry readings come to mind.

It was a far cry from the derelict, rubbish-filled house with potential on which we reported several years ago – it’s not often that we can report such good news on the arts scene.

Rusten House Arts Centre will be officially opened on April 22.

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Helen Musa
“CityNews” arts editor

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