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Thursday, 15 May 2014
Page: 3976

Mr WATTS (Gellibrand) (10:10): I rise this morning to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Footscray Community Arts Centre. For 40 years, the Footscray Community Arts Centre has been inspiring workers of Melbourne's west, and their families, to engage with art and creativity. In Melbourne's west we are lucky to enjoy a vibrant cultural and artistic life, from the Substation art gallery in Newport to the Louis Joel centre in Altona. But it was not always this way. The industrial nature of Melbourne's west once meant that avenues for art and culture were scarce. In 1974, a pioneering group of unionists, including George Seelaf, Paddy Garrity and Peter Green, recognised the importance of art and creativity in the lives of workers and their families. As George Seelaf said to Paddy in 1973, the unions are on the wrong track if they only think about wages and conditions but they do not give a damn about the quality of life and culture of the working class people.

It is a matter of having arts and culture not only inside the factory gates but also outside for the workers and their families. These men recognised that meatworkers, who spent all day surrounded by death and destruction at the meatworks, needed a forum for life and creativity, for community art and for activities to express their part in the human experience. They created the Footscray Community Arts Centre for this purpose—so that these workers could express their creative side through artistic and cultural activities. The centre was a key part of the revitalisation of art and culture in Melbourne's west. This month, the centre is celebrating 40 years of operation. In that time, more than two million people have visited or participated in one of the centre's programs. In those 40 years, the Footscray community has evolved dramatically, and the Footscray Community Arts Centre is in part responsible for that advancement. The centre has helped many disadvantaged and marginalised groups in the Footscray community by actively engaging them in community arts programs. Originally the centre operated out of a disused detergent factory; however, in 1979 it moved to the landmark bluestone building on the banks of the Maribyrnong River, a former piggery. Today, a manicured green garden slopes down to the river. Quite fittingly, across the river sit the cranes and containers of Melbourne's wharves, reminding visitors of the community centre's industrial origins. It is now a vibrant community hub, and a place that my children love and treasure.

The Footscray Community Arts Centre recently held a picnic to celebrate 40 years of its work engaging with the Footscray community. It was filled with the mix of artistry and activism that we have come to know and love in Melbourne's west. I would like to thank everyone who was involved in organising this event, in particular Heather Horrocks for her work with the Design Your Own Picket event, an artistic event for children that my kids very much enjoyed. I also thank Graeme Bird, for sharing such insightful thoughts about the origins of the Footscray Community Arts Centre and its work.

I am proud to represent this centre as their local federal member of parliament, and I am a devoted advocate for the centre's development and growth and the championing of artistic expression in Melbourne's west.