In a previous entry on Malcolm Cooke I reminisced about our visits to Cuppacumbalong in Tharwa, ACT, when it was operating as “one of the most successful and long-running craft outlets in the country”. The craft centre is now long gone, replaced in the early 2000s by a restaurant, function centre and gallery in the homestead, and by a cottage on the property exhibiting and selling local art and craft.
Archived snapshots of the Cuppacumbalong website from 2003-2005 show a business planning to expand in new directions. Boutique hotel accommodation is at the development application stage, and a small nursery of historic and cottage garden plants is also planned. Poignantly, these pages vanish as, first the 2003 Canberra bushfires, then the Tharwa Bridge closure in April 2005, have a contracting influence on visitor numbers. By the end of 2004, exhibitions at the Cottage and Homestead galleries have ceased, and by the end of 2005, the function centre has also closed.
The current lessee is preparing to re-open the property to the public when the Tharwa Bridge repairs are completed at the end of this year. Finding the current lease too restrictive, he applied for changes that would (amongst other things) allow the property to be used for a range of purposes, not just Australian art and craft. In September 2009, over 200 people signed a petition objecting to these changes, but this month the ACT Planning and Land Authority approved them all.
Marily Cintra has sent me an invitation to an event – Silenced Heritage: A WAKE for Cuppacumbalong – to be held at 2 PM, 1st May 2010 at The Art Shed, 7 Naas Road, Tharwa, to raise awareness of the changes to the lease, which are being contested by artists and craft people in the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal. The invitation asks people to bring a memory, photograph or memento about Cuppacumbalong when it was a thriving arts and craft centre to share during the wake. Musicians performing at the wake will include Nirmal Chandra Jena, from Odissi Dance and Music Company, playing the harmonium, and Col Bernau, jazz and mandolin.
In a Canberra Times article dated 17 August 2009 , the current lessee reaffirmed his intention to include a gallery in the re-opened facility and also to “put another gallery workshop and another gallery cafe/restaurant up on the road to bring more people in.” I hope that this will be the case, and that the galleries and workshops are active, vibrant places. The danger is that the lease now makes it easy for this side of the business to remain undeveloped if it doesn’t fit in with other priorities.
Going through our collection now, we are amazed at how many pieces came from Cuppacumbalong. We had the opportunity in the late 1970s, 1980s and 1990s to take in the work of many Australian potters, either as part of a round trip with visitors through the Cotter to Tidbinbilla and back via Lanyon (or the other way around); or on the way back from bushwalks in the Namadji National Park. The combination of exercise, nature and cultural heritage was an exhilarating mix, and hopefully it can be so again, when Cuppacumbalong re-opens.
- Megan Doherty, “Historic homestead’s modern dilemma”, page 5.