Living Classroom land use strategy adopted

May 12, 2014

Gwydir Shire Council’s Living Classroom Committee, chaired by Cr. Geoff Smith, has adopted in principle a revised Activity and Landuse Strategy Plan.  Various stakeholder groups and individuals will be contacted and encouraged to participate positively in the future development of the site.

The plan will also be taken to the next meeting of the Bingara Showground Advisory Committee for discussion.

Initially The Living Classroom Masterplan was developed as part of the Bingara Town Strategy in 2011.

Whilst the site uses have begun to take shape there has been adjustment to some, however the vision of the original Masterplan retains currency. The overall bird’s eye view of the vision gives the sense of the landscape forming: a unique mix of the productive and the beautiful, the town intertwined with fingers of productive and liveable land.

There are no other destinations like this in Australia being developed currently, and it is this unique mix which excites people around Australia and the world. This may sound an overly optimistic suggestion but it’s based upon the feedback that is regularly received.

Further detail and form arose out of the Business Development Plan in 2012, and by the Project Management Plan and grant application related to the Interpretive Centre in 2013.

The building precinct and the bulk earthworks/ waterway systems have been the primary focus of initial works, and substantial infrastructure has been installed.

Currently, substantial revegetation over a two and a half kilometre corridor is being installed, forming a regional biolink. This supplements the over 4500 native trees and plants that have been installed around the lake and the frontage waterways. Research studies undertaken on the site have focused on ecology, soils and flora and have informed the site planning.

Design plans which have been developed to date include the Community Tree Orchard, the Wetland Gardens, the Forage Gardens, the Building Courtyard Landscape, the entry fence and sign, a traffic and signage system, and the Olive Tree Memorial Garden.

A water and waste water strategy has been developed, leading to a ring main plan and wastewater mains’ plan. The reed bed area has been detailed for drip irrigation. The front gardens are being progressively installed, as water becomes available and irrigation is in place. The final designs are being informed by current research and new collaborative partnerships.

The Broader Common
The balance of the site beyond the buildings’ precinct makes up the bulk of the 331.34 hectares, and this is now the subject of site planning.

Thirty Queensland University of Technology (QUT) students (final year landscape architecture) are carrying out 6 months of research and design input, and the best of these projects may inform the outcomes of some of these areas. An approach being adopted on the site is based on the slow food movement, which focuses on celebrating local food culture. We have harnessed this approach in the design, so that each landscape is able to excel using local resources, people and materials. For the overall vision of this site to be achieved it is imperative that strategic partnerships are formed and develop over time. This is one of the most important of these strategic partnerships.

The Activity and Land Use Strategy
Research and site planning have refined the location and mix and best uses for the broader site and these are shown on the Master Plan.

Aside from the research being undertaken by QUT, partnerships with other leaders are being developed, including and with: CSIRO researchers into climate change, leading scientists and partner farms growing fruit and nut trees, and hopefully expert local advice on current and experimental grazing practices from some of the local leading farmers.

In addition partnerships with local community groups will be harnessed and further developed over time, including the Bingara and Warialda Men’s Shed (For the construction of site specific outdoor seating for example. The Warialda Men’s Shed has already constructed cattle yards), local Artisans (bridges, arbors and sculptural elements), the local Gardening Club (kitchen gardens), and other interested and committed local residents (composting system, sensory garden for the less abled).

The staged development of the Interpretive Centre is the next major building works to be planned in detail. It is proposed that this building will be constructed over a number of years using students undertaking a course of rammed earth and other construction techniques.

These emerging activities will provide a wealth of inputs and assist with community ownership and regional marketing and networking.

The planning to date at The Living Classroom has been acknowledged through two national awards, and nomination for the Rosa Barba award for innovative landscape projects of the world in 2014.

Teaching and Learning
The site as a place for learning has already commenced with use of the Trade Training Centre for a range of courses such as in landscape design, permaculture, Landcare and soil care training.

The Primary Industries Trade Training Program being developed by Mr. Duncan Thain in April 2014 have been accommodated into the overall revised Master Plan with, in some uses, the use of externally available existing resources.

The Plan explored and is recommending integrating other available resources within Bingara into The Living Classroom development.

Short-courses in various activities can be undertaken, and these basic modules in horticulture and rural operations can be supplemented over time with other innovative regenerative agriculture training modules.

The various activity areas will need to be developed in more detail, and some require verification of existing elements.

Co-use of some areas being recommending will require discussion with the relevant advisory groups and more detailed planning (Showground, old cattle sale yards and Council’s former Bingara Waste Depot) but there are significant beneficial synergies that will accrue to all the interested parties.

Bingara and The Living Classroom has won national awards and received international interest in its integrated vision for town regeneration.

The activity and land use strategy plan strengthens the vision of The Living Classroom.

Overall it is a planning and development endeavour that will be created over a significant number of years with the journey being a component of the evolving story.