UPDATED: #SaveMarion

UPDATE: Our Marion Cultural Centre is no longer in danger of demolition.

Following a passionate community campaign by a group of local residents, City of Marion councillors voted to keep it. It also achieved state and national heritage listing in December 2019.

Some background: the busy community hub in suburban Adelaide (by ARM and Adelaide firm Phillips Pilkington Architects) opened in 2001.

Architecturally it’s a small building, but we gave it a big voice to penetrate the noise of the hulking Westfield Marion shopping centre nearby. Its extrovert façade literally proclaims the name ‘MARION’ as a proud marker of its place.

But in 2018, a multinational hotel chain approached the City of Marion, which owns and runs the centre, and expressed interest in the site. In response, Marion issued an EOI to invite proposals from that hotel chain plus others.

Admittedly, the City of Marion pledged to provide equivalent facilities in or near the proposed development: the EOI document advised bidders that “due consideration needs to be given to retaining or replacing” the cultural centre’s facilities.”

This may or may not have stacked up financially. Either way, the community was not convinced.

“Marion Cultural Centre is one of the best community cultural centres in SA and a beautiful, novel building.”

— Peter Goers, ABC radio presenter

What’s in the building?

The Cultural Centre (2001) has a library, the climate-controlled Gallery M, the Domain Theatre and a busy indoor/outdoor café. There’s also a multi-purpose foyer that can be a display space, extra café dining area and performance area with the steps as seating. It opens onto a generous plaza outside.

Council documents show its library is its district’s most popular, and about 30,000 people attend the Domain Theatre every year.

Domain Theatre was packed out in cabaret mode when Harry Baulderstone and Marcus Ryan presented Feelin’ Groovy: The Songs of Simon & Garfunkel.

Resident John Khateeb set up an online petition to protect Marion. “As a migrant and a survivor of a horrible civil war with a very limited budget, this centre provided a safe place for my 6- and 3-year-old daughters to play and borrow books and toys,” he says. “It provided us a chance to meet new people and enjoy the facilities.”

Originally there were only coffees and things but, by popular request, Marion obtained a liquor licence and the café tripled in size.

What do people think?

Jodie Pearce also commented on the online petition. “Marion Cultural Centre is one of the few fully accessible places to meet and gather—and people can actually hear each other thanks to the design and acoustic treatment of the building. It’s a true civic hub and a renowned arts hub.”

Local resident Jane Osborne worked for weeks circulating a paper petition in the building each weekday. “The Cultural Centre is really functional and adaptable,” she says. “I’m learning more and more about how flexible the theatre is, and how many things go on in the café area. There are groups for knitting and chess, and I see people coming in from the Centrelink office across the road just to sit down. The computers are always busy in the library, and there are parents coming in with their kids after school.”

Gallery M gift shop

Alirio Zavarce is director of the True North Youth Theatre Ensemble, which is for performers aged eight to 17. He established it to fill a gap in theatre opportunities for children in Adelaide’s northern suburbs. He describes the Cultural Centre as being set up to nourish the community.

“The cultural identity of Marion is based around the cultural centre…The theatre is just amazing.”

— Alirio Zavarce

A successful fight.

Marion Cultural Centre was saved and has now been heritage listed.

You can read more about the architecture in Mongrel Rapture: The Architecture of Ashton Raggatt McDougall (Uro, 2015).