Photo: Tim Williams, 2023

Site Overview

site name:
Ngaruwanajirri, The Keeping House
other names:
Tiwi Keeping Place
architect(s):
Peter Myers
others assoicate with the building
Structural Engineer: Wholohan Grill;
Project Co-ordination: Christopher Fondum, former Aboriginal Arts Board, Australia Council;
Steel Fabrication: Vickers Cockatoo Dockyard Pty, Ltd, Sydney;
Siteworks; Raphael and Declan Apuatimi for the Tiwi Pima Art Committee and Titus Wommatakimi, President, Ngulu Shire Council.
date of completion:
1983 / Designed in 1974; constructed in stages between 1979-1993
address:
860 Malawu Street, Wurrumiyanga, Bathurst Island, Northern Territory
classification / typology:
Indigenous Cultural / Recreation (REC)
protection status:
In 2022 the building was listed as a ‘State item’ by the Northern Territory.
editor fiche:
Docomomo Australia 2023

Description

Design for a building to display and store Tiwi cultural items began in 1974. Built in stages, construction began in 1979 and continued until 1993 when the end bays, two separately roofed structures designed to house the artifacts, were completed.

The components of the building are clearly articulated. Comprising a barrel-vaulted roof with an internal curved ceiling and two smaller end storage rooms constructed in concrete blockwork to ‘sit’ under the main roof.

The building was designed to evoke the appearance of an indigenous Northern Australian shelter. Adopting a double curved roof, the internal barrel-vaulted ceiling was lined with 10 no. x 2m wide curved plywood panels detailed to resemble sheets of bark. Eight of these panels were painted between 1985 and 1986 (from west to east) by local artists: Keirin Mukwakinni, George Norm Pangaraminni, Edward Portaminni, Teresina and Eulalie Munkara, Sabo Tipiloura, Alfie Puruntatameri and wife Josie, Alphonso Puautjimi and Marie Josette Orsto.

In 1988, Myers developed a concept masterplan to locate the Keeping Place within a performance complex of structures and an oval-shaped outdoor dance space.

In 1994 the building was adapted to become a centre for the production of Indigenous art.

In 2023, the concept masterplan was refined; and it is hoped that the outdoor performance space will soon be constructed.

Original Brief

A cyclone-proof shelter to store and display heritage items of Tiwi culture.

significant alterations with date

The building was adapted in 1994 without any major alterations.

current use / current condition

Adapted as Ngaruwanajirri, an arts centre for Indigenous art.
The building is well-loved by the local community.

construction and context

A structural steel frame fixed to a reinforced concrete slab then tiled with square format unglazed quarry tiles. The steel frame was fabricated in Sydney and then shipped to Bathurst Island. It was assembled under the direction of a mainland Builder utilising unskilled local labour.

The building is located on the periphery of the Wurrumiyanga settlement, Bathurst Island. The island is around 80 kilometres from mainland Australia.

Significance

The building is of Technical Significance:
This is revealed through its minimal detailing and robust construction. Easily assembled this building using standard building practices; the technology was determined by the building’s remote location.

The building is of Social Significance:
As demonstrated in the shape of its barrel-vaulted plywood ceiling, and the construction of two storage rooms to house significant Indigenous artefacts at each end of a long display room, this building, in its the component parts, provided a setting for the local community of First Nations People to actively partake in the reclaiming of their own culture.

The building is of Aesthetic Significance:
The aesthetic significance of this building is revealed through an intelligent and reductive approach to construction practice.

The building is of Iconic /Canonical Significance:
In its formal strategy of a singular extruded curved roof form, this building has canonical significance. In its abstracted form, the building was designed to symbolise a regional shelter type of a stringybark vault supported by double ridgepoles. The design of this modern-day iconic shelter not only represented the pre-colonial past but was embedded in the cultural memory of the local community.

The building is of Historic Significance:
Peter Myers, a Sydney-based architect, in the early 1970s, became actively involved with the Tiwi community by designing them a cyclone-proof and iconic-shaped building to house their items of cultural significance. This involvement was indicative of a change in government policy which shifted from assimilation to one based on self-determination and cultural expression. Even in the switch from the ‘Tiwi Keeping Place’ to ‘The Keeping House’, an arts centre for the local community, the historic significance of this building, being a symbol of Aboriginal self-determination, was maintained.

References

Leon Paroissien and Michael Griggs, Old Continent New Building: Contemporary Australian Architecture (Darlinghurst: David Ell Press in association with the Design Arts Committee of Australia, 1983), 107.

Peter Myers, “Two Projects for the Aboriginal People, The Architectural Review, 128:1066 (December 1985): 42.

Rory Spence, “Myers, une pensée critique”, L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui, Australie 285:(February 1993): 84-89.

Paul Memmott, “Naparipuluwamigi Hguiu Keeping Place”, in Hanna Lewi and Philip Goad, eds., Australia Modern (Port Melbourne: Thames and Hudson, 2019), 296.

“Adventurous architect designed a wonderful place for Tiwi islanders”, Tiwi News, (June/July 2023), accessed on October 8, 2023, via, https://www.tiwilandcouncil.com/documents/Uploads/TiwiNewsJuneJuly2023.pdf.

Interior view of the building adapted as an arts centre. Photo by Tim Williams, 2023.

Preparing for morning tea. Photo by Tim Williams, 2023.

View of The Keeping House taken prior to the construction of the store rooms, 1986
Elevational perspective. Drawn by Peter Myers, c.1974.
Proposed masterplan showing an outdoor performance space. Drawn by Peter Meyers, 1987.

Updated plan. Drawn by Peter Myers, 2019.