Kodja future in doubt

By Chris Thomson | posted on February 22, 2018

A MAJOR Great Southern tourist attraction is in the grip of an existential crisis as the Shire of Kojonup grapples to get it up to code amidst polarised views on how or if it should continue operating.

In a forthright report to councillors, shire CEO Rick Mitchell-Collins advises that Kodja Place requires urgent investment to bring it up to construction, health and safety, and disability access standards.

Occupying a prominent position on Albany Highway, Kodja Place draws travellers from around the world, mainly to experience the Noongar culture and history of Kojonup.

Yet, Mr Mitchell-Collins notes that strong disagreement among shire residents over how the attraction should be managed poses a risk to how outsiders view the shire as a whole.

“Since the inception of the project, the community appears to have polarised views of Kodja Place and, over the years, ongoing speculation and discussion regarding the costs associated with operating and maintaining the precinct,” he advises.

“To ignore this has reputational risks for Kojonup as it does not convey the message to incoming residents or new employees that Kojonup is a desirable place to live or work.”

The Noongar word ‘Kodja’, mean- ing ‘stone axe’, is imbedded in the very name ‘Kojonup’, which roughly means ‘place where the stone of the stone axe is found’.

The shire rates Kodja Place the fifth most important building of 91 it owns. It is the only accredited visitor information centre in the north of the Great Southern region.

“Research that I’ve done tends to show that some of the commu- nity was fully supportive of Kodja Place and the vision, whereas others weren’t,” Mr Mitchell-Collins told The Weekender.

“Hence, I’ve asked for a clear mandate on whether the community values it, because I do know that interstate, intrastate and overseas visitors are passionate about Kodja Place, and it’s more than dollars and cents.

“It’s about the cultural heritage interpretive centre, but that comes at a cost and whether those costs were properly identified from day one.”

Mr Mitchell-Collins has advised the shire’s councillors they have “a legal responsibility to ensure buildings, offices, workplaces (internal/external), plant and equipment, etc. complies with a myriad of regulations, standards, codes and acts”.

“Non-compliance can lead to closure of facilities, industrial/legal action, negative publicity, potential fines or worse case scenario injury or death to employees or the public,” his report states.

“Regardless of the immense value this facility provides to the Noongar community, Kojonup, Great Southern Region and Western Australia …, with Kojonup being promoted in key international markets such as Germany, UK, New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia and USA … legal compliance is essential and will not be compromised!

“If future funding for the vision for the Kodja Place Precinct as identified in [a recent] master plan is to achieve any traction, the community needs to give council a clear mandate on whether they value the precinct to keep the attraction open …”

The report says councillors need to carefully consider “potential options for repurposing the Kodja Place if the community as a whole is not prepared to support council in funding and re- sourcing the centre as it should have been when first envisaged”.

It stresses the shire must focus in the next two years on “preventing further degeneration of the build- ing structure, addressing identified extreme and high risks, [and] occupational health and safety/workplace standards [for] which the shire is legally bound”.

The report says imme- diate attention is needed for “defective rammed earth walls” to protect the centre “from further deterioration”, and ensuring car parks and entry points complied with disability inclusiveness standards.

Mr Mitchell-Collins told The Weekender that Kodja Place probably had a higher profile internationally than in its Great Southern backyard.

“It’s a bit like having an ocean view,” he said.

“After a while, you ignore it or you just take it for granted.”

He said there may be tourism operators that could partner with the shire to secure a broader role for the centre.

“Where are the bus tours where we can take tourists to Carrolup or Marribank and Gnowangerup and give them a total experience,” he posed.

“There isn’t a regional cultural heritage facility.

“I think Kodja Place was unique and forward thinking 17 years ago, but it’s remained stagnant and those opportunities have not been realised.”