• Artist Sandra Djandjul and son Kaden (Supplied)Source: Supplied
A new arts centre signals the transition of a former mining town in the NT into a bustling tourist hub.
Keira Jenkins

17 Oct 2020 - 3:45 AM  UPDATED 19 Oct 2020 - 5:05 PM

The township of Jabiru, population roughly 1,000, is a town in transition.

Perhaps still notoriously known as the site of the Ranger Uranium Mine, and a related year-long  anti-uranium mining protest camp, Jabiru has for the better part of the past decade faced an uncertain future. 

In 2018, after seven years of posting millions of dollars in losses and the increasing objections of the Mirrar people, the land's Traditional Owners, Rio Tinto – the parent company of the Ranger mine– announced that mining operations on the site would end by 2021.

With the mining operations winding down, the community of Jabiru also began to see many of the local businesses start to shut their doors as well. When the Kakadu Bakery closed there were serious community concerns about the future of Jabiru.

Now the site of the old bakery is the latest community enterprise marking the township's transition towards becoming a bustling tourism hub that is surrounded by the world famous Kakadu National Park.

Owned and managed by Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation on behalf of the Mirarr Traditional Owners, the Marrawuddi Arts Centre now occupies the old bakery's repurposed space. And the centre's manager, Katie Hagebols, told NITV News that there's been a steady flow of both tourists and local artists coming through its doors since it opened last month. 

"I thought it was going to take a while for artists to get used to a new space and feel comfortable here because it is open here, we get tourists coming in. But it’s been amazing to see everyone engage with the tourists and show them their artwork," she said.

"It's been really special to see in such a short time since we opened. I thought it would take some time, but everything has just happened so naturally."

The community arts centre and gallery was previously located outside of Jabiru at the Kakadu National Park headquarters' Bowali Visitors Centre. While popular with locals and tourists alike, the gallery was a long walk from town for artists. The larger Marrawuddi Arts Centre space sits in the heart of Jabiru.

Artists Robert Namarnyilk and David Cameron said the new art centre was a nice place for artists to work and talk, especially on hot days.

"It's a nice, open space and sitting, painting in here is better," said David.

"You can relax in the air con. It's better."

Marrawuddi Arts Centre is the first business to open under Jabiru's new leasing arrangements, now that the town is recognised as Aboriginal land, Ms Hagebols said it was important to retain some of the building's history in the centre's refurbishment.

"We’ve still got the bakery sign up, which has been hilarious because everyone thinks we’re still a bakery," she said.

"But it’s part of keeping the history of this place. We still have coffee, so people come in here for coffee and walk out with coffee and a piece of artwork."

Plans for Jabiru are one step closer as 'historic' land rights laws pass Senate
Mirarr Traditional owners are celebrating the return of ownership of the Northern Territory town of Jabiru, as amendments to the Aboriginal Land Rights Act pass through the Senate. They hope to turn the town into a tourism hub.