WHY re-build a wharf that was pulled down in the 1950s?

This was the first question architects Terroir asked in reviewing Gannawarra Shire Council’s brief.

The council and local community in northern Victoria had actually been considering the project for many years in the hope that revitalising this focal point of the local history might, in some way, help reinvigorate a community suffering from a downturn in the local agro-economy.

The award winning Koondrook Wharf, re-constructed from magnificent river red gums.

It was worth the wait. The new Koondrook Wharf, opened in 2016, recently picked up three Victorian Architecture Awards including the Regional Prize Architecture Award, Urban Design Architecture Award and Small Projects Architecture Award. The wharf has also been shortlisted for the 2018 World Architecture Festival Awards, to be held in Amsterdam in November.

And what better resource for the wharf’s timber construction – red gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis), the most widely distributed eucalyptus species in Australia that lines the Murray River and most of its length.

This striking red gum timber is not only a renewable resource it was harvested from state forests (VicForests) within 4 km of the site, minimising the impacts of transporting materials over long distances by road. VicForests’ operations are certified by Responsible Wood ensuring best practice in sustainable forest management.

Some 98% of Australia’s commercial forests are certified by Responsible Wood.

The timber was supplied by Arbuthnot Sawmills, a family company established on its present site at Koondrook by Alexander (Sandy) Arbuthnot in 1889, only 200 m from the wharf. It was air dried, minimising the energy used in kiln-drying.

Terroir’s Scott Balmforth describes the project as “more than just a wharf: it is a place to experience, not only providing a greater connection between the township and the Murray River but exemplifying this unique location and showcasing local history”.

Ganawarra Shire Council had three objectives – to stimulate tourism through the provision of mooring for houseboats, paddle steamers and private boats; to create a community asset that connects the township to the river, extending the adjacent Apex public park so it could host public and private events; and to celebrate the local area’s history and honour the national heritage significance of the Murray River region.

The wharf was constructed in 1881 at a time when the town of Koondrook was known for boat building and as a freight centre for the movement of local farm produce as a key part of the river, rail and road network. The wharf also made Koondrook an important trading stop for riverboat journeys. It was finally decommissioned in the 1950s.

While remaining mindful of this important history, Terroir has delivered a visionary design which blends form and function and showcases the quality of local materials, especially the magnificent Murray River red gum, which is the main material for both the decking and the structure itself and reinforces the connection between riverbank and river

Constructed alongside the original wharf, which is marked by a set of memorial piers, the new wharf facility allows visitors to walk the 28-metre ramp down onto a floating pontoon positioned within the river, to gain a new perspective of the Murray.

The pontoon has an operable ramp enabling boat access, regardless of the water level and is also suited to recreational pursuits such as canoeing and fishing. Viewing platforms weave through the existing Murray River red gum trees and feature red gum decking laid lengthways to create the effect of the timber ‘coming in’ from the river – a subtle reference to the logs that were once unloaded from paddle steamers for the nearby sawmill.

This red gum timber is also central to art works that tell the story of the Aboriginal inhabitants of the area and are strategically placed along pathways, framing key vantage points across the river.

A standout feature is the old tram turntable at the wharf’s entrance, which has been resurfaced with a red gum, slate and basalt mural by Aboriginal artists Glenn Romanis and Aunty Esther Kirby.

Today not only does Koondrook have a community asset worthy of architectural awards, but an attraction which is genuinely environmentally sustainable.

Responsible Wood is a leading forest management and chain-of-custody certification system, developed specifically for Australia, verifying that all wood products associated with it have come from sustainably and responsibly-managed Australian forests.

The Arbuthnot Sawmills, a family company established 1889, provided the red gum timbers for the reconstruction of Gannawarra Shire Council’s Koondrook Wharf in regional Victoria.
Polished performance… red river gum dining table.