Treatment; Six Public Artworks at the Western Treatment Plant 2015

Research Project

Treatment brings together six Australian artists who each have developed temporary commissions in response to the extraordinary Melbourne Water Treatment Facility in Werribee. Invited by curator David Cross and Associate Curator Cameron Bishop to research the site across its many contexts, Catherine Bell, Bindi Cole, Megan Evans, Shane McGrath, Techa Noble and Spiros Panigarakis have each created a place-responsive artwork that is experienced sequentially via a coach tour across two Saturdays in November 2015. The projects take place across an assortment of locations at the 10,000-hectare facility drawing on the rich diversity of geographical, technological and cultural histories of the former Metro Sewerage Farm.

The site of the first sanitation facility in Melbourne, the current treatment complex combines cutting edge environmental engineering and energy capture with its key role as one of the worlds leading bird sanctuaries. Larger than Phillip Island, the site’s diversity and complexity is not however widely known. For many, the treatment facility is little more than the source of a ripe aroma that in the past, depending on the wind direction, wafted across the outer west of the city as far south as the Bellarine Peninsula. The pejorative associations of the ‘poo plant’ have served to mask a remarkable ecology and history, which serve as important reminders in the development of Melbourne.

At the centre of the site is the now abandoned former township of Cocoroc. Once a thriving community with schools, shops and recreational facilities serving over 600 hundred residents (made up of farm workers and their families) the settlement closed down in the early 1970s. With advanced technological innovation on-site and improved transport enabling workers to commute from Werribee and surrounding areas, Cocoroc was no longer viable and many of its assorted buildings were transplanted to other areas in the district. Only a small proportion of the township remains including the old swimming pools, town hall, the football ground and most impressively, a striking bluestone water tower. These features stand as evocative reminders of what was a burgeoning township and have formed the basis of a number of the Treatment artists’ investigations.

Of the many and varied stories of Cocoroc perhaps the accumulation of precious keepsakes and jewellery by the local residents is the most audacious. Before the invention of motorised agricultural machinery, the expansive fields operated as a drying facility for the raw sewerage. Once the raw material was spread across the field, workers would carefully trawl through the waste searching for valuables that had accidentally been flushed down the toilets of Melbourne. Word has it that the women of Cocoroc had some of the finest and presumably most forensically scrubbed jewellery collections in the city.

Stories such as these have emerged from the six-month research process the artists have undertaken with wide-ranging support from Melbourne Water. Given extraordinary access to archives and the site’s many features and locations, the artists have benefited from the rich local knowledge of workers on the site, many of whom have worked there since it was known as the Metropolitan Board of Works. The wealth of anecdotal narratives and urban myths recounted by key Melbourne Water staff including Paul Balassone, Peter Kissonergis and Yvonne

Earnshaw has formed a crucial body of knowledge from which the artists have responded to the site and its varied contexts. Stories of divers in retro aquatic suits working in total darkness maintaining the machinery of the sewerage ponds, to the building of huge sculptural armatures for birds that replace trees fallen into the flooded lake, have captured the imaginations of each artist and nurtured a curiosity to respond in discursive and complex ways

Saturday 14th & 21st November 2016

Western Treatment Plant Werribee

David Cross Curator

Associate Curator: Cameron Bishop

Artists:

  • Catherine Bell
  • Bindi Cole-Chocka
  • Megan Evans
  • Techa Noble
  • Spiros Panigarakis

Project by

David Cross