The Australian Festival of Chamber Music has been advocating for a concert hall for Northern Australia for more than a decade.

Although the economic impact generated by AFCM is substantial, the lack of a purpose-designed concert hall has posed a challenge to the growth and sustainability of the AFCM and other cultural organisations.

Although much has been written in recent times about the failure of contemporary music festivals (Groovin’ the Moo, Splendour in the Grass and Mona Foma are obvious examples,) there has been exponential growth in the number of fine music festivals in the regions in the wake of the Covid pandemic. Post-Covid, AFCM is even stronger and this year’s festival in late July and early August looks set to exceed attendance expectations.

We are, however, hampered by a lack of suitable infrastructure to maintain this growth. As art critic Suzannah Conway noted in a recent article in ArtsHub, AFCM “is recognised as one of the major chamber music festivals, not only in the southern hemisphere but across the globe”.

The fact that a regional festival can reach these heights is testament to the tenacity of the local communities who have supported and welcomed visiting musicians for three decades. We need to match this dedication now with suitable venues.

In September 2021, AFCM was successful in securing funding for a concert hall through the Townsville Cities Deal. This was as a result of concerted lobbying by AFCM patrons, TEL, Townsville City Council and local Federal Member for Herbert, Phillip Thompson.

In April 2022, a $2 million North Australian Concert Hall Business Case and Scoping Study tender was awarded to infrastructure consultants AECOM by the Federal Government’s Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications.

After the change of federal government in May 2022, the office of Catherine King, Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government confirmed that “the Australian Government, along with the Queensland Government and Townsville City Council are actively progressing the Townsville concert hall business case”.

In June 2023, in the 2023-24 budget, after consultation with Aaron Harper MP, the Queensland Government announced that $50 million  would be added to the $100 million from the Federal Government, contingent on Townsville City Council matching the contribution.

We believe that the Business Case and Scoping Study have both been completed and are under review. We advocated for the project to include a 1000-seat concert hall plus a 300 to 400-seat black box theatre (to be used by other organisations such as DanceNorth and TheatreiNQ, among others).

Locating the concert hall and theatre on the world-renowned The Strand, with its scenic backdrop of the Coral Sea and Magnetic Island-Yunbenun, would be the best outcome for the city. It would be close to the beach, restaurants and accommodation. Concert goers could easily make an enjoyable  night out on the town.

AFCM’s preferred site is located on the derelict Townsville Bowls Club and the old Townsville Enterprise Convention Bureau, next to the Strand Anzac Memorial Park. The concert hall would cap off the southern end of The Strand, providing a more appropriate environment for the Anzac Memorial and replacing two run-down buildings that are adding no value to the city’s principal attraction.

For The Strand site, we propose an international design competition as part of the development process to ensure the architectural and sound design excellence of the concert hall.  Also, we would like to ensure that the concert hall and theatre spaces are technically state-of-the-art so that a third digital performance space can be created, where performances can be broadcast live and students can be linked up to teachers, directors and musicians internationally. This will open up enormous learning opportunities for regional students to engage with world-class creatives.

AFCM believes the people of Townsville-Gurambilbarra deserve the best possible outcome from this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We would hate to see this project compromised through an inappropriate site, inadequate sound design or mediocre architecture.

Australia has no concert hall north of Brisbane, so this is a significant opportunity. As the city expands to become the largest military post in Australia, the construction of the amenities required for a rapidly growing population is an urgent and exciting opportunity to benefit all Townsville-Gurambilbarra residents.

If we get this already-funded project right, governments will be more confident that this city can deliver and will be more willing to fund other essential cultural infrastructure in the future.

Dr Ricardo Peach is executive director of the Australian Festival of Chamber Music.

Make a comment View comment guidelines

Support local arts journalism

Your support will help us continue the important work of InReview in publishing free professional journalism that celebrates, interrogates and amplifies arts and culture in South Australia.

Donate Here

. You are free to republish the text and graphics contained in this article online and in print, on the condition that you follow our republishing guidelines.

You must attribute the author and note prominently that the article was originally published by InReview.  You must also inlude a link to InReview. Please note that images are not generally included in this creative commons licence as in most cases we are not the copyright owner. However, if the image has an InReview photographer credit or is marked as “supplied”, you are free to republish it with the appropriate credits.

We recommend you set the canonical link of this content to to insure that your SEO is not penalised.

Copied to Clipboard