Australia’s first Vietnamese Museum bumped by council planning dispute

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Key points

  • Plans for a $20 million dollar Vietnamese Museum Australia to be located in Footscray have been scrapped because of a planning dispute with Maribyrnong Council.
  • The State Member for Footscray Katie Hall said she was disappointed because Footscray needed the investment.
  • Footscray was touted as a perfect location for the national museum because of its strong historical connection to Vietnamese migration in the 80s.

Footscray is being denied a country-first Vietnamese museum despite it being the “cradle of Vietnamese Australia” over a roller door dispute.

The much anticipated Vietnamese Museum Australia was originally touted for Footscray, in Melbourne’s inner west, to honour the Vietnamese refugees who first settled in the area after the Vietnam War.

However, the museum was forced to abandon plans for a four-storey development at a carpark located at the rear of 220 Barkly Street because an adjoining landowner at the proposed site would not agree to the relocation of a roller door used for its loading facilities.

Tammy Nguyen, Vietnamese Museum Australia head of operations, said the project became too difficult to continue with Maribyrnong Council.Credit: Jason South

Tammy Nguyen, head of museum operations, said the museum decided to rescind its contract with council and withdraw an appeal to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, set for later this year, to refocus their efforts.

“We are sad it’s come to this after three years of working with the Maribyrnong Council,” Nguyen said. “Our plan was to have the museum opened in 2025, in time for the 50th anniversary of the Fall of Saigon and Vietnamese refugees arriving in Australia, but the issues with Maribyrnong Council have made that impossible,” she said.

The Vietnamese Museum Australia received a total of $6.5 million in funding from the Victorian state government. Federal government support has also totalled $9.7 million – $5 million from the former Liberal government and $4.7 million from Labor.

The total cost of the project is about $20 million with financial support from members of the Vietnamese community. The museum’s plans include a culture and heritage centre telling the story of the Vietnamese diaspora’s journey to Australia and their contributions to Australian society.

“It’s a shame that a project of national significance with bipartisan support from both state and federal governments has been prevented by a roller door,” Nguyen said.

In May 2022, Maribyrnong Council issued a notice of decision to grant a planning permit to the museum after its initial application and community consultations in 2020 and 2021.

Earlier this year, the council refused an amendment lodged by the museum to remove the requirement for the museum and its neighbour, Newtone Betta Footscray, to reach agreement regarding the relocation of loading facilities.

A concept design for the Vietnamese Museum Australia, originally slated for Footscray.Credit: Vietnamese Museum Australia

The Vietnamese Musuem Australia offered pay for the relocation of the hardware store’s roller door, but the council refused.

Maribyrnong Council, which takes in the suburbs of Footscray, Maidstone, Maribyrnong, and Braybrook, has been home to a large cohort of Vietnamese refugees since the 1980s.

According to the 2021 census, 11.4 percent of Footscray’s population is Vietnamese.

Tuanh Nguyen, the museum’s board director and company secretary, said the proposed site on Barkly Street was close to the Midway Hostel, in Maidstone, which housed Vietnamese refugees in the 1980s, who then went on to live in suburbs like Richmond and Springvale.

“Everyone who came through during that time, came through Footscray,” Nguyen said. “Footscray is the cradle of Vietnamese-Australian settlement in Victoria. There was something poetic about having a museum that documents and preserves that story being in Footscray,” she said.

State member for Footscray Katie Hall also said she was disappointed at the missed opportunity.

“Footscray needs that investment, and it’s where many [of the] Vietnamese community migrated to Australia,” Hall said. “I’m obviously disappointed the project won’t be in Footscray. It will be a beautiful building. I had hoped council could have worked with them to find another car park site in central Footscray,” she said.

Labor’s State Member for Footscray, Katie Hall.Credit: Paul Jeffers

Maribyrnong Council did not respond to The Age’s questions about whether there was an alternative location in Footscray that could accommodate the museum.

However, Maribyrnong Council chief executive Celia Haddock said the council was disappointed the museum would no longer be at the Barkly Street site.

“Council supports the concept of a Vietnamese museum, which it acknowledges is important to the significant Vietnamese population in our municipality. We are disappointed the Vietnamese Museum Australia will not be proceeding on the Barkly Street site in Footscray,”

The Vietnamese Museum Australia is now looking to other local government areas with a significant historical connection to Vietnamese refugees and migrants to build the museum.

The Age understands Sunshine is being considered as an alternative location.

“We are speaking with other LGAs, and we are really positive this project will find a new location,” head of museum operations, Nguyen said. “We have the money and the project is ready to go.”

The owners of Newtone Betta Footscray have been contacted for comment.

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