Starting the EcoCentre Redevelopment: momentous and emotive

by April Seymore, Executive Officer

Change is afoot in the St Kilda Botanic Gardens, as many a curious passerby have noted. A month ago, the Port Phillip Mayor and Victorian Environment Minister led a soil-turning ceremony; the next week hoarding went up; and over the past fortnight the historic building has been dismantled into its component parts.


Image: Ceremonial turning of the soil by EcoCentre founding director Neil Blake OAM, current EO April Seymore, Hon Ingrid Stitt, Nina Taylor MP, Mayor Heather Cunsolo and President Pam O’Neil, April 2023.

Watching the demolition of the EcoCentre is both momentous and emotive. The facilities have been rapidly but carefully deconstructed according to Greenstar standards, so that materials will be recycled and reused, including in the new community hub or habitat features.


Image: Day two of dismantling materials for reuse and recycling, May 2023.

Any building is basically pieces of nature hewn into new forms and newly organised shapes: trees turned into beams and garden bed borders, mixes of minerals/fossils/fibres formed into cement foundations, or iron and carbon poured into the form of stainless steel appliances. In this sense, buildings are part of the living planet.

But stories are the life force most of us would name when it comes to buildings. And the historic EcoCentre was rich with decades of stories.

In 2003-2004, the community-led EcoHouse project saw the cottage retrofitted with sustainable features that lifted it from one-star to five-star energy efficiency.
The EcoHouse retrofit was coordinated by a team including Peter Barker and Dr Jo Samuel King, pictured here in green beside one of the new solar panels.

Back when the EcoCentre was founded in 1999, it was exciting for community groups to have a computer (with internet!) to borrow. Nowadays we all carry the internet in our pockets. Also, school populations have doubled, local youth volunteering has increased six-fold, climate concern is skyrocketing, and our award-winning citizen science network is expanding.


In 2018 the Hon Martin Foley launched our Scouts Street2Bay collaboration in the EcoCentre meeting room. Over the next two years, Scouts groups from Geelong to Mornington Peninsula conducted 546 Baykeeper Street Litter Audits to investigate the source and types of plastic pollution that enter Port Phillip Bay. Photo credit: Ronald Jore.

As EcoCentre Executive Officer, I’ve worked for eight years toward the reality of a community hub to match this increased sophistication and scale of community-led initiatives, a facility that is fully accessible and fit to purpose. (Though you may not believe how much was achieved in a 1960s domestic cottage.)

Volunteering, learning, teaching and making friends at the EcoCentre has been central to my life in Australia since I arrived in 2009. So despite my meticulous familiarity with the planned changes, it felt odd to see the building come down. The home of so many memories and personal firsts:

  • making lifelong friends while turning the community compost
  • dreaming up art-science workshops for preschoolers … who are now uni graduates (!)
  • learning a tasty recipe for chutney with surplus green tomatoes, in the kitchen
  • meeting respected Elders of Kulin Nation language groups gathered in the front Wominjeka Garden.

These are just a few of the beautiful moments woven into that site for me. As we watch the changes from across the road in our temporary world headquarters, it inspired me to explore archived photos and the snippets of stories they show. It was hard to choose, from Repair Café days to workshops and wildlife rescues, but below are six memories that made me smile.

A Boon Wurrung Foundation Cultural Educator prepares for a smoking ceremony for schools, in the Wominjeka Garden. Credit: Hilmar Anton.
The annual School Sustainability Festival brings together hundreds of students for kid-led workshops about nature and climate leadership. It has only rained at one of 17 festivals!
EcoArts Festival Discussion Panel, 2015. This dynamic event included music, artmaking and beautiful illuminated animations projected on the exterior of the EcoCentre exterior.
Many Friday community lunches were cooked, cheesemaking and preserve demos led, and trainings catered from the very tiny kitchen with its beautiful bench.
Neil and Nicky singing at the EcoCentre’s 10th birthday party, 2009. (My first ever visit!)
Festivities, smiles and the seedling stall on the same deck at the 2021 Summer Garden Party.

Do you have memories or photos of the EcoCentre you’d like to share?
Add your EcoHouse memories here.

The EcoCentre acknowledges the Kulin Nations, including the Yalukut Weelam clan of the Boon Wurrung language group, traditional owners of the land on which we are located.

We pay respects to their Elders past and present, and extend that respect to other Aboriginal and Elder members of our multicultural community.