Cultural & Charitable Foundation

Australia’s first inter-faith precinct couldn’t come at a better time, says The Hon. Tim Fischer AC

17th October, 2014

Australia’s first inter-faith precinct couldn’t come at a better time, says The Hon. Tim Fischer AC

More than 800 people including dignitaries from across Australia convene in Bendigo today to announce plans for Australia’s first faith-based precinct.

The $15 million ‘Aspire Precinct’ development is being led by the Aspire Cultural and Charitable Foundation with support from the Catholic Diocese of Sandhurst and the City of Greater of Bendigo. The development has already received significant funding, including support from Bendigo-born businessman and philanthropist Gerry Ryan.

The precinct is being announced today alongside the unveiling of a new 3-metre statue of Australia’s first saint – Saint Mary MacKillop – whose first school was built in the Sandhurst Diocese in 1890 and whose legacy of faith, pilgrimage and inter-faith connection inspires the Aspire Precinct development.

Aspire Precinct Ambassador, The Hon. Tim Fischer AC, says the vision for the precinct couldn’t come at a better time.

“Our nation’s rich and diverse identity was largely forged during the Goldfields era, with men and women from more than 20 nations converging here,” he said.

“The stories of how they built communities – through both personal faith and religious faith – provides great lessons for us today on how we navigate and solve some of today’s complex social challenges.

“I believe this is a cut-through project linking the gold-laden past and the vibrant present to create an aspirational inter-faith centrum.”

Located adjacent to Bendigo’s tourism and cultural icon – the Sacred Heart Cathedral – the Aspire Precinct will also help the region tap into the growing national international pilgrimage tourism market, which comprises more than 300 million tourists.

The Aspire Precinct is being designed by world-renowned Fender Katsalidis Architects and will feature indoor and outdoor community spaces, a business hub, life-long learning centre, ecumenical resource centre, café and piazza. It is set to become a significant economic boost to Bendigo, with preliminary analysis indicating a $39 million impact in its first two years of operation.

The highlight of the precinct will be a ‘Faith on the Goldfields’ interpretive centre, which through permanent and temporary exhibitions will tell the vast number of untold, important stories that Bendigo is uniquely positioned to share with Australia and the world.

Bendigo’s Mayor Cr Barry Lyons says the Aspire Precinct will reinvigorate the significant built cultural heritage in the area, and provide an exciting new gateway into Bendigo.

“We view this development as both necessary and timely in the way we leverage our region’s cultural and faith-based infrastructure.”

The Greater Bendigo region boasts a large number of churches, chapels, temples and other places of worship that emanated from the Gold Rush era. This includes the much-loved museum, temple and gardens of the Dai Gum San Chinese Precinct.

Faith assets in the region continue to grow with the development of a $20 million Tibetan Buddhist Great Stupa, a proposed mosque for Bendigo’s growing Islamic community and a monastery for the Karen Buddhist community.

Anita Jack, General Manager of the Golden Dragon Museum is also excited about the Aspire Precinct development: “We welcome this project as the glue that will unite and optimise Bendigo’s world-class cultural assets.”

The Aspire Cultural and Charitable Foundation believes the precinct will enable Bendigo and its various faith-based institutions to collaborate more closely and provide a new destination for local and international modern-day pilgrims.

“We already have some 80,000 visitors to the Sacred Heart Cathedral each year, but we know there are more than 300-330 million tourists traveling in the ‘faith and religion’ tourism market segment around the world,” says Aspire Cultural and Charitable Foundation’s Executive Director, Margaret O’Rourke.

“We also know that Australia is set to benefit from the growing number of faith based pilgrimages over the coming 20 years, and we want to see Bendigo well-placed to connect with these visitors and provide them an enriching and rewarding inter-faith cultural experience.”

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Saint Mary MacKillop statue unveiling, Sacred Heart Cathedral Bendigo, 17 October 2014 - Catholic Diocese of Sandhurst