WHEN The Weekly Times last spoke to Glenda Lewin, she was embarking on an ambitious project, not just for the Grampians, but the nation.
In 2010 the Stawell resident, with fellow enthusiasts, had a vision to create the Wildlife Art Museum of Australia, near Halls Gap.
WAMA was set to be a $22 million nature-based art gallery, with restaurant, café and convention centre – on a donated slice of 15ha – due to be completed by 2020.
Now, Glenda says, the project remains just as ambitious, although the timeline has ballooned and the budget has diminished, with several key components already underway.
“We have a tenacious board (of seven) and it was always going to happen, we were never going to lie down,” says the tireless Glenda.
“Our vision has not changed: to create a destination project for art that celebrates its connection with nature and science and that inspires an appreciation of the environment.”
The 64-year-old says she remains confident that a $3.8 million art gallery, multi-purpose function room, and café with outdoor area will be built in the next two years on a 5.5ha area of the property.
A Melbourne architect donated his time and worked with a team over the past 18 months to complete designs for the building, which were finalized last month.
“Planning permits take time but I’m feeling very positive about this year,” she says.
When completed, the gallery will exhibit nature-inspired art from around the Grampians and the world, as well as music and even dance.
In anticipation of the build, an online WAMA gallery was launched last October, so far showcasing painters through to sculptors.
“We have wonderful artists waiting for our gallery to be built and so we felt with Covid-19 it was an opportunity to share their art online, as a teaser.”
Over the past five years, WAMA has also held nature play activities for children throughout the year, encouraging hands-on exploration of the 15ha site.
With this focus on the natural world, Glenda says major WAMA projects have already been achieved.
With two Trust for Nature covenants protecting 10ha of the land, a vermin proof fence has been erected, thanks to philanthropic donations.
Within a 1.8ha section of this fence, WAMA’s volunteers are working with a landscape architect from the Cranbourne Royal Botanic Gardens to create a garden of plants endemic to the Grampians, courtesy of a government grant.
Some of WAMA’s 100 volunteers have also worked with the local Landcare group, Greening Australia and Horsham catchment management authority to create a 1.6ha garden of endemic grasses within the fence.
This year they hope to receive a $1 million grant to introduce endangered native species from a breeding program, such as the southern brown bandicoot and potoroo.
Glenda says over the past decade they have boosted the bottom line, such as selling Australian Geographic calendars to the public, also working with government and philanthropists, including the Myers family in Dunkeld who hold annual fundraising recitals.
While WAMA is yet to reach its current $3.8 million target “we’re close”, and ultimately she says they hope to fundraise a total $9 million in coming years to expand the gallery space and further add biodiversity to the land.
The idea for WAMA started around 2010 after Glenda and local artist Peter Voice started the Grampians Wildlife Art Society.
But the seed was planted in her childhood, growing up in Stawell.
Her father was an amateur botanist and would regularly take his family to explore the Grampians.
“We would look for rare orchids, the rock art, caves. It was freedom, open, experiential learning.
“I want to recreate that childhood experience of nurturing and understanding flora and fauna in WAMA.”
Glenda worked in early childhood development and after marrying Greg, a chemical engineer, lived overseas for 20 years in the UK, Norway and the Netherlands, where Greg worked for Shell, most recently based in India (where the couple have established a tiger protection project).
When Glenda and her family arrived back in Australia, they based themselves on 20ha at Stawell.
“Having lived overseas for 20 years and coming home I realized how unique our flora and fauna is here and how blessed we are to have that, yet we have no place to showcase it.
“It’s not a major aim of WAMA but an intrinsic objective that climate, biodiversity and sustainability are important and we want to build on the support for environmental change.
“We want to inspire people to look at nature through art, to walk through the gardens to feel how important nature is to us.”