Barcaldine’s Tree of Knowledge is synonymous with history and hard yakka. Known as the site of the 1891 sheep shearers’ strike and the first reading of the Labour Party manifesto in 1892, its history and heritage is engraved within Australia’s history, with its influence still felt today.
The Tree of Knowledge’s poisoning led to a town’s rise as a tourist attraction, which saw a multitude of bold and unorthodox calls made to create an unlikely destination way out west where the rain don’t fall.
Joining the site as part of the strategic Barcaldine Master Plan, conceived by
The lookout, as an integrated part of the plan, provides visitors with fresh perspectives — quite literally! The design reinterprets the region’s vernacular architectural heritage using space, framing and materials. The tower’s form, for example, borrows from elevated, rural water tanks.
An oversized lattice defines the building’s perimeter, framing views through openings that draw visitors to vantage points at its edges. The lattice provides shade and echoes the original western screen of the adjacent Globe Hotel, now an information centre. A raised walkway that connects the lookout to the hotel’s first-floor verandah extends the hotel’s distinctive, cross-braced timber framing to create a seamless link.
“Barcaldine is a desert oasis known as ‘the garden town of the west’ due to its location above two artesian aquifers that enable large trees to thrive in the arid environment,” says m3architecture director Dr Michael Lavery. “The nearby Lara Wetlands attract migratory birds from around the world and clear night skies are perfect for stargazing.”
“The materials we chose allowed the structure to be built by local tradespeople. This reduced contractor mileage and supported the local economy and community.”
Barcaldine is described as one-side loaded, with the entirety of the town built to one side of the railway line, with a national highway that splits the main street. The only issue was that they planned to narrow that highway, in order to increase interaction with tourists, and remove the carpark in front of the Tree of Knowledge.
“Allowing everybody who visits to simply stop right there is doing a disservice to themselves and the town,” Lavery says.
“The master plan essentially sought to do something which country towns fight hard against, which was to remove cars in front of the most important parts, but provide them in front of the more significant retail and commercial portions of town, in order for people to walk through the town to visit the sites and then have a coffee and engage with the locals.
“We were effectively asking to narrow a national highway. And to the credit of everyone involved, that was something that was embraced.”
The call was an inspired one: “If you look at the pragmatics of just the decision-making behind removing the car parking from around the tree and making people stop and actually then spend money in town, you cannot fault those decisions,” Hooper says.
“There’s an incredible amount that appeals to the tourist visitor where that economic benefit to the town cannot be understated.”
From the Tree of Knowledge project, the Barcaldine Master Plan was born, and from it spawned the Globe Hotel and Globe Lookout, completed in 2016 and 2023 respectively. Hooper describes the Master Plan as a “baggy fit”, inspired by the rural everyday.
“I’d say the tree drove the master plan in a lot of ways, and giving back to the tree actually drove some of those master plan outcomes. We’ve remained interested in other sustainable type practices such as using local materials and local contractors, and that, of course, starts to drive language.
“The beautifully developed screen on the Globe Hotel is actually a reference to the fan lights above the old hotel rooms and also the road. I think part of that whole lattice work and that language is part of that historical reference to the buildings.”
All three projects have assisted in a 300 per cent growth in tourism for the dusty town out west. Lavery says the entire master plan is the embodiment of good design and relationships between practice and client.
“It’s a great thing for both the practices and personal friendship. I have had different hats on in the last couple of years thinking about advocacy for the profession to be able to talk to clients and client groups about what our profession can do when we are given the right opportunity and we’ve got a client that brings trust with them,” he says.
Hooper says the unlikely tourist hub is fast becoming an architectural haven: “I think I could count on one finger a town with a population of 1,200 that has two nationally architecture awarded projects in one town within 100 metres of each other. I think that’s telling of the client being able to put their trust in us and the vision and those projects as well.”
Brian Hooper Architect
Christopher Frederick Jones