Community Arts: A Tribute to the Maid Marion

Just over 25 years ago in my other-old life in Australia, a visionary woman engaged me as a funding consultant on a project. And today, half a world and quarter of a century later, she sent me a message to celebrate our shared & continued success. Cos she's endlessly gracious and a team player to the end - that person who remembers to thank the hired help decades later.


Honestly, who remembers the hired help decades on? Marion does. 😍

Back then, in 1997 when we started, the inner-urban Melbourne industrial suburb of Footscray was pre-gentrification with 65 language groups crammed into 6 square kilometers. Marion Crooke was the Director of the Footscray Community Arts Center and a woman passionate to create something of lasting value.

The two storey bluestone buildings were constructed in 1872 for Samuel Henderson as part of a bacon and ham curing facility. The existing buildings were occupied by a number of different manufacturers until it was repurposed in the 1970s as the Footscray Community Arts Centre. source

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I remember this day in 1999 like it was yesterday - a very nervous and thoroughly coached Marion welcoming the handsome new Premier of Victoria, Steve Bracks, to the Center. I'm sure I'm hovering anxiously behind the photographer somewhere, making sure the right moments were captured. 😆

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Additional State Government funding, a total of $2.75 million from the Community Support Fund, is confirmed for the construction of Footscray Community Arts Centre’s Theatre (a total of $3.4 million with Centre fundraising).
Premier Steve Bracks makes the announcement at a star-studded launch in the (heavily disguised for television) Ryco Warehouse. Stiltwalkers from the Women’s Circus welcomed the Premier, Husny Thalib rapped and the Ethiopian Circus performed vibrant music for invited guests including Roslyn Smorgon, Richard Pratt and FCAC Chair, Margaret Haggart. Source

What endeared Marion to me was the way she engaged the women in her world to become a collective force to be reckoned with. Then-FCAC-President & renowned opera singer, Margaret Haggart. My good self. Bernie, whose surname escapes me, and who always got anxious when we talked about sums of money in excess of $1 million. Marion and I also had the joy of working with two very special donors and women of philanthropy, both since deceased: the inimitable Roslyn Smorgon and the late Dame Elisabeth Murdoch (yes, Rupert's mommy).

Delighted to see Roslyn's name still celebrated through the naming of a Gallery in her honour.

Image Source: FCAC, 2014

The work of one humble, creative and visionary arts administrator CAN and DOES change worlds, and lives. Today Footscray Community Arts Center is thriving and growing, largely due to Marion.


Utterly delighted that a further $8.7 million has been granted to continue this amazing work.

Humble beginnings and endless planning meetings in Marion's then rather dingy office are fondly remembered as I savour the news and the collective achievements. I'm reminded again about the importance of community, of creating a legacy and that visions can and do manifest. It feels wonderful to know we brought something important to fruition.

Marion Irene Crooke was awarded the Australian Centenary Medal in the 2001 Queen's New Years Honours List for her services to Footscray Community Arts Centre. She remains a good friend, a woman of both courage and vision, and continues to celebrate art, creativity and community wherever she goes.

I'm honoured today by her integrity and team-spirit, and how our work ripples on.

Strong Women: May we know them, May we raise them, May we be them.


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