I was delighted to be representing the Minister for the Arts, the Hon Don Harwin MLC, to celebrate the opening of Varuna – the National Writers House’s accessible writer’s studio.

It is important to recognise NSW’s writers, who make important contributions to our State through their work –to build the NSW economy, create jobs and enrich our lives creatively, intellectually and emotionally. The arts, screen and cultural sectors are important to our State.

A report by KPMG for the NSW Government found that the arts, screen and culture to NSW contributed approximately $16.4 billion to NSW Gross State Product and involved the full-time employment of over 118,000 workers.

This is equivalent to around 3 per cent of total NSW Gross State Product.

For 30 years, Varuna has been an important part of the story of Australian writing.

This beautiful house and its gardens are a testament to one Australia's most celebrated writers of the 20th century - Eleanor Dark.

Eleanor, her husband Dr Eric Dark and their family created this amazing heritage site over many years.

The property was gifted to the Australian writing community in 1989 by their son Mick Dark.  

As Australia’s national writers’ house, Varuna has a strong record of achievement in supporting writers at all stages of their careers and in helping to bring the work of writers to readers. 

Varuna’s programs of professional development and mentoring to writers nationwide and its community programs develop and sustain our literary community, with a commitment to excellence and diversity.

The NSW Government has a longstanding commitment to Varuna, through funding from Create NSW, and it recently announced that Varuna will receive $740,000 over the next four years to develop and deliver multiple arts and cultural activities.

Varuna will deliver professional development and mentorship to writers nationwide, providing residencies to over 190 writers every year.

It will also present the annual Blue Mountains Writers' Festival, and support a vibrant program of writing workshops and events.

Today is about the important work of Varuna in reducing barriers to inclusion for people with disability, which is an important part of the Government’s commitment to excellence and diversity in the arts, screen and culture sector.

Building this new wheelchair-accessible studio is a clear and practical statement by Varuna, the NSW Government and all who contributed to the project.

Writers who are wheelchair users or who have other mobility disabilities are part of the literary community and have talents and stories that need to be part of our cultural life.

The NSW Government is proud to have contributed funding to the studio, with $100,000 from Create NSW and $50,000 from the Office of Responsible Gambling’s ClubGrants Fund.

Supporting the work of writers, other artists and screen creatives with disability is a priority area for the NSW Government’s strategic investment.

This investment enables the expression of an authentic narrative of disability and validates the pursuit of professional arts careers by people with disability.

It also celebrates the contribution that writers and other artists and screen creatives with disability make to our cultural life.

So, the studio project is part of that strategic investment and it has also acted as a catalyst for Varuna to undertake further actions to increase inclusion of people with disability.

This includes establishing a Disability Inclusion Advisory Group and developing a Disability Action Plan.

Varuna is also working with Accessible Arts – the NSW service organisation for arts and disability – to promote Varuna’s programs and connect with the arts and disability community.

I note that the arts, screen and culture sector has been hit hard by COVID-19 and the necessary public health orders needed to protect the public and workers in the sector from harm.

The Government moved quickly to implement the $50 million Rescue and Restart package announced by the Premier in June.

Indeed, Minister Harwin recently announced over $30 million for Stage 2 funding to support NSW arts and cultural organisations to play their part in restarting the NSW economy.

Varuna will benefit from this as part of its general operations and through a strategic program of support for writing.

Create NSW will be working with Varuna and Accessible Arts to deliver a writing program to support writers with disability.

I congratulate Jennifer Scott and the Varuna board, Veechi Stuart and the staff at Varuna for their commitment to foster the work of writers with disability.

I was pleased to be at Varuna on behalf of the NSW Government to see Varuna’s vision realised, after so much work to realise this studio that is in such harmony with its beautiful and tranquil setting.