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PLACEMAKING THROUGH THE INDIGENOUS LENS

AUNTY RUBY ROSE

As an indigenous Elder and a descendant of the Mununjali and Wangerriburra peoples, I would like to acknowledge all Elders past and present of all cultures who call this place, home.

 

In order to have a shared conversation about place and place-making, it is important to first identify and define what ‘place’ looks like when viewed through the indigenous lens.

WHAT IS PLACE-MAKING FROM AN INDIGENOUS PERSPECTIVE?

For Australian indigenous people, the term ‘place’;  equates to ‘Country’.  ‘Country’ is home and our place of belonging. Everything that ‘is’ has been defined for us by our inter connectedness with the Earth Mother. There is not one place in the whole of Australia where aboriginal people have not been or have not connected with at some time or other.

I teach young mothers and their children: “If you take something from the land, then give something back”. That is how I was taught by my Elders. A lot of non indigenous mothers are coming to me now and saying: “Aunty Ruby Rose, please will you teach our children about how to love the Land. This is a spirituality that is not taught in the schools”.

WHAT IS ‘COUNTRY’?

An architect came to the Scenic Rim in the south east region of Queensland where I live and during our conversation, this is how I defined ‘Country’ for him:

 Our ‘Country’ is the ocean; our ‘Country’ is the stars and their myriad constellations; our ‘Country’ is Yarrigah the wind and Turum Turrum – the rain; our ‘Country’ is mibunn, the eagle as she catches the thermals and rides their currents and Wandjin, mother platypus as she hides with her young in the swirling depths of the creek bed – that is ‘Country’. Our ‘Country’ is the air we breathe as well as the land we walk upon. All these are ‘Country’ and we will take care of Her!

As you can read from this definition, ‘Country’, for our people is something far more than just the landscape.

A MESSAGE FOR PLACE-MAKERS

Successful embedding of indigenous perspectives at the consultation and planning stages requires four key elements:

1. STRONG LEADERSHIP

Story from ’Country’/ place: In 2016, for the first time since colonisation, the new Scenic Rim Mayor, Greg Christiansen, a leading place- maker invited the Mununjali Elders to perform an official Traditional Welcome at the opening of the new Council.

Result: Elders felt there was a healing that happened through this process. Elders are now keen to participate in place-making consultations in the area.

2. DEEP LISTENING

That the place-maker actually hears what is being said by Elders and does not translate requests into Western frames of reference.

Story from ’Country’/ place: Recently I attended a Government planning workshop for our region. At the end of the day, the Government representative sat next to me and actually listened deeply to my feedback. I suggested that we have an indigenous participant act as a cultural translator at the next meeting. This would benefit all the indigenous participants. My request was agreed to and it felt so good that the planner had actually heard me. 

Result: I have encouraged other community members to attend and give their input and as an Elder, I continue to be part of the planning process.

3. PRIOR RELATIONSHIP WITH THE INDIGENOUS COMMUNITY.

Place-makers proactively build on their knowledge of indigenous values and perspectives and connect with the indigenous stakeholders before the community consultation stage.

 

Story from ’Country’/ place: Any place-making project around Australia will at some stage elicit contact with the local indigenous community.

 Some of the most effective conversations I have had with architects and planners has been at the Beaudesert Arts Centre during dinner breaks at community events. The Arts are a most wonderful conduit for all different sectors of community to come together and share a common language around their love of the arts.

Result: I have submitted successful proposals and participated in major planning processes which have delivered positive outcomes for our indigenous communities.

4. PREPAREDNESS TO BE INNOVATIVE WHEN DESIGNING INDIGENOUS FRIENDLY PLACES.

Story from ’Country’/ place: My Aunty shared a wonderful story with me from her tenure on the Board of the State Library of Queensland. The library was being redeveloped and when it came to Aunty’s turn to give input, the architect wanted to know what cultural features could be incorporated. “That’s easy”, said my Aunty, “We need a fireplace.” Everyone except the architect was shocked but he went away with a thoughtful look on his face. Upon completion, the redeveloped State Library had an outside courtyard with a specially designed fireplace just as Aunty had requested.

Result: An indigenous Elder felt culturally understood. The architect was pleased when his design won many national and international awards. The State Library was happy because indigenous patrons responded enthusiastically and there were many requests for use of the venue. It was a win-win for everyone involved.

SUMMARY

Place-makers are already engaging with the indigenous community. We don’t hear enough of the success stories.

Strong leadership, deep listening, prior relationship with the indigenous community and preparedness to be innovative can help embed indigenous perspectives within the place-makers practice framework.

Perhaps in times to come, the spirituality of this ancient land will work its magic with community members everywhere and place-makers will be able to create extraordinary places of aesthetic beauty. Place-making will no longer be the sole domain of the ‘experts’ but will be in the hearts and minds of each and every community member who wishes to find their place of belonging on this magnificent planet that we call Earth.

 

issue 03. autumn 2017

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