GroupGSA webinar challenges designers to work closely with Indigenous consultants


Connect and Design with Country, a webinar hosted by GroupGSA last Thursday to coincide with Reconciliation Week, saw 60 people connect to discuss how Indigenous customs can further intertwine with the built environment.

The esteemed panel included Veronica Murphy of Sydney Water, Proud Wife of Kamilaroi; Michael Hromek, Technical Director of WSP; Old Ways, new founder Angie Abdilla and GroupGSA director Lisa-Maree Carrigan.

Carrigan says the webinar went well overall, with some planned questions not being asked due to an interactive and thought-provoking discussion among the panelists.

“The goals set (for the webinar) were to broaden awareness within our collective team and with some guest clients for whom this might be a new discussion and reflection on the project. Certainly, from the perspective of awareness, we have achieved the objectives,” she says.

“The deeper issues that were mentioned around cultural appropriation and how we can be authentic and appropriate in our engagement on projects certainly could have been much longer discussions.”

Michael Hromek, a descendant of the Yuin people and a proud man of Budawang, believes that authentic indigenous engagement enhances a sense of ownership in a development or project.

“By co-designing with Elders and Knowledge Holders, we are including voices that have historically been set aside, but are now important to our society. This brings greater community ownership of these private spaces which, in turn, are better maintained and have a cultural connection.

Carrigan believes the 2022 theme for Reconciliation Week applies to the built environment on both a personal and community level.

“The theme ‘Be Courageous, Bring Change’ aligns well with our values ​​and the journey that every practitioner should take, which is to be brave and bring about change. It starts with individual responsibility, commitment, learning and action.

“As a practice we support, but we all have a responsibility to take this discussion and act personally towards reconciliation.”

Veronica Murphy, First Nations Inclusion Specialist at Sydney Water, says a fundamental understanding of heritage is needed to fully respect and understand the context of a site.

“It’s important that these conversations with land councils, native title holders and elders or their representatives start early in the early planning stages of a project,” she says.

“It provides a clear show of respect for First Nations peoples by recognizing their continued connection to the country, but also brings a different perspective to how we design for the built environment. What did the territory look like before colonization? What was it for? If it’s a watercourse, we know that along many of our watercourses there are burial sites, birthing sites, places where certain practices of initiation took place. It’s about finding as much information as possible before putting pen to paper and making sure communities are still involved in those discussions.

To watch the webinar in its entirety, click here.

Images: provided

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