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Tomorrowland19 I, human: the highlights

Tomorrowland19 Dr Virginia Marshall, Angie Abdilla, Clarence Slockee and Tina Perinotto
L-R: Dr Virginia Marshall, Angie Abdilla, Clarence Slockee and Tina Perinotto

As always there were some fireworks and surprising insights. Not all can be reported. One of the speakers, at least, asked specifically not to broadcast all their views.

Pity. But it means you need to be there next time! Following are some highlights. More stories and full report soon.


At Tomorrowland 2019 the panel of Indigenous knowledge experts set the scene and energy level for the day. Dr Virginia Marshall from Australian National University confirmed what The Fifth Estate has suspected for a while – that there’s booming interest in Indigenous knowledge.

But Marshall says the way forward needs to be a collaborative effort, where there’s meaningful engagement with Indigenous knowledge holders and communities. This means more than just “box ticking” consultation at the start of a development process, our three experts reminded us. 

Dr Virginia Marshall, ANU

Marshall is the author of Overturning aqua nullius: Securing Aboriginal water rights, and pointed out that although droughts are not new to Indigenous people the mismanagement issues are as bad as they’ve ever been. Some towns in regional NSW have to drink the water with cordial because it’s so salty.

She says Indigenous communities have been managing these waterways for thousands of years and need to have a seat at the table when drawing up water management plans.

Clarence Slockee from Yerrabingin said that Indigenous people in Australia are the most consulted race on the planet – “but it’s not engagement and it’s not having an equal say.”

An expert in urban greening, Slockee says there’s a lot to learn from Indigenous people when it comes to native species. These species are adapted for this climate and are hardier than exotic varieties. There are many that are edible as well.

The problem is that the design and management of green spaces often comes down to the bottom line, with fast growing introduced species generally cheaper than natives.

Angie Abdilla from Old Ways, New says indigenous knowledge should inform placemaking, service design and the associated technology around it.

She believes in “Country centred design” because “if you look after Country first then communities are looked after in the process.”

“If you care for Country, it will care for you.”

In practice, this means thinking about Country during urban renewal projects and making sure Indigenous knowledge holders have agency and autonomy to find the solution.

She says Sydney is actually a wetland “no matter how much concrete you pour over it” and that all built environment infrastructure and water management plans should work with this natural ecology, not against it.

Daniella Traino is a data and cyber security expert from Pinecone Technology Strategies. She talked us through the potential opportunities and challenges the digital era poses.

Collecting data in our built environment is generally designed to make our lives better and easier. For example, a connected home can turn the lights on in the kitchen because sensors have detected you have fresh food. But with every new data point, she says there’s a new opportunity for it to end up in the hands of someone with nefarious intentions.

L to R: Alice Thompson, Rod Simpson, Jess Miller, Lauren Kajewski, Eugene Tan, Helen Papathanasiou

Lauren Kajewski from Landcom has just come back from a work trip to Berlin where’s she’s seen some really innovative uses of urban space.

One was a childcare by day, bar by night (with the spirits kept far out of reach of the children, she assured us). She says these clever co-use spaces brought colour and life into these communities, and mean valuable urban space isn’t left sitting unused for many hours of the day.

She also says urban developments didn’t shy away from greening, with lush landscapes that bring privacy throughout the developments.

The communities panel featured Kajewski, Jess Miller from City of Sydney, Helen Papathanasiou from City of Parramatta, Rod Simpson from the Greater Sydney Commission and Eugene Tan from Clayton Utz, moderated by Alice Thompson.

Another insight Lauren noticed during her travels was that in Australia we see land as a commodity and an investment vehicle. “None of the European cities had that, land price was governed by council.” She says these European models allow for more flexibility and innovation.

Helen Papathanasiou spoke about some of the work in Paramatta to improve the sustainability and liveability of the area, including making the river swimmable and mandating recycled water pipes for the CBD. There’s more around mandates for energy targets well above state mandated levels, she told us in briefings ahead of the event (to be reported soon).

On the water theme, Jess Miller said there’s still much work to be done for local councils and that it’s criminal that we are still using drinking water to flush our loos and irrigate.

Left to Right: Peter Poulet, Fred Holt, Robert Saidman

Ahead of the buildings panel, Fred Holt from 3XN had 150 slides to show off the unique and sustainable achievements of AMP Capital’s Quay Quarter Tower or QQT, where the design retains more than 70 per cent of the existing building fabric and doubles the floor space. Holt also touched some of the fabulous work his company is doing to create an entire system for recycling building materials. Sure buildings can reach their use by date but what if they are predesigned to take apart and then reassemble their components?

In an ideal world, he says, you would not know if workers were disassembling or assembling the building.

Holt was joined by NSW Building Commissioner David Chandler, Professor of Architecture Western Sydney University Peter Poulet and Robert Saidman from Arup on the panel about future construction methods. This session was moderated by Chris Nunn from AMP Capital.

We learnt that changes to the national building code should see full height glass building with little protection become relics of the past, and more building with interesting shading devices and cladding.

There was agreement that offsite manufacture is something we need but how to take it mainstream is the real question. It’s clear retraining the workforce will play a key role.

Jeremy McLeod

Jeremy McLeod from Breathe Architecture took us on the amazing journey he went through to secure financing for his triple bottom line Nightingale housing projects.

Although the model looked scary to a bank on paper, a collection of passionate people in various organisations – namely women – worked hard to secure financing for these fabulous projects.

Others who had a hand in Nightingale’s financial success joined McLeod on a panel: Hanna Ebeling from Social Enterprise Finance Australia, Caryn Kakas from ANZ and Katherine Leong from Spark Beyond (formerly part of NAB’s role in Nightingale).

It’s all paid off, with Nightingale projects and residential apartments that have borrowed closely from the model the only apartments selling in Melbourne’s cooling housing market.

“We wanted to establish Nightingale with the core intent of changing the market. I’m an architect, I love designing buildings. I want a big developer to come along who wants me to design net zero homes at a reasonable cost,” McLeod said.

The final session got into the nitty gritty of smart cities and the ethical questions that this level of connectivity throws up.

Daniella Traino returned as moderator for a panel with the ABC’s technology report Ariel Bogle, Dexus’ head of building technology Alex Fuerschke, and smart cities expert from the University of Sydney, Dr Jathan Sadowski.

The panel didn’t shy away from the big questions. It was noted that Australia and other western countries are not that far away from the surveillance levels seen in China.

A more positive outlook would see the public reclaim data from private interests and use it in ways that benefit the community. For example, in New York environmental modelling that measures pollution levels means the city can notify citizens when it’s safe for children to play outside or not that day.

More to come, including our special report on the day’s program and related interviews

A huge thanks to our fantastic sponsors:

Co-lead sponsors:

      • Landcom and AMP Capital

Supporting sponsors:

      • Western Sydney University
      • Sustainable Australia Finance
      • Autodesk/Plangrid

Venue sponsor

      • Clayton Utz, venue sponsor

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