Five ways the built environment sector can advance Reconciliation with our First Nations

Image courtesy Balarinji
Image courtesy Balarinji

There are several important ways that the built environment can help advance reconciliation with our Indigenous peoples. Five stand out.

According to Green Building Council of Australia chief executive Romilly Madew, Reconciliation with the First Australian peoples is an “important step on the road to sustainability”.

“First Australians, with a history spanning more than 60,000 years, have deep insights into building sustainable, resilient places for people that respect the natural environment,” she said.

Here are five ways companies, consultants, planners and developers can help advance Reconciliation.

1. Develop a Reconciliation Action Plan

The GBCA this week released its first Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP). It outlines a plan to engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, develop new relationships with First Australian businesses and investigate new initiatives within Green Star.

Ms Madew said the 18 months of consultations with industry and stakeholders that were part of the RAP development process arose from the awareness that social sustainability and environmental sustainability increasingly intersect.

“We recognise the GBCA is in a unique position to influence how reconciliation and sustainability intersect, and to examine how our industry considers reconciliation within the context of placemaking,” Ms Madew said.

“Over the next year, we will be examining how the Green Star rating system for buildings and communities can recognise and reward placemaking that honours our First Australians.”

Chief executive of Reconciliation Australia, Karen Mundine, said the GBCA RAP would help the organisation “build the business case for future commitments to cultural learning, practising cultural protocols, and promoting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employment”.

Many GBCA members have already developed RAPs, including Lendlease, Stockland, GPT, Mirvac and Grocon.

Grocon’s RAP has seen tangible outcomes on projects including Parklands, the mixed-use residential project it is developing at the Gold Coast as part of the Commonwealth Games build.

The Parklands Project Indigenous Participation program resulted in 128 jobs for Indigenous employees amounting to 94,499 hours of paid work. There were more than 8000 hours of training provided to Indigenous trainees, and the company partnered with 15 Indigenous-owned business during the project.

In a media statement last year about the project, Grocon chief executive Craig Mitchell said its scale presented an “enormous opportunity to make a difference”.

“The Parklands Project serves as an example of the positive outcomes that can be achieved through a dedicated focus on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation and I hope that a legacy of the project is a brighter future for the people who have worked on it,” he said.

All project team members and the local community were also encouraged to develop a deeper understanding and appreciation of Indigenous culture and history as part of the company-wide Reconciliation Action Plan.

“The plan offers learning and development opportunities to everyone within the organisation to acquire knowledge about our cultural heritage,” Mr Mitchell said.

“Part of that is providing learning and development opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our office and on our projects.”

2. Engage with Indigenous-led design approaches

Embracing Indigenous-led approaches to urban design, urban regeneration and urban planning can have multiple benefits place-making. Director of Sydney-based Indigenous-owned consultancy, Balarinji, Ros Moriarty, said these benefits include “rich interpretation of place beyond conversations that have mostly been focused on compliance and mitigation”.

Ros Moriarty                               Photo Davide Maurice Smith Photography

“Richly layered stories can embed the spirit of a place with a greater sense of urban belonging and wellbeing from a sense of places where generations have lived.”

Ms Moriarty said that some of the unique qualities of thought Indigenous people can bring to the built environment include the connectedness of humanity, land and the cosmos.

Spirituality, the paramount importance of family, and storytelling are also understandings that can add to built outcomes.

While New Zealand has many examples of embedding Mena Whenhua, the Maori principles, into place-making, Ms Moriarty said Australia is just embarking on that journey.

One recent project the consultancy worked on, Jezzine Barracks at Townsville, has takes the Indigenous-led approach.

The consultancy was commissioned by the Jezzine Barracks Community Trust to conceptualise, manage and install 33 major works of public art, and 100 pieces of interpretive signage for a $40 million 14.7 hectare site.

In addition to paying tribute to the area’s Bindal and Wulgurukaba Traditional Owners, the redevelopment scope also included delivering art and interpretation of Jezzine Barracks’ military history.

The project entailed art directing and managing 13 local Aboriginal artists and six Queensland installation artist and working in partnership with Traditional Owners, Elders and the Military Committee.

Ms Moriarty said exemplar projects need to “trailblaze”, changing the conversation from Compliance to enrichment”.

“Balarinji is endeavouring to broaden the conversation from Indigenous employment and procurement that typically underpin RAPs to a deeper consideration of changing the colonial narrative that dictates Australian places.”

3. Provide an opportunity for an Indigenous person

Companies and consultancies in the built environment sector can also provide opportunities for Indigenous people to advance careers in architecture, planning, construction, engineering, law, finance, human resources and other fields through the Career Trackers internship program.

Career Trackers is an Indigenous-run organisation that assists Aboriginal university students to obtain internships with leading companies.

In addition to the interns receiving ongoing mentoring from both the organisation and its alumni, the companies participating receive support including cultural awareness training.

Participating companies have included Lendlease, Cox Architecture, Arup, AECOM, John Holland, GHD, Mirvac and Richard Crookes Construction.

4. Use an Indigenous supplier

Whether it is office supplies, facilities management, designers or construction trades on the shopping list, there are a growing number of Indigenous enterprises that can provide goods and services.

The federal government, in conjunction with industry and Indigenous stakeholders, has initiated Supply Nation.

It is a not-for-profit organisation that supports, promotes and certifies Indigenous-led enterprises including renewable energy, construction and facilities management firms.

Companies that have committed to procurement diversity policies which aim to include Indigenous suppliers can also become certified as partners of the initiative. Corporate members currently include AECOM, Grocon, Downer, ATCO, Fulton Hogan, BMD, Thiess, Jacobs, BGC and Spotless.

5. Learn and listen

It is not uncommon now for a smoking ceremony to be held at the start of construction works, or at the start of a major event. There are many other opportunities too for learning about and listening to our First Nations people.

Organisations such as the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects, for example, have added Aboriginal approaches to landscape to the topics covered at its conferences and within the organisation’s working groups.

The GBCA is also adding the topic to this month’s Green Cities 2018. In conjunction with the Property Council of Australia, it is hosting a Reconciliation Breakfast to discuss reconciliation in placemaking. Speakers will include Rueben Berg, co-founder of Indigenous Architecture and Design Victoria; Supply Nation chief executive Laura Berry; Andrea Mason, chief executive of Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Women’s Council Aboriginal Corporation; and Lendlease executive lead indigenous engagement and RAP, Cath Brokenborough.


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