Caption: Ipima Street Light Rail stop in Canberra featuring artwork by Hannah Quinlivan. (Photo: ACT Government Media)
The ancient and unbroken history of Australian landscapes and Aboriginal people is increasingly becoming a part of major infrastructure projects in the form of Indigenous artworks and design elements.
From rail and roads through to buildings and open public space, concepts like belonging to Country, history of place, and stories of people in the local landscape are being celebrated. Public artworks have become a way of connecting people to place and connecting people to the culture and stories of Traditional Owners.
As part of the Alkimos Central development in Perth, Western Australia, Noongar artist Sharyn Egan created a 250-metre-long public artwork through engagement with local school children. The Alkimos Central development is part of the METRONET Yanchep Rail Extension Project. It is expected to be home to around 90,000 residents on completion.
The artwork brings together the Indigenous history and culture of the area with the new city centre’s future as imagined by local students. One hundred fifty school children participated in a series of art workshops by Sharon Wood-Kenney with Aboriginal Elders including Nan Doreen Green and Dr Noel Nannup teaching the students local Aboriginal cultural stories.
“Sharyn’s stunning work speaks to the 2020 NAIDOC theme of ‘Always Was, Always Will Be’, bringing local cultural stories and recognition of the Aboriginal heritage of the land that will host this exciting new development,” Western Australian Minister for Lands and Aboriginal Affairs, Ben Wyatt said.
“It is fantastic to see that the area’s rich Aboriginal heritage and the voices of Traditional Owners incorporated from the outset.”
Art a Part of Reconciliation in Melbourne
In Victoria, the massive Melbourne Metro Rail project is commissioning artworks including murals and sculptures as part of the public realm of the stations and surrounding precincts.
Metro also commissioned an artwork by Yorta Yorta and Gunnai artist Dixon Patten for the Metro Trains Head office and Academy to mark NAIDOC Week 2020. The artwork is called Barring, which means “Journey” in the Woi Wurrung language.
The artist explained the artwork embodies how the land links to culture, identity, spirituality, family and the creator. The artwork also highlights the organisation’s own commitment to Reconciliation and the recognition that train services operate on Aboriginal land.
Further works are also being commissioned. This includes a line-wide artwork by Yorta Yorta / Wamba Wamba / Mutti Mutti / Boonwurrung artist Maree Clarke, to be displayed across the five new underground stations.
Moving through Ngunnawal Country
In the national capital, Canberra, artist Hannah Quinlivan’s artworks for each light rail stop capture the way people move within the landscape and shows the interplay of wind, green space, light and human pathways. Aboriginal Elder and artist Uncle Jimmy Williams created artwork that features on the seat fabric of the vehicles. The design is based on the flight pattern of the Bogong moth, highly significant in local Ngunnawal culture.
Sydney is also increasingly alive with Indigenous artworks, including cultural elements on the redeveloped Redfern Station. There is also an ongoing deep engagement with local Traditional Owner groups to inform the public realm design strategy for the Sydney Metro and WestConnex projects.
Why it Matters
The Government Architect NSW released a discussion paper last year, Designing with Country, that explains how engaging with Aboriginal knowledge and understanding the relationship to Country can improve the built environment.
Fundamental to this is recognising humans as part of the environment, rather than separate beings.
“If design and planning processes considered natural systems that include people, animals, resources and plants equally—similar to an Aboriginal world view—this could make a significant contribution to a more sustainable future world,” the authors said.
The discussion paper emphasised the need for project designers and planners to approach engagement respectfully and meaningfully. There are also significant cultural protocols to consider around ownership of knowledge.
South Australian-based Indigenous art, marketing and Reconciliation Action Plan consultancy, Ochre Dawn Creative Industries, has outlined some important protocol steps for projects and organisations looking to incorporate Indigenous art and engage with Traditional Owners and local Aboriginal communities.
The process of engagement is not just about procuring an artwork; it is also about connecting in a meaningful way with Indigenous people.