Seeking Aboriginal Knowledge for Places and Spaces
“There is an awakening to the Aboriginal design movement and a broader appreciation of Aboriginal design in general,” Michael explains.
“Indigenous design is developing a movement whereby through various iterations of a traditional element, for example the dot or a line, the design itself is being reimagined into a modern design identity.
“Clients look at the design, liking and accepting it because of its contemporary look and feel without necessarily understanding its aboriginality. As such they are looking at it without the conscious or unconscious bias of ‘Aboriginal art’ but with acceptance of modern design that just happens to be Aboriginal.
“The art itself is growing into a new or ‘true’ Australian design vernacular which is something we have never seen before.”
Two contemporary Aboriginal artists that are leaders in this new design vernacular are Jonathan Jones and Reko Rennie.
“Jonathan Jones and Reko Rennie look to the old and translate it for the new,” continues Michael. “Jonathan Jones works in a range of mediums, creating site-specific installations that use light and the repetition of shape. Reko Rennie merges traditional diamond-shaped designs, hand-drawn symbols and repetitive patterning. Both explore Aboriginal identity in a contemporary way within urban environments.”
When an Image is Used, Ideas Stick
“When we use design to visualise a space for projects, there is better understanding for both our clients and communities,” says Michael.
“In many ways Aboriginal design is a style. Through our culturally appropriate stakeholder engagement processes, Elders understand that the design has been inspired by the local art and pool of inspiration from which the design is derived. Our Design Guidelines also help to develop understanding for our clients, the complete project team and external stakeholders.
“An example of this was when WSP was engaged on the initial concept design for a new pedestrian and cycle bridge connecting Victoria Park to the city of Perth via Heirisson Island. Co-designing with a working group, the design envisioned gigantic boomerang-shaped pylons supporting a gently curved bridge. It was warmly embraced by both the elders of the Whadjuk Noongar people as well as the Western Australian government as it took inspiration from the stories of two key figures associated with the island history.”
Employment and Training Opportunities
WSP hires Aboriginal people because it is a core part of our firm’s principles as included in our Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP). We also support the creation of a professional network for our Indigenous staff.
“WSP was the first engineering consultancy to establish a RAP in 2010,” says Julia Carpenter, Director of Indigenous Participation. “We have an important and continuing role to play in promoting and protecting the rights of Indigenous Peoples. We have a responsibility to include and consider Indigenous Peoples’ values and knowledge in the work that we do, in the design and development of place.”
Our RAP has a number of CSR commitments including the long term partnership between WSP and QUT, the Science and Infrastructure Development School which focuses on closing the gap in education outcomes for Indigenous Australians, the Indigenous Engineering Summer Schools in Perth and Sydney and the South Australian Governor’s Aboriginal Employment Infrastructure Cluster.
In addition, the Koori Job Ready Program established with one of our diversity partners Tribal Warrior, aids Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to join WSP in a technical field. Tribal Warrior, a not-for-profit community organisation initiated and directed by Aboriginal people with Aboriginal Elders, works very closely with local families, services and employment agencies to identify potential candidates before introduction to WSP.
“Finding Aboriginal people who are studying design is difficult, but we need young Aboriginal people to be leading the Aboriginal design movement,” says Michael. “As clients, stakeholders and the broader community awakens to Aboriginal design through embracing its contemporary transformation, young people need to believe they can achieve a strong career path within the STEM field. So, we were very excited and pleased to have appointed our most recent recruit, second-year architectural student Patrick Garlett from Perth, a proud Whadjuk Noongar man.”