Building Cultural Knowledge into Infrastructure Projects

Infrastructure can improve deep connections between Indigenous people and their country. We believe it’s our responsibility to lead the way in collaborating with Traditional Owners through using co-design principals and engaging in respectful, authentic and ethical discussions.

Photo courtesy of Level Crossing Removal Project L-R: Adam Maguire (LXRP Southern Program Director), Uncle Shane (Bunurong Land Council), Paul Raworth (Area Manager), Kirsty Baxter (Health Safety Quality Environment & Sustainability Manager), Steve Litterick (SPA General Manager), Ben Quinlan (Superintendent), Sonya Kilkenny (State Member for Carrum).


WSP is at the forefront of industry change when it comes to Indigenous co-design – and has a real opportunity to create a built environment that reflects Australia’s first people.


This is the firm belief of Dhuduroa-Yorta Yorta man Allan Murray, who is also WSP’s Principal Aboriginal Affairs Consultant.


“Indigenous co-design is important if we are to progress the Australian design trajectory,” he says.


“The power of Aboriginal design encompasses a potential to influence a new Australian vernacular, where designs intrinsically connect to place and context.


“While not an industry norm yet, clients are now considering this Indigenous-led design approach and want to apply it to other major projects in Australia.”


As design partner of Victoria’s Level Crossing Removal Project, WSP has been working closely with representatives of Boonwurrung/Bunurong Country in Victoria on design and integration in the southern program of works, including level crossings removals in Seaford, Cheltenham, Mentone, Carrum, Edithvale and Bonbeach.


“Through the co-design process and matching ambitions to opportunities, we are leaving a legacy where Traditional Owners can forever tell their story and share cultural knowledge in a culturally safe place,” Allan says.


Yuin man Michael Hromek and WSP’s Technical Executive Indigenous Architecture, Design & Knowledge, says the southern projects are considered unique in terms of Indigenous co-design.


“We co-designed many of the spaces in an iterative process in which Traditional Owners had direct input into the architects’ decisions at the right time,” he says.


“LXRP’s project was structured with an urban design reference panel that embraced the idea of reflecting local Aboriginal design into the built environment.


“That allowed us to do other things outside of the initial scope – such as walls, lights, and landscaping – and have input into additional works packages.


“Ultimately, we want to create a ‘songline’ of spaces and design that connect the whole project together thematically and to the notion of Country.”


Allan has been in LXRPs’ Southern Program Alliance – which is delivering the projects – since it was established in late 2017. More than 500 team members with the southern program have participated in some form of cultural activity – from attending awareness training and NAIDOC Week activities to smoking ceremonies and tours of traditional lands.


“We have been able to incorporate cultural values and principles on a major project and bring them to life on a larger scale,” he says.


At Carrum, one of the key southern program sites, LXRP was enthusiastic about using a diamond pattern and a representation of the eagle ‘Bunjuil’ on an urban marker next to Karrum Karrum Bridge. The diamond pattern identifies the Boonwurrung/Bunurong people while Bunjil represents spiritual creator of Port Phillip Bay. Additionally, a yarning circle – an amphitheatre where the community can sit and talk – has been designed and built, leaving a legacy for locals and visitors.


The yarning circle was officially opened during NAIDOC Week on 9 July, when LXRP team members and the local community joined Uncle Shane from the Bunurong Land Council, the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Gavin Jennins and local MP Sonya Kilkenny, at a smoking ceremony and Welcome to Country.


Allan Murray says that opportunities emerge through greater understanding of country.


“Relationships can be drawn on for input in other applications, such as Aboriginal participation plans, cultural competency and cultural awareness training and having a project Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP),” he says.


“At the Southern Program Alliance, we exceeded all Aboriginal participation targets because we managed expectations on both sides.”


Together with our Southern Program Alliance (SPA) partners, Lendlease and Acciona Coleman Rail, Metro Trains Melbourne and Level Crossing Removal Authority (LXRA), we are delivering the $588 million Initial Works Package, removing four level crossings on the Frankston Line.


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