Michael is a proud Budawang man who designs from an Aboriginal, architectural and placemaking perspective to establish cultural context and build cultural awareness. His language is Yuin.
His Aboriginality hails from his mother’s family with his grandmother’s ancestors having fled to the Shoalhaven area after a massacre in the 1850’s on their original traditional lands in the Nowra area. In the 1920’s his mother’s family moved to Casino in New South Wales. Michael’s family on his father’s side is from Czechoslovakia; his grandfather arriving in Perth (eventually moving to Sydney) after WWII when mistakenly thinking he was on a ship bound for America!
The Budawang tribe were the Aboriginals to be sighted by Captain Cook in 1770, on Koorbrua beach at Murramarang. The tribal area of Budawang is from Conjola in the north, Lake George in the West and the Moruya (Deua) River in the south. The Budawang tribe are freshwater and saltwater people. Yuin is the generic name for the different groups who occupied territory from Cape Howe to the Shoalhaven River and inland to the Great Dividing Range.
Michael’s focus to achieve great places for people to live, work and play, is to establish early understanding of a project from an Aboriginal perspective and an approach that utilises the co-design methodology of the Indigenous Specialist Services team whose core principles are Indigenous-led, involve the community and ensure the appropriate use of Indigenous design.
I get to bring cultural knowledge and history unknown beyond the traditional custodians of the land on which a project is located and take this into the public realm, into the broader community.
In fact, this has been his continuous focus from the start of his design career studying architecture at university. “I wanted to include more about the Aboriginal influence, but this was new ground when I was at university,” says Michael. “It was difficult for the tutors to critique my work as they didn’t have the parameters of understanding by which to do so. It required a specialist set of knowledge.”
Encouraged to undertake a PhD based on the application of this specialist knowledge, in particular urban design and specifically the historically significant suburb of Redfern in Sydney, Michael sought to work for an organisation that would be keen to understand Aboriginal design in the context of place and Aboriginal placemaking. This led him to join WSP in 2018.
Michael continues, “It is a privilege to do this work. For me it’s a type of design gift. I get more from it than what I can give.
“It is an honour to be able to talk to community – I am continually gaining knowledge around practices and history from Elders. I also get to bounce ideas off Elders in the creation of designs incorporating cultural components relevant to Country.
“I get to bring cultural knowledge and history unknown beyond the traditional custodians of the land on which a project is located and take this into the public realm, into the broader community.”
Why is it important for WSP to connect to Country?
Michael believes there are two reasons, “Because our clients want it and the Aboriginal community want it too.
“There has been a dramatic shift in interest and a societal evolution in the value of understanding place from an Aboriginal design perspective. The interest level of understanding this type of design is high. There are incentives derived from clients to ensure it is included, but having the involvement of the Indigenous Specialist Services team and our thinking and processes, ensures the inclusion is respectful.”
Michael also feels that this is something, as Australians, we can all share – that it provides a point of difference to the traditional influence of design from an international perspective.
What has been your standout moment working for WSP?
Michael nominates the concept design project for a new pedestrian and cycle bridge connecting Victoria Park to the city of Perth via Heirisson Island, known as the Causeway Pedestrian and Cyclist Bridge.
“Through co-designing with a working group, the outcome was warmly embraced by the community Elders as well as the government, local residents and people of Perth.
“This project was a great test of the methodology of Aboriginal community engagement and how to link Aboriginal knowledge and thought to a project, thereby building a strong relationship for the future.”
What is one thing we all can do to understand Country in the context of place?
Michael’s response is, “Build cultural competency from an individual level.
“Working with the broader team in WSP on projects through our co-design process leaves them with a ‘memory’ of knowledge of place unique to the area where their project was undertaken. This is over and above their sense of achievement in the legacy of the infrastructure itself.”
He also sees it as a way to manage our modern-day life. Michael believes that by understanding our personal relationship with Country through stripping back the layers of modernity within place – to think of it from the understanding of those who are one with the land – gives us all a new level of meaning within our everyday.
Find out more about the Indigenous Specialist Services team.