Sian, proud Budawang woman of the Yuin Nation, helps develop Aboriginal Design Principles that guide and inform design solutions, researching the rich history and living culture of people who belong to land on which WSP works.
Aboriginal from her matriarchal line, Sian’s grandmother’s ancestors fled to the Kempsey area after a massacre in the late 19th century on their original traditional lands south of Nowra. Her family moved off Country to stay together as they didn’t want to be separated, as was the case if they had stayed and forced into missions.
The Budawang tribe are the Aboriginal people 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 fresh-water and salt-water people. Yuin is the generic name for the different groups who originate from Cape Howe to the Shoalhaven River and inland to the Great Dividing Range.
Be interested and concerned about the Country you are working on. Quietly offer respect in your head. Make it an everyday thing for the project you are working on. Ground yourself in place. It only takes a minute of being open and curious.
As a landscape architect, senior researcher and designer with a background in natural history, Sian aims for a collaborative experience with Country for all those involved in developing a project.
“I bring a unique perspective to the team,” says Sian. “My background is in bush regeneration, bush foods, propagation and cultural burning. I was working as a Program Officer with the Firesticks Alliance Indigenous Corporation when I was approached to join WSP’s Indigenous Specialist Services.
“I had previously worked with my brother, Michael, and my sister Dr Daniele Hromek, looking at incorporating the Indigenous perspective into design outcomes, so we had an established methodology for collaboration with Country in placemaking.
“Our aim is to collaborate from an Indigenous perspective because it is the Traditional Custodians that have the inherited understanding of the innate values of Country and the associated nature systems.”
Since 2019, Sian has been a Director on the Board of the Firesticks Alliance Indigenous Corporation which helps Traditional Custodians reinvigorate and reapply cultural burning practices to repair and strengthen Country and community.
Sian feels that it’s awesome that WSP has the insight of valuing Country, “I hold in high esteem that WSP has created the space for Indigenous people to have a voice in addition to the deed owners of the land beneath which a project is being planned and constructed.
“WSP is developing the pathway for others to also value this potential. Through the work of the Indigenous Specialist Services team, we enable multi-disciplinary teams across the organisation to build up cultural competency.
“I love finding out more about the different Countries across Australia – it’s invigorating and interesting.”
Why is it important for WSP to connect to Country?
“Because it is the basis of what the business does,” says Sian.
“The services WSP provides to public and private organisations enable infrastructure projects to be put on land that is on Aboriginal Country. When individuals working on projects gain that understanding – it makes a difference.
Sian believes that by the Indigenous Specialist Services providing the opportunity for Aboriginal people to be involved is to empower, and that in itself is empowering.
Sian continues “This hasn’t been offered in the past. Having Aboriginal insight and knowledge is valuable. Conversely for WSP, it is invaluable to have that specialist edge and to push this further in the context of placemaking. It is our point of difference within the sector and for our clients, and therefore comes also with a commercial benefit.
“While WSP was willing to take the chance of creating an Indigenous Specialist Services offering , it also understood that this was the right thing to do in its role as a good corporate citizen.”
What has been your standout moment working for WSP?
Sian nominates a specific presentation to a group of architects.
“They were really interested in understanding what the Indigenous Specialist Services team was doing.
“After the presentation, they expressed their real appreciation for the opportunity to learn about this work and they gained a little glimpse of what we do.
“How we see things as designers to people beyond WSP was personally a special privilege. But I recognise and acknowledge that it’s our role within the project teams for a global organisation like WSP that provides the leverage for the opportunity to share our knowledge through this type of presentation.”
What is one thing we all can do to understand Country in the context of place?
Sian’s response is, “It should be an everyday thing.
“I acknowledge Country when I start the day as well as the Elders past and present for the Country on which the project I am working on are located.
“Be interested and concerned about the Country you are working on. Quietly offer respect in your head. Make it an everyday thing for the project you are working on. Ground yourself in place. It only takes a minute of being open and curious.”
In her final response, Sian uses infrastructure as metaphors to describe her opinion.
She believes that showing respect is road building – it is a bridge forward for everyone.
Find out more about the Indigenous Specialist Services team.