Indigenous placemaking in central Melbourne: Representations, practices and creative research

Australian Indigenous culture has a long and rich history but is little reflected in architecture. University researchers are working on a consultative placemaking process to build Indigenous artefact in Melbourne.

The technology

As the result of an ARC Linkage grant of $243,000, Dr Janet McGaw, a University of Melbourne senior lecturer in Architectural Design and Practice at the Melbourne School of Design, has led a number of research initiatives into Indigenous placemaking.

This research has achieved key outcomes in the visioning stage of the first proposal for a major civic precinct owned and managed by and for all Victorian Aboriginal people.

The partnership

The project ahs been undertaken in conjunction with Reconciliation Victoria, the Melbourne City Council and the Victorian Traditional Owners Land Justice Group (VTOLJG).

Part of the project has included a semester-long Architecture and Landscape Architecture Studio held with Masters students from the Melbourne School of Design. It involved critically reimagining the cultural centre as a building type on sites such as Birrarung Marr, Federation Square, Enterprize Park and Fitzroy. These studios also engaged students in new methods of approaching design with Indigenous placemaking in mind. Indigenous artists, architects and members of the VTOLJG supported and reviewed the students’ work. The students’ designs created as a result of the studios have now been passed on to the VTOLJG for their consideration.

Gary Murray, Hon Secretariat Victorian Traditional Owners Land Justice Group, has said: ‘The project has been very beneficial as it has provided a major body of evidence that may produce the outcome we all set out to achieve, that is, a major facility in the Melbourne CBD that showcases our cultural heritage and progresses economic development and social justice. The developing concept answers the question of where we can see First Nations in the CBD. The VTOLJG believes that the project is a model for future partnership to progress major issues in land justice including addressing the question of sovereignty, treaty, land rights, reparations and economic development.’

The outcome

Over five years, the grant has resulted in five books, a special issue of the Journal of Postcolonial Studies, a number of journal papers and conference presentations, and a major state-wide engagement project with Traditional Owners and 13 Masters of Architecture Studios.

The publications that form the documentation and visioning part of the process are:

  1. Assembling the Centre: Architecture for Indigenous Cultures – Australia and Beyond (Routledge, 2015) explores the social and political considerations of producing a cultural centre for Indigenous people from an academic standpoint.
  2. Indigenous Place: Contemporary buildings, landmarks and places of significance in south-east Australia and beyond (Melbourne School of Design, 2014) forms the overview of precedents for marking Indigenous place in contemporary Australia. It is the first major study of Indigenous place that focuses on South-East Australia.
  3. Re-making Indigenous Place in Melbourne: Towards a Victorian indigenous knowledge and education centre (Melbourne School of Design, 2014) explores the design work undertaken by Masters of Architecture and Landscape Architecture students during the studios.
  4. Possum Skin Cloak: A creative consultation with members of Victoria’s Indigenous Community (limited print run for distribution to participants and partners only) documents a series of ‘possum skin etching’ workshops held with members of Victoria’s Traditional Owner community from 2011–2014. This was part of an engagement process to establish the level of support amongst the community for Victoria’s first major Indigenous gathering place in central Melbourne.
  5. An international survey of indigenous cultural centres will be forthcoming: Indigenous Cultural Centers and Museums: An Illustrated International Survey (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2016). From this documentation and iterative visioning, the research team will move to collaboration with stakeholders over next steps to form a major Indigenous gathering place in central Melbourne.