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South Australian contemporary Aboriginal architecture, landscape architecture and placemaking

[by Elizabeth Grant]

Image: Andy Stephen

Aboriginal peoples have had rich and diverse architectural and placemaking traditions responding to socio-spatial, cultural and gender-specific needs, ceremony, climatic conditions, available materials, and spiritual beliefs since time immeasurable.

We have always fought for access and control to our Traditional Lands. Alike other states, the settlement of South Australia did not assume the principle of terra nullius, with the Letters Patent 1836 including Aboriginal people’s rights to land, to occupy and enjoy Traditional Lands for all time. These rights have been ignored but remain enshrined in law.

South Australia took a national lead in land rights legislation with the passage of the Aboriginal Lands Trust Act 1966, the Aṉangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Land Rights Act and the Maralinga Tjarutja Land Rights Act. Holding title to land, enabled families and groups to reoccupy, maintain and protect their Country, languages and cultural practices. Numerous other South Australian Aboriginal groups fought legal battles and achieved Native Title determinations over all or part of their Traditional Lands, and many others continue the fight for land rights.

South Australia has also taken a national lead in design. The design of Tandanya National Aboriginal Cultural Institute was the first architectural response to reconciliation in Australia. Colebrook Reconciliation Park—the first memorial to the Stolen Generations—was constructed prior to the national release of the landmark Bringing Them Home Report. Aboriginal Courts were pioneered in South Australia in 1999 and now operate across Australia.

 

The design of Port Augusta Courthouse was a world-first, the design giving consideration to the socio-spatial and cultural needs of Aboriginal users and the cultural significance of place in the design processes, architecture and landscape design. The first Indigenous war memorial in Australia was designed and erected after years of work by a committed group of esteemed Aboriginal veterans. Another project, on the coastline near Elliston, Australia’s first massacre memorial has been erected. Across South Australia, the incorporation of Aboriginal languages into design and dual naming has become increasingly common. All of these projects have taken determination by committed Aboriginal groups who see opportunities to reassert Indigenous presence through design of the built environment.

The great wealth of pre-colonial Indigenous architectural, planning, and environmental knowledge has finally been recognised by the architectural, landscape architecture and design professions. There is a rapidly growing awareness of how the inclusion of Indigenous knowledges may enrich the built environment and create architecture and landscapes that better fit the needs of Aboriginal users, participate in the recognition of the unjust treatment of Indigenous Australians and dignify contemporary Aboriginal cultures through design excellence. Architecture, landscape architecture and placemaking that celebrates cultural identity, fits with Aboriginal peoples’ socio-spatial and cultural needs, and is devised by and with Aboriginal peoples, is an important aspect of reasserting Indigenous control, protecting and reinvigorating cultural knowledges, and demonstrating Indigenous resistance and resilience across contemporary South Australia.

This exhibition explores a collection of contemporary South Australian projects to date. The exhibit prompts the question ‘How do we engage with Indigenous knowledges and Country through our design practice into the future?’ It is imperative that designers do not omit Australia’s greatest asset—Indigenous knowledges—in the design of the built environment. Wherever one stands, one is on Country. Country is alive with ancestral stories, Indigenous knowledges, pre-colonisation, invasion and contemporary Aboriginal histories and more.

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