How to Heal Country

Art by Ailsa Walsh (Wulkuraka Design) in the WSP Brisbane Fitout, QLD. WSP. 5 Star Green Star - Interiors v1.2.

27 Jul 2021

A word from Davina Rooney, CEO, Green Building Council of Australia

The timing is perfect. In the same month that Ngaragu woman Ash Barty won Wimbledon and NAIDOC Week invited us to ‘Heal Country’, Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) has set an Innovation Challenge for Indigenous design and a credit in Green Star Buildings.

At GBCA, we believe reconciliation with First Nations people is a core principle of sustainable places. First Nations people lived on this land at least 10,000 years before the first corals bloomed on the Great Barrier Reef. We are inheritors of language, culture and stories that are older than any on the planet.

Most of us have a small understanding of this cultural heritage. Those of us lucky enough to learn anything about Indigenous people in school did so through history books – not through the living, breathing knowledge that has shaped our landscapes for millennia.

This new Green Star Innovation Challenge and Green Star Buildings credit are significant steps on a long journey to build bridges to reconciliation and to celebrate more meaningful connections to Country. As our own Taryn Cornell shares in this issue of Green Building Voice, we believe that partnering with local Indigenous people to learn about traditional knowledge and design practices, and then applying those to our projects, is central to place-based sustainability.

Reconciliation Action Plans were rare in our industry before Green Star began rewarding them in 2015. RAPs have since blossomed across the built environment and many of our members are now working on their second or third RAPs. The GBCA’s Reflect RAP, released in 2018, recognises our role as storytellers. We are proud to share ideas and initiatives that are helping our members make progress towards reconciliation.

Reconciliation is a process of listening and learning, and this has been our approach during the development of the new ‘Incorporation of Indigenous Design’ Innovation Challenge and the ‘Indigenous Inclusion’ credit in Green Star Buildings. Developed in partnership with WSP, they encourage project teams to engage with local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities during design development. They also reward projects that recognise Indigenous culture on the site and share stories of reconciliation and cultural value with visitors.

WSP’s team can point to many examples of this approach in their own work. Take WSP’s project to remove level crossings and build new train stations along the Frankston Line in Melbourne. WSP co-designed spaces with Traditional Owners to create a ‘songline’ of spaces – yarning circles, message sticks and welcome mats in station precincts for example – that would be missing without that consultation.

The new Innovation Challenge and Green Star Buildings credit incorporate the guiding principles of the Australian Indigenous Design Charter, developed by researchers from Indigenous Architect and Design Victoria, the Design Institute of Australia and Deakin University. We also deepened the credit through close consultation with First Nations people from GBCA member companies. A big thank you to Michael Manikas from DLG SHAPE (which is partnering with us to explore the Innovation Challenge at an event soon) and architect Jefa Greenaway. Both are passionate about creating sustainable places that Heal Country and we hope these two initiatives honour that passion.

I am proud of Green Star’s role in elevating the importance of Indigenous design thinking, and this is something we explore in this issue of Green Building Voice. I am personally inspired by Wunggurrwil Dhurrung, a 5 Star Green Star community centre in Wyndham Vale. The building – which means ‘strong heart’ in the local Wathaurung language – celebrates Aboriginal perspectives from the ground up. Country is central to the design; the building's landscaped heart can open or close, and walls move, depending on the wind or rain or sunshine.

Wunggurrwil Dhurrung illustrates how connection to Country is about more than place. It is inherent in the identity of First Australians. This is why both the  Green Star Innovation Challenge and the Green Star Buildings credit are so important. They  not only strengthen the case for Indigenous inclusion during the design process and recognise that every project – whether a building, a fitout or a precinct – is on Country. They  are also the next natural steps towards a new way of thinking, designing and building as we walk together to Heal Country.