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Indigenous Urban Design ‘Not Just a Moral Choice but a Profitable One’


Conversations around cities and urban landscape can take cues from Australia’s first people and oldest culture.

There's untapped economic and social potential that exists by embracing Indigenous perspectives within our property, design and development industry.

It's a wealth that leaders within the Indigenous employment and development space Mark Kucks and Jeremy Donovan, along with design studio Balarinji’s Ros Moriarty spoke of intimately at Urbanity this year.

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Ros and husband John Moriarty established Balarinji in 1983.
Ros and husband John Moriarty established Balarinji in 1983.


Balarinji, a studio delivering creative ideas about Australian identity, has been challenging the invisibility of the Aboriginal narrative in Australia’s urban landscape for more than three decades.

But starting out wasn't easy.

“It’s been an interesting journey," Moriarty said.

"Thirty years ago there wasn’t any interest in considering Aboriginal design or sensibility.”

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 Wunala Dreaming (back) and Nalanji Dreaming (front). Wunala Dreaming was rolled out on 4 September 1994. The artwork appeared on two Qantas aircrafts from 1994 until 2003.
Wunala Dreaming (back) and Nalanji Dreaming (front). Wunala Dreaming was rolled out on 4 September 1994. The artwork appeared on two Qantas aircrafts from 1994 until 2003.Balarinji


Some of Balarinji’s notable projects include covering five Qantas aircrafts in Aboriginal art from 1994 to 2018.

That first Qantas aircraft (Wunala Dreaming) celebrating Indigenous design was such a success the team went on to secure additional contracts with the Australian airline.

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The fifth aircraft design in the Qantas-Balarinji flying art series. Balarinji created the design based on the internationally renowned artist Emily Kame Kngwarreye’s 1991 painting ‘Yam Dreaming’.
The fifth aircraft design in the Qantas-Balarinji flying art series. Balarinji created the design based on the internationally renowned artist Emily Kame Kngwarreye’s 1991 painting ‘Yam Dreaming’.Balarinji


“This (first) aircraft generated $5 million in PR in the first afternoon, and it made front pages around the world,” Moriarty said.

“It captured the imaginations of Australians, and it was a highly successful commercial venture as well as a philosophical statement about being Australian.

"Incorporating Indigenous design is not just philosophical, it’s profitable."

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In 2013 Qantas unveiled the fourth aircraft in the Indigenous Flying Art Series, designed by Balarinji Studio, inspired by the work of the late West Australian Aboriginal artist Paddy Bedford.
In 2013 Qantas unveiled the fourth aircraft in the Indigenous Flying Art Series, designed by Balarinji Studio, inspired by the work of the late West Australian Aboriginal artist Paddy Bedford. Balarinji


Other design works include Sydney Metro, one of Australia's biggest public transport projects. Balarinji was recently appointed to the Design Team of the WSP-Aecom consortium, their role is to incorporate Aboriginal cultural principles within the overall design and built environment framework.

The new Sydney Metro railway will deliver 31 metro stations and more than 66 kilometres of rail, spanning from Parramatta through Homebush and The Bays to Sydney’s CBD.


Incorporating Indigenous design is not just philosophical – it’s profitable.

Ros Moriarty
Mendoowoorrji was painted at Boeing's headquarters in Seattle and delivered to the Qantas fleet in November 2013.
Mendoowoorrji was painted at Boeing's headquarters in Seattle and delivered to the Qantas fleet in November 2013.


Asking the hard questions

The world's oldest civilisation provides a wealth of cultural significance to Australia's historical and future identity. But it's a wealth we haven’t yet fully embraced or realised.

In recognising this, Moriarty says more momentum is needed in all aspects of the field.

“Particularly in architecture," she said.

“Why doesn't Australia have more Indigenous work in its design?”

More momentum is needed in all aspects of the field, particularly in architecture.

Ros Moriarty
Walking with Wisdom Founder Jeremy Donovan and Hutchinson Builder's Mark Kucks speaking at Urbanity with The Urban Developer's Adam Di Marco.
Walking with Wisdom Founder Jeremy Donovan and Hutchinson Builder's Mark Kucks speaking at Urbanity with The Urban Developer's Adam Di Marco.


“When it comes to the industry, we need to be included as part of the first step,” explains Mark Kucks and Jeremy Donovan.

“Not an after-thought.”

Mark Kucks, a proud descendant of the Yuggera and Kullilli people of south-east and south-west Queensland regions, joined Hutchinson Builders in 2012 to lead a national Indigenous strategy.

The initiative has since seen the company complete 50 projects meeting Indigenous targets and employ more than 700 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers in the process.

The company has also organised sub-contracts totalling close to $20 million with more than 60 Indigenous businesses under Kucks' leadership.

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This year Suncorp launched its first Reconciliation Action Plan to support social and economic prosperity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Artist Jeremy Donovan working on a piece for Suncorp to mark the launch.
This year Suncorp launched its first Reconciliation Action Plan to support social and economic prosperity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Artist Jeremy Donovan working on a piece for Suncorp to mark the launch.


Donovan, an artist, musician and poet, is also the founder of “Walking With Wisdom” a consultancy engaging with government, corporate and community.

“In the past, the conversation on development and infrastructure projects with us has often been at the end of the project, when someone asks 'does anyone know an Aboriginal artist for a wall mural or a sculpture?'” Donovan said.

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Donovan's three pieces for Suncorp will feature in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney. Donovan is a Kuku-Yalanji (Western Yalanji) and Gumbaynngirr Man from the First Nations of far north Queensland and the mid north coast of New South Wales.
Donovan's three pieces for Suncorp feature in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney. Donovan is a Kuku-Yalanji (Western Yalanji) and Gumbaynngirr Man from the First Nations of far north Queensland and the mid north coast of New South Wales.


Creating place through collaboration

Moriarty, Kucks and Donovan all agree there’s practical steps businesses, architects and developers can take to establish a collaborative Indigenous approach.

“Don’t wait until the end of the project to engage us.

“Instead, let’s co-create.”

Donovan is currently working on a project with SHAPE and Lendlease to feature in Barangaroo Sydney in what will be the largest Aboriginal art piece in the world.

“We’re doing three pieces for Lendlease using traditional symbolism. The first will be reflective on what Sydney was in terms of pre-arrival, the second will be our current city of Sydney, what it is today; and the third will capture our future, what our dream is as Australians."

Donovan says the Lendlease team engaged him early on in the development process affording him creative control.

“This is a wonderful and unique thing. It gives me the opportunity to paint with the development, as the builders are building around me. I’m having conversations with the architects and this is all influencing the way I engage the building.

“It’s exciting because I feel like we’re creating place. It’s not them, it’s not me, but it’s we. We’re creating place together.”

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Donovan speaking at Urbanity 2018
Donovan speaking at Urbanity 2018


Let’s tell the truth

The trio agree, acknowledging our country's history is a must for progression to be made, within our industry and importantly as a nation.

“Pain can be a very powerful foundation if you stand on it and not let it define you,” Donovan said, “instead let it inspire you”.

“We as a nation of Australians have to be brave enough to say it was a painful start. But that pain doesn't have to define us as a nation, it can actually encourage us to tell the truth. "

To move forward, a foundation must be established.

“Many of us still haven't got, for example, the meaning of Australia Day Jan 26. It was 11 minutes before the first Aboriginal person was shot. It wasn't kumbaya let’s hold hands on the sand. It was brutal. That’s the truth,” Donovan said at Urbanity.

"But let’s talk about these things, work with them and let's walk together on these issues."

Understanding this history is how we begin to bridge the gaps, in all areas.

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Australia’s Rio 2016 Paralympians became Australia’s first Olympic team to wear Aboriginal-themed uniforms. Balarinji lit up the sails of the Sydney Opera House with the designs, which represented strength through diversity.
Australia’s Rio 2016 Paralympians became Australia’s first Olympic team to wear Aboriginal-themed uniforms. Balarinji lit up the sails of the Sydney Opera House with the designs, which represented strength through diversity.Andrew Bun


Building a future

It’s now more than 50 years since the 1967 referendum to first count Aboriginal people in the Census. And 26 years since the Mabo decision acknowledging Australia was not empty land when the British arrived.

Moriarty, Kucks and Donovan are hopeful that real progress is being made in our country, and within this industry.

“There’s a big shift institutionally, and there’s a big shift in the generations that want to amalgamate Indigenous design principals where they live and work, and what it means to be Australian,” Moriarty said.

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Article originally posted at: https://theurbandeveloper.com/articles/indigenous-perspectives-in-urban-design