In collaboration with Dimity Dennis, a valued former colleague at Hames Sharley who now contributes as an independent cultural consultant at Design for Reconciliation, transformative on-Country journeys were planned and undertaken amidst the bustling atmosphere of Hames Sharley’s Perth studio, leading to profound insights from the Pilbara region. These were not mere excursions but deliberate steps towards fostering understanding and reconciliation with Australia’s First Nation communities.

Termed ‘journeys of understanding’ by Dimity, these tours symbolised a pivotal shift in the way built environment professionals approach design. Dimity aimed to achieve a fundamental goal: to work side by side with Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander stakeholders to support reconciliation across the built environment. The significance of this endeavour cannot be overstated. It aimed not only to listen to First Nation worldview, but to collaboratively co-design a new way forward for generations to come.

The on-Country tours were thoughtfully considered. Through yarning, a culturally sensitive form of communication emphasising empathy and inclusivity, transparent and reciprocal relationships were built and nurtured. These yarns weren’t fleeting interactions; but the building of genuine, enduring, transparent and reciprocal partnerships. Across three 10-day tours to remote regions including Karratha, Roebourne, Tom Price, Port Hedland, and Newman, Dimity was able to listen and collaboratively articulate learnings.

Outcomes of relationship building culminated in the co-design of a toolbox that intends to guide built environment professionals through the process of appropriate, meaningful and relevant collaborations with Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, communities and corporations.

By acknowledging the uniqueness of various cohorts across distinct locations, the toolbox aimed to foster culturally sensitive co-design practices, relevant across the Pilbara region.

Image provided by Design for Reconciliation

One critical aspect of this journey was the realisation that building trusting relationships with First Nation communities isn’t just a moral imperative, it’s a professional necessity. These relationships facilitate the creation of appropriate and enriching built environment processes and collaborations. Cross-cultural findings have fed into pilot guidelines, ensuring that future collaborations with diverse First Nation groups are not only respectful but deeply meaningful.

Through yarning and reflective journaling, on-Country lessons echoed Hames Sharley’s commitment to ethical, human-oriented design. This outcome, evidences that through listening, learning, and collaborating, designers can contribute to creating a more inclusive built environment, that honours the stories, traditions and legacy of Australia’s First Nations peoples.

In essence, this process serves as an example of understanding, empathy, and collaboration, incorporating First Nations’ worldviews in reciprocity to shape a more harmonious future for generations to come. The ability of design to transform our shared Australian built environment by embracing cultural diversity is a testament to its transformative potential. Understanding paves the way for a more inclusive, respectful, and equitable built environment.

Download the full collaborative toolbox here:


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