WALK WITH ME by RR M
Integration of place theory into the design of a monument for an aboriginal child.
This work examines a built work as an expression of conciliation. It honours an abandoned Aboriginal child named ‘Bluey’, who was imprisoned for homelessness at the turn of the 19th century (1). Whilst the work is dedicated to her, it aims to promote better outcomes for the wellbeing of all children, particularly those who are vulnerable through ethnic group, illness, disability or social disadvantage.
The work is a metaphor for respectful cooperation between nations. It aims to embody a rebalancing of power, and the harmonious co-existence that was envisaged by the Aboriginal leader, Sir Doug Nicholls (2). It represents the visitor attempting to learn another ‘language’ and integrate into native custom, rather than a new arrival seeking to weld the environment to himself.
Why this project is necessary:
Australia has finally adopted a policy of Aboriginal self-determination. Nevertheless, inequity, particularly in health, is a legacy of our past (3). As Interior Architects we have a duty to explore design as a vehicle to improve our world and embrace a better future for children.
Central to the project’s theoretical premise are the increasingly well established connections between the environment, intangible psychological factors, physical health, and social outcomes (4).
Theoretical and spatial concepts underpinning ‘place’ are explored as a means of achieving the project’s goals. The design concept builds on theoretical work by Relph, Winton and others (5), examining how one person’s place might be understood by another.
The Aboriginal experience of ‘placeness’ is examined as a means to inform the design of a contemporary monument. The work of Paul Memmott is pivotal to the understanding of indigenous place and wellbeing (6).
About the proposal:
The work is a proposal for a memorial in two parts, each on a separate site occupied primarily by children. Though separate, the sites together form a whole. They acknowledge the connection and hierarchy of places within Aboriginal cultural heritage (7).
Each site consists of elements related in their coding and content. At each site, the elements are arranged according to theoretical views of the Aboriginal place, for example the socialization of landscape, songlines, unity with land, and customary use of spaces.
The landscape is not merely physical, and the visual limits of one space are not the actual limits of placeness. Thus, elements reference more distant parts of the landscape.
Neither is a site separate from a child herself, nor her past and future, for a place includes the emotions and interactions it generates. The design acknowledges the Aboriginal way of merging identity and location. As such, each site is designed to encourage interaction between people, both in terms of daily activities and cultural values.
Finally each site hosts parts of a bird-like structure representing folk spiritual narrative, and a journey from a holding place to a place of safety. A child may see herself mirrored in the reflective steel surface of the structure, and is in this way embodied as both part of the story and part of the reflected landscape.
The design is an open-air proposal. This is consistent with Heidegger’s theory that the horizon makes the outside into an inside (8), and with Soja’s suggestion that the interior is a place where we experience the events that make our lives memorable (9). Further, a project referencing Aboriginal place identity, must acknowledge the absence of confined boundaries in determining an interior world.
Learning from concepts which are unfamiliar to a non-Aboriginal person, yet maintaining identity, reflects an acceptance of the fact that, though we may not be able to right the past, we intend to move forward together.
1. “A Lethargic Board.” 1897. The West Australian, August 14. http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/ article/3181630?searchTerm=bluey%20aboriginal&searchLimits=l-decade=189.
2. We Want To Walk With You. 2014. We Want to Walk with You, We Don’t Want to Walk Alone. http:// towalkwithyou.com/hello-world/.
3. Australian Bureau of Statistics. 2013a. Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey: First Results, Australia, 2012-2013. Canberra.
Australiain Bureau of Statistics. 2013b. Life Tables for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, 2010-2012. Canberra.
4. Australian Medical Association. 2014. 2010-11 Ama Indigenous Health Report Care – Best Practice in Primary Health Care for Aboriginal Peoples and Torres Strait Islanders. https://ama.com.au/ aboriginal-reportcard2010-11.
5. Relph, E. C. 1976. Place and Placelessness. London: London : Pion.
Winton, Alexa. 2013. “Inhabited Space: Critical Theories and the Domestic Interior.” In The Handbook of Interior Architecture and Design, ed. Lois & Brooker Wenthal, Graeme London: London : Bloomsbury Publishing.
6. Memmott, P. 1980. “The Nature of Place.” Man Environment Systems 10 (3): 160-168.
Memmott, P, and S Long. 2002. “Place Theory and Place Maintenance in Indigenous Australia.” Urban Policy and Research 20 (1): 139-56.
7. Titchen, S.M. 1996. “Changing Perceptions and Recogtition of the Environment – from Cultural and Natural Heritage to Cultural Landscapes.” In Heritage and Native Title: Anthropological and Legal Perspectives, eds J Finlayson and A Jackson-Nakano. Canberra: Native Title Research Unit, AIATSIS
8. Heidegger, M. 1971. Poetry, Language, Thought / Martin Heidegger
9. Soja, Edward W. 1996. Thirdspace : Journeys to Los Angeles and Other Real-and-Imagined Places / Edward W. Soja. Cambridge, Mass.: Cambridge, Mass. : Blackwell