This week is Naidoc Week with the theme of Heal Country and it gives me time to reflect on what this means, following a trip to the Northern Territory last week. For me, it is about the Spirit of Place.
I have no Aboriginal heritage as a second-generation Australian, but as an Architect, I appreciate what Place is and how it affects our day-to-day existence in the communities in which we live. In Naidoc Week, I understand a little more about the significance of ‘place’ and Country to the indigenous First Nation people of this continent.
Last week I went to the NT, with an objective to visit specific locations that were significant to the Aborigines, being Uluru and Kata Tjuta. In preparation for the trip, I re-read Bruce Chatwin’s book The Songlines which traces an Englishman’s travels through Central Australia, trying to understand the significance of Aboriginal Songlines of their ancestors. I have also started to read Alison Page and Paul Memmott’s book Design – Building on Country, which looks into the expertise and ingenuity of Indigenous Australians to design implements and structures that are culturally and naturally based, relating to Country.
It is intriguing and emotionally moving to try and conceive the depth of Aboriginal understanding of Country and their Dreaming or Creation. In their view, everything starts and ends with Country, which is part of a continuum of life and ideas, where there is no division between animate and inanimate, and where everything is living.
It is this continuum that allows Indigenous Australians to understand their Country, its resources, its origins, and ultimately that everything returns to Country.
The Naidoc Week website notes the following about Country:
Country is inherent to our identity.
It sustains our lives in every aspect – spiritually, physically, emotionally, socially, and culturally.
It is more than a place. When we talk about Country it is spoken of like a person.
Country is family, kin, law, lore, ceremony, traditions, and language. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples it has been this way since the dawn of time.
To be at Uluru and Kata Tjuta; not only beautiful landscapes but also living parts of Aboriginal Country that are intrinsically linked to their being is awe-inspiring, overwhelming and humbling. For me, it is about this Spirit of Place – so much more than physical elements. The theme of Heal Country takes on so much more significance when mining companies destroy and desecrate sacred or ancient sites and witness the impacts that bushfires and droughts have on Country, and its ability to sustain and be sustained.
As an Architect, considering the relationship with Country allows me to incorporate the sense of Spirit of Place into my projects. Spirit of Place helps me to understand how my clients live and how they interact with their Place; to provide solutions that are appropriate, sustainable and meaningful.