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Place and Community Framework

Principle 1

Principle 1 focuses on Indigenous Celebration. RMIT places will recognise the traditional custodians of the land, celebrate Indigenous peoples and cultures, and actively contribute to reconciliation.

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As an Australian Institution with its core on the Aboriginal Country of the Kulin Nation, RMIT’s places provide an opportunity to celebrate Indigenous peoples and cultures and tangibly demonstrate our commitment to reconciliation. Place holds deep, ongoing cultural significance for First Nations peoples.

RMIT acknowledges the role of country and the relationships with country held by Traditional Custodians and understands that place and identity are intrinsically tied together in Indigenous cultures. RMIT’s Act enjoins us to “use our expertise and resources to involve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of Australia in its teaching, learning, research and advancement of knowledge activities.”

Through our strategy the RMIT Community – as a collective and individuals – commits to respectful ways of working and understanding that acknowledge the experiences, history and knowledge of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. We actively strengthen relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples for the benefit of all Australians and the communities in which RMIT operates.

RMIT recognises the importance of Indigenous knowledge in preserving and protecting place for current and future generations. As a community, we are developing new ways of knowing, being and doing, based on our commitment to reconciliation. In our Victorian locations, for example, the Bundjil Statement outlines our dhumbali (promise/commitment) to Bundjil and offers everyone a frame for living and working lawfully and respectfully in place.

Through our locations and wider ecosystems, RMIT recognises and celebrates Indigenous knowledge and connections to place. Along with commissioned spaces such as the Ngarara Willim, gathering place, and the Wurrunggi Biik sculpture at the city campus, we care for and engage with significant sites such as the Keelbundoora Scarred trees (at RMIT’s Bundoora Campus). RMIT promotes and supports Indigenous arts and enterprise, and celebrates the unique contributions that First Nations people make in our communities. Our Trade Routes program (run by RMIT’s Activator) helps First Nations businesses to grow and scale and promotes Indigenous business nationally and internationally.

RMIT is an Australian institution with character uniquely tied to the Australian landscape, and with a deep respect for First Nations peoples and cultures. In our international locations, we continue to shape communities and spaces that celebrate First Nations peoples and cultures. At the same time, we also recognise and celebrate other local peoples and cultures.

RMIT recognises that globally, “Indigenous Peoples are distinct social and cultural groups that share collective ancestral ties to the lands and natural resources where they live, occupy or from which they have been displaced. The land and natural resources on which they depend are inextricably linked to their identities, cultures, livelihoods, as well as their physical and spiritual well-being.” [Indigenous Peoples Overview (]

How this could work in practice

  • Incorporating references to contemporaneous and local Indigenous culture in place design, as well as acknowledgement of historical Indigenous culture and contributions
  • Appropriate and authorised use of First Nations languages in place names and signage
  • Designing landscapes, built environments and sensory features (soundscapes and other installations) to reflect Indigenous connections specific to that location. This may including the prominent use of native plants and vegetation.
  • Ensuring all University spaces are welcoming for Indigenous students, and recognise and support First Nations peoples’ unique lifeways and knowledges (e.g. yarning)
  • Collaborating with Traditional Owners on the development of community facilities which can support Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander students and community members in their learning and professional journeys.
  • Appropriate recognition of Indigenous peoples and cultures in sites that are located overseas, as well as Australia.

Example: Ngarara Place

Ngarara Place is a unique Indigenous landscape and urban space that illustrates the Kulin Nations’ seven seasons and has brought extra colour and life to RMIT’s City campus. Designed by award winning Melbourne-based architecture and interior design firm Greenaway Architects, the garden’s design draws on four key pillars – Connection to Country, Cultural Motifs, Contemporary Aboriginal Art, and Knowledge Exchange.

Created, designed and built by a mainly Indigenous team, the unique space includes an Indigenous themed courtyard area; amphitheatre-style seating; sculptural laser-cut smoke pit; and a space to host Indigenous ceremonies, gatherings and events – with the key design narrative of the landscape focusing on the seven seasons of the Kulin Nations.

The initial idea for Ngarara Place came from RMIT’s Ngarara Willim Centre. The aim was to build a visible presence and recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, cultures and histories as connected among the lands of the Kulin Nations on which RMIT stands. A striking feature of the space is the inclusion of an unashamedly contemporary and specifically curated piece of artwork by Aboriginal digital artist Aroha Groves.

Example: Wurrunggi Biik - Law of the Land, Melbourne

Designed by prominent Indigenous artist and Vice-Chancellor’s Indigenous Research Fellow, Dr Vicki Couzens, with collaborators Jeph Neale and Hilary Jackman, Wurrunggi Biik – Law of the Land is made from cast iron and represents a possum skin cloak with an intricate wedge tail eagle shaped spirit memory imprint. The artwork, which has pride of place in Bowen Street at RMIT’s Melbourne city campus, conjures Bundjil the Great Creator Spirit inside a towering possum skin cloak. Couzens explains that the artwork shows Bundjil watching over the Country and making sure that things are okay: “It’s a powerful statement that through a focus on the concept of Sovereignty encourages engagement with the possibility of a shared future. It is a reminder and representation of the ever presence of Aboriginal people, Ancestors, Spirit and the Law of the Land. As an assertion of Aboriginal sovereignty, this work of a ‘floating’ possum skin cloak, inherently implies the presence of the wearer, and intends to be a reminder, a blessing and protection for all who share this space and place.”

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