Case studies

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Case Study Government Architect New South Wales – Connecting with Country

The NSW Government is exploring how to plan and design projects in the built environment that are informed by Indigenous connections with Country. The Government Architect NSW has developed the Connecting with Country draft framework for understanding the value of Indigenous knowledge in the design and planning of places. The framework has been informed by the experiences and knowledges of Indigenous people who work on and are from Countries in and around the Sydney Basin (GA NSW 2021). The project is being led by Yugembir man Dillon Kombumerri in close collaboration with Traditional Custodians and knowledge holders. Dillon says, ‘There is a tendency to see Aboriginal places as distinct from non-Aboriginal places without acknowledging we are always on Country wherever we are. We need to better understand that post-contact heritage is generated from a shared history between 2 cultures even though each culture is distinct’ (email correspondence 29 July 2021).

The Connecting with Country framework reflects on the meaning of Country and the interconnections between culture, identity and community. The framework puts forward a ‘Country-centred’ model in which natural systems – including people, animals, plants and resources – are integrated in a network of relationships through Country (GA NSW 2020a:17). It then offers strategies for connecting with Country and a guide for implementation. It also includes case studies on significant projects in architecture (e.g. Casino Aboriginal Medical Service), interior design (e.g. Koorie Heritage Trust) and public art (e.g. Barrangal Dyara) (KPAP 2021).

Overall, the project has 3 long-term strategic goals (GA NSW 2021:8); they are to:

  • reduce the impacts of natural events such as fire, drought and flooding through sustainable land and water use practices
  • value and respect Aboriginal cultural knowledge with Indigenous peoples co-leading design and development of all NSW infrastructure projects
  • ensure Country is cared for appropriately, and sensitive sites are protected by Aboriginal people having access to their homelands to continue their cultural practices.

The Connecting with Country framework is intended for community, local government, government agencies, industry and developers. The draft framework will be tested and piloted over 12 months, with further input and guidance sought from Aboriginal communities across New South Wales.

Case Study The Koorie Energy Efficiency Project

The Koorie Energy Efficiency Project (KEEP) (Bedggood et al. 2016, Bedggood et al. 2017), funded by the Australian Government Department of Industry, Innovation and Science’s Low Income Energy Efficiency Program, provides some insight into the many barriers Indigenous people (as with other vulnerable groups) face in achieving energy efficiency in their homes. Based on data collected from 867 Indigenous households across Victoria (2013–15), the KEEP report states (Bedggood et al. 2016):

Initial analysis reveals that Aboriginal households invariably live in homes that are older than 20 years and were not structurally energy-efficient. Participants were mostly tenants and lived in dwellings with higher than average occupancy levels, had limited window coverings and insulation and relied heavily on gas for heating in the winter. Many struggled to pay their utility bills and were stressed due to their financial situation.

The fact that most Indigenous respondents were tenants (86% compared with 25% in the non-Indigenous population) means that they cannot make structural change (retrofits or insulation) or engage with new technologies (such as solar panels) that deliver energy efficiency. With insulation being one of the most important aspects in the energy efficiency of homes, it is alarming that 36% of Indigenous households reported having none.

The data collected showed that Indigenous households in Victoria live in suboptimal thermal conditions, which pose significant health risks to all family members. Overwhelmingly, Aboriginal tenants in Victoria are living in old draughty homes that have had little to no upkeep from landlords. Their financial situation is often further eroded because their appliances, including heaters, are energy-hungry, resulting in large energy bills that are difficult to pay. The KEEP data showed that energy-related disadvantage for Aboriginal peoples is complex, and given the rising costs of gas (55% of Aboriginal households reported gas as the most common heating source) tenants will be under increasing financial strain if the price of gas continues to rise.

The KEEP report (Bedggood et al. 2016) put forward several recommendations, including:

  • the need to consider factors beyond energy consumption when assessing energy efficiency – such as energy-related disadvantage and the resulting stress and discomfort
  • the need to design and undertake programs within Aboriginal communities and with high-level Aboriginal community involvement
  • ensuring homes are well-insulated as a priority in reducing disadvantage
  • the need for regulations and incentives to encourage landlords (private and public, and including Aboriginal housing) to improve their properties with retrofits, especially insulation
  • providing Aboriginal households with support and guidance in negotiating with energy providers, and encouraging energy providers to employ Aboriginal representatives
  • providing tips and advice to Aboriginal households that are easily transferrable between different properties, and providing efficient appliances that are movable.
Case Study Drawing it all together

The complexity of our urban ecosystem means that environmental pressures and built form characteristics combine to influence the livability and wellbeing of our urban environments. For example, urban heat is influenced by the extent of green canopy cover. Collectively, these factors influence the safety and desirability of an urban environment and thereby the degree to which it is considered walkable. The extent to which people walk in an area, as opposed to use other forms of travel, in turn affects community health.

The Greater Sydney Commission is drawing together data from across Greater Sydney to understand how a combination of urban factors affects livability indicators such as walkability and access to open space. It finds that, in areas with lower tree canopy cover and higher temperatures, walking as a percentage of all trips is often lower. The Greater Sydney Commission is tracking and monitoring these factors in its annual Pulse of Greater Sydney report to better understand how effective the implementation of management approaches is across the city (see case study: Measuring what matters).

Figure 02 Sydney walkability

Case Study Roads to Home

Roads to Home is a planning and infrastructure program designed to address the longstanding infrastructure and servicing inequality experienced by 61 Indigenous communities located on former missions and reserves across New South Wales. While Indigenous community members may move away from reserves or missions for education or work, they retain a deep spiritual and cultural attachment to these lands.

When, in the past, ownership of a discrete Indigenous community was transferred to the Local Aboriginal Land Councils (LALC) under the NSW Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983, the road reserves were often in poor condition. The LALC had limited funding to undertake the required and ongoing maintenance. This issue remains a problem today, as infrastructure deteriorates further, significantly affecting the quality of these urban environments and the wellbeing of the communities that live within them.

The substandard condition of the road reserves complicates municipal service provision such as waste management, and contributes to environmental health issues such respiratory disease, gastrointestinal disease and skin disease due to dust, flooding and build-up of waste.

The Roads to Home program was designed to address these issues. It seeks to deliver essential road reserve infrastructure upgrades to enable land to be subdivided. It also provides the option for road reserves in Indigenous communities to be assigned to local government for ongoing maintenance. The road reserve includes storm water and other drainage, kerb, guttering and footpaths, street and public space lighting, upgraded road surfaces, telecommunications and power.

Subdividing the land will enable improved land management, increase economic independence by allowing each household to be on its own individual lot. This will provide different housing management options and improve access to services such as household waste collection, postal delivery, emergency vehicles and community transport.

The benefits from the program are expected to be improved chronic health conditions and a positive influence on mental health. The infrastructure upgrades of Roads to Home will also enable Indigenous people to continue to live on Country and stay within their communities, continuing cultural connection to Country and strengthening local connections for overall wellbeing. It is also expected to contribute to broader psychological wellbeing due to receiving equivalent services to residents in the wider local government area.

Roads to Home is a pillar of the Solution Brokerage declaration relating to Indigenous community land and infrastructure issues in NSW. It helps the LALCs to better support economic, community and cultural uses of other Indigenous land acquired through the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983.

Case Study Kaurna Kardla Parranthi – Kaurna cultural burns – Adelaide, South Australia

The cultural burns undertaken in May 2021 on Kaurna Country in Adelaide’s parklands show the importance of recognising and enabling cultural practice in connecting Indigenous peoples to Country and to their ancestors. It also allows groups to fulfil their custodial obligations in caring for Country and provides valuable biodiversity outcomes.

The cultural burns on Kaurna Country are part of an ongoing commitment from the City of Adelaide to honour and foreground Kaurna people and their culture and deep knowledge of Country. This is concurrent with programs that have resourced and championed Kaurna language revival and dual naming across the City of Adelaide (Kaurna Warra Pintyanthi 2021d, Kaurna Warra Pintyanthi 2021c, Kaurna Warra Pintyanthi 2021b) (see the Heritage chapter).

The cultural burning project is known as Kaurna Kardla Parranthi (‘to light a fire’) (Kaurna Warra Pintyanthi 2021a) and is part of the City of Adelaide stretch reconciliation plan 2018–21 (City of Adelaide 2018), which seeks to more meaningfully incorporate Kaurna people and their knowledges with several projects related to incorporating Indigenous understandings of native biodiversity management. A joint project between Kaurna community, the City of Adelaide and the SA Department for Environment and Water, with the aid of cultural fire practitioner Victor Steffensen and the Firesticks Alliance, the Kaurna Kardla Parranthi has been met with a great deal of excitement by stakeholders and community members. Kaurna and Narungga man Jeffrey Newchurch, the chairperson of the Kaurna Yerta Aboriginal Corporation, explains the wider opportunities for connecting to Country offered by the burning program:

For me, the significant part of it is camping the night before and the night after. It allows us to sit by a campfire, to share each other’s stories, to share conversations with other people that we get to know. And from my perspective, an Aboriginal perspective, it allows a journey of healing. We’ve been at risk since settlement … what was done to us in the past. To have a position to sit down by camp and share, it’s very important. Healing is something we take for granted. We’re returning to Country and sitting on Country’. (Skujins 2021)

Cultural fire practice is increasingly being seen as viable in urban areas to effectively manage Country and empower Indigenous people and Traditional Custodians. As with all cultural fire, fire practice in urban areas is only effective when Traditional Custodians are empowered to lead and are the decision-makers and authorising body, with Indigenous governance structures supported (Freeman et al. 2021) (see the Indigenous chapter).

Case Study The importance of remnant grasslands in urban areas for maintaining and reinvigorating Indigenous knowledge and agricultural practice

The potential of Indigenous agricultural knowledge and practices in addressing the challenges of climate change is well recognised internationally (IPCC 2020). Although it is only recently coming to be widely recognised, Australia’s Indigenous people have a long and complex tradition of agriculture, which has been significantly undermined through colonisation (Pascoe 2014). Root crops such as murnong, and native grains such as kangaroo grass, were commonly cultivated, for example, in and around Melbourne in the early 1800s, and were particularly abundant in native grasslands (Gott 1983).

Only small remnants of native grasslands remain in peri-urban Melbourne and they are at extreme risk of urban development (Perkins 2021):

Less than 5% of the original extent of both communities remains, although patches in good condition are likely to constitute less than 1%. Most known remnants are small – under 10 hectares in size. Many patches of these ecological communities require recovery efforts because they are so degraded, due to weed and feral animal invasion and loss of native biodiversity, that their capacity to maintain ecosystem function is impaired. These ecological communities provide habitat to several nationally and state-listed threatened species. (DSEWPaC 2011)

Remaining areas of native grasslands in the region should be recognised not only for their contribution to biodiversity, but also for their importance as Indigenous food sources. Remnant grasslands are fundamental to the potential contribution of Indigenous knowledge and practices to climate-resilient food production in Melbourne’s food bowl (Allam & Moore 2020, Crivellaro 2020, Epa 2020). Traditional foods are suited to the Australian environment and have the potential to be an important consideration in the many challenges of climate change and food security (Mathew et al. 2016).

Many Traditional Owner groups across Australia are beginning to re-awaken and reinvigorate food knowledge and agricultural practice (Black Duck Foods 2021, FNBBAA 2021).

Case Study Urban wetlands are Indigenous places

Reproduced with permission from the authors of Recognising the conservation and cultural value of urban wetlands (Soanes et al. 2020):

Many cities in Australia were founded on wetlands and waterways that are integral to Indigenous history and culture. In Perth, for example, wetlands sat gently on the lower parts of the ancient dunes that compose the Swan Coastal Plain, a relatively narrow strip of sandy country located between the Indian Ocean and the Yilgarn Plateau. The country was so swampy that early European records described some sections only being able to be crossed by horse. Today, the Perth railway station, located between the Perth CBD and the vibrant Northbridge, sits right at the margin of what was once a large, rich wetland, known as Goologoolup. In Melbourne, the Parkville campus of the University of Melbourne is built on the unceded lands of the Wurundjeri peoples of the Woi Wurrung language group, who have belonged to and been custodians of the lands for more than 65,000 years. The waterway which once meandered through the site was drained and covered over, now only existing as an underground watercourse.

These wetlands and waterways were thriving cultural ecosystems, providing important meeting places, important resources of plant and animal life, and important pathways through the landscape for First Nations Peoples. Indigenous peoples have always gathered on and around wetlands and waterways due to the wealth of biodiversity, which provided food, technologies and medicines.

Even when suburbia started expanding, camps were established on the outskirts, often near wetlands and creeks. As cities developed, wetlands were drained to give way to farmland, many were transformed into rubbish tips, horse racing courses, golf courses and sports ovals. Some wetlands were transformed into sealed lakes in residential developments, while others completely gave way to built-up landscapes. Only a few wetlands and waterways in urban areas have retained some of their ancient features and natural vegetation.

Yet, these wetlands and waterways – including those that may have ‘disappeared’ or run channelled under our streets – are Indigenous places of immense cultural value and meaning. They form a fundamental biophysical component of a city’s environment. Embedding their cultural and ecological values in urban planning could provide a holistic foundation complementing the spatially partitioned, administrative boundary-driven approach in which urban lands and waters are often managed (Richard Walley, personal communication).

Places that have ‘disappeared’ could be reinstated through urban design and urban greening. Places that are degraded could be restored, and landscape connectivity around them improved. Places that are still thriving could be nurtured and celebrated. Indigenous stories and knowledge could guide natural resource management and biodiversity conservation practices. School children could learn about the ecological and cultural values of local wetlands and waterways. Locals and visitors could wander through the city and experience and engage with its history and culture beyond what the immediate built environment offers them.

Case Study Alice Springs heat study

Source: Haddad et al. (2020)

Alice Springs, Northern Territory, is an urban area that is home to 39,391 people (DITT 2021). Surrounded by an arid desert environment, the city experiences a hot dry summer and cold winter. A recent study of heat in Alice Springs, undertaken with support from the Northern Territory Government, found that between 2018 and 2019 Alice Springs experienced 69 days of 35 °C and 17 days of 40 °C or above. This was higher than that observed in other Australian cities (Zuo et al. 2015). The frequency of warm conditions exceeded 2,700 hours, which is about 3 times higher than that calculated for Sydney with a temperate climate (BOM 2019a) (Figure 14). However, very hot hours above 37 °C were about 10 times more frequent in Alice Springs compared with Horsley Park in Western Sydney.

Because of their potential to induce heat stress and dehydration, these conditions were considered a severe threat to the residents of Alice Springs. These extreme conditions were also recognised as having significant implications on energy demand to cool buildings, with energy demand being about 3 times higher in Alice Springs than in Sydney (Santamouris et al. 2017). This additional demand leads to increased energy poverty experienced by low-income households.

Figure 14 (a) Mean ambient temperature in the city and the airport against time of the day. (b) Mean wind speed at the reference station against time of the day

m/s = metre per second

Note: Solid lines are linear interpolations between measured points.

Source: Haddad et al. (2020)

The study also looked at ways in which temperatures could be mitigated. The results show that a combination of mitigation technologies – including shading, cool pavement technologies, urban greening, evaporative cooling and solar control strategies – can decrease the maximum ambient temperature.

Case Study White Gum Valley residential development, Western Australia

Sources: Development WA (2020), Bioregional (2021) and Cabanek et al. (2021)

The White Gum Valley residential development, located 3 kilometres from Freemantle City Centre in Western Australia, is Australia’s first internationally endorsed One Planet Community. The One Planet approach was designed by the founders of a social enterprise in London, applying their experiences gained from the multi-award-winning BedZED ecovillage in South London.

The One Planet approach comprises 10 overarching principles ranging from health and happiness, culture and community to sustainable water, zero waste and zero carbon. The principles are supported by detailed goals, targets and guidance documents to achieve more sustainable living outcomes.

Applying this approach, White Gum Valley is a zero-carbon development that has been the focus of a 4-year ‘carbon positive living laboratory’ (Cabanek et al. 2021) program with the Cooperative Research Centre for Low Carbon Living. Application of the One Planet principles has meant that the development:

  • is a net exporter of electricity
  • achieved a 65% reduction in scheme water use compared with the Perth metro average
  • has 33% of the lot being developed as timber frame homes, significantly reducing embodied levels of carbon and creating a zero-carbon operational footprint
  • reduced car ownership
  • provided all residents with access to areas to grow food
  • incorporated water-sensitive urban design principles and water-efficiency measures
  • increased local biodiversity and tree canopy increase as well as recreational green space for the community
  • created a strong sustainability culture among its residents of sharing and cooperation.

The development is the outcome of collaboration between state and local government, private developers and the community.

Figure 27 Use of solar panels as a source of energy in regenerative design

Source: Image courtesy of DevelopmentWA

Case Study Launceston City Deal

Signed in 2017, the Launceston City Deal positions Launceston as one of Australia’s most livable and innovative regional cities. The deal brings together the Australian Government, Tasmanian Government and the City of Launceston around 5 key objectives:

  • jobs and skills growth
  • business, industry and population growth
  • a vibrant, livable city
  • innovation and industry engagement
  • a healthy Tamar Estuary.

Major commitments include a $260 million investment in the University of Tasmania’s main campus to eventually accommodate 16,000 students, researchers and staff. Activity will be generated within and surrounding the campus through a $19.4 million investment in the Launceston City Heart Project. This project aims to enliven Launceston’s historic central business district to create a competitive, vibrant and compelling city centre for locals and visitors.

The deal also seeks to increase housing choice. Through the Tasmanian Planning Scheme reforms, the deal seeks to work with developers to increase in infill development and make better use of vacant brownfield and greyfield land in the city centre.

An important infrastructure objective of the deal related to the exploration of financing options for upgrades to Launceston’s combined sewerage and stormwater system. This includes through the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

Improving the health of the Tamar Estuary and Esk River catchments was also identified as a key deliverable, given the important role the estuary and its catchment plays in the wellbeing of wildlife as well as local tourism. The City Deal, through the Tasmanian Government, established the Tamar Estuary Management Taskforce (TEMT) to oversee the development of the Tamar Estuary River health action plan by the end of 2017. Reporting to the Launceston City Deal Executive Board, the TEMT will measure the success of the action plan by the degree to which it reduces pollution from urban and rural land uses and addresses pollution from the combined sewerage and stormwater system (DITRDC 2017).