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Can Design be a Mechanism That Helps our Indigenous Culture to Flourish?

A standing camp in northeast Tasmania, designed by Taylor & Hinds Architects, is not only based on the cultural stories and aboriginal history of the area, but is a place for these stories and history to be told.

  • Communal Building Night with fire

  • Communal Building visualisation by Sixth Law

  • Interior communal dome visualisation by Sixth Law

  • Approach to the huts

  • Hut at night

Story telling and an oral tradition are central to aboriginal culture, providing an important means of remembering and conveying experience and history. In the Mount William National Park in northeast Tasmania, Poppy Taylor and Mat Hinds of Taylor & Hinds Architects, in collaboration with the Aboriginal Land Council of Tasmania (ALCT), have designed a standing camp (krakani lumi) that is not only based on the stories and history of the area, but is a place for these stories and history to be told.

The standing camp will provide accommodation for a four-day cultural walk developed by the ALCT, which will begin at Mount William (wukalina) and head south to the Bay of Fires and Eddystone Point Lighthouse (larapuna). Taylor and Hinds became involved with the project in 2012 when they had the privilege of visiting the area with ALCT Chair, Clyde Mansell, and General Manager, Graeme Gardner. “The country surrounding larapuna and wukalina is the traditional cultural landscape of the Tasmanian aboriginal community and from the moment we started walking into the proposed site, we recognised there were many cultural layers to this landscape and we felt privileged to be invited to see it through such an ancient perspective,” says Mat.

The architects began developing their concept for the standing camp through a postgraduate design studio that they coordinated at University of Tasmania’s School of Architecture & Design. Following their tenure, the practice engaged with many parts of the aboriginal community, through statewide consultative meetings. Along with contemporary accounts of cultural tradition, the practice also researched historical oral and visual records of traditional settlement patterns.

The standing camp will provide accommodation and communal facilities for two guides, an elder and ten walkers. Its siting, form and qualities are influenced by traditional half-domed shelters that were once made in the area. Added to this, the conceptual design evokes a story of concealing and revealing. “The location is layered with evidence of an ancient history of occupation, yet the aboriginal cultural story is not widely known. You need to be guided into this ancient landscape, it is not simply a matter of seeing a plaque, or reading an information sign,” says Mat.

Approaching the site via sand dunes and elevated boardwalk, the standing camp is impossible to see: the shelters are conceived as a series of discrete pavilions, and clad in charred Tasmanian timber they merge into the surrounding native vegetation. Upon arrival however, the individual structures are opened to reveal warm and gently curving blackwood-lined interiors with wallaby pelt throws. Thus, the camp is perceived as a shadow when not occupied – “closed, quiet, and taciturn” – yet invites inwards awareness of the body and mind within the cultural landscape when occupied.

“The experience offered is embodied, it is sensed and felt, and it is known only by being there and listening. But it is only offered in the presence of aboriginal guidance,” Mat explains. “It is their invitation to offer, and their story to tell.”

The project is due to commence construction in late February with completion by August

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