From Infrastructure to a Place of Meaning: Barongarook Creek Repatriation Memorial

Nestled within the eastern gateway to Colac sits an unassuming landscape overlooking Barongarook Creek.

Infrastructure, public realm improvements and regenerative design comprised the original brief; however, with the discovery of First Nation human remains amidst construction, the scope evolved into balancing economic, ecological, and equitable outcomes whilst restoring a highly significant and culturally sensitive place.

Hansen’s Landscape Architecture team developed a methodology to allow the project to continue while simultaneously acknowledging and respecting the values of the Traditional Owners and enabling repatriation. Through genuine collaboration, knowledge-sharing, and negotiation with the Eastern Maar Aboriginal Corporation (EMAC), new relationships were developed. 

With a new approach established, construction and ongoing management of the site proceeded with the intention to serve as a precedent for future projects within culturally sensitive places – reaffirming that the cultural values of place should be understood, respected, advocated for, and upheld. Together, the elemental and experiential components of place were incorporated into a holistic concept plan for a repatriation memorial site.

The Traditional Owners’ connection to Country is intrinsic, deeply valued, and inherited. It was imparted upon the design team by the Eastern Maar that to be able to design on Country, we first must develop our own connection to Country by building meaningful, ongoing, and visceral relationships with Country, community, and culture.

The project team engaged in ongoing intimate discussions with John Clarke of EMAC to learn about the pre-colonial history and culture embedded within Country. The team partook in story time and learned that the ground used to be so soft with fine red dust that when one walked, a sound couldn’t be heard. And that grass did not grow in mass but sporadic patches so that one could walk for miles without having touched a single blade. Importantly, an appreciation of the spirit of place, learned through the voices and actions of the indigenous peoples was imparted upon the design team.

The notable emphasis of connection and grounding resulted in the design team foregoing the computer until the final construction stages, and drafting iterations by hand as a respectful homage to the hands-on methods in which the Traditional Owners and John imparted their stories. 

The design team designed a memorial site that was truly dedicated to the place’s natural and cultural elements. With a focus on environmental conservation, paths, and park amenities were thoughtfully positioned to minimise disturbance. In addition, a new bridge was constructed to provide safe and separated access for vehicles, pedestrians, and cyclists, with considered balustrading settling it within the ecologically sensitive environment.

Following the completion of the construction works, John Clarke visited the site. Whilst being on Country, John said “It looks and feels perfect for what it is meant to be”.  This successful project speaks to the needs and values of the community it is intended for and the Country upon which it is born from. The Barongarook Creek repatriation memorial site is an exemplar of this in practice.

Barongarook Creek Repatriation Memorial

Location: Barongarook Creek, Colac, VIC, Australia

Landscape Architect: Hansen Partnership
Eastern Maar Aboriginal Corporation
VEC Civil Engineering Pty Ltd
Colac Otway Shire Council
Major Road Projects Victoria

Photography: Andrew Lloyd

About Damian Holmes 3271 Articles
Damian Holmes is the Founder and Editor of World Landscape Architecture (WLA). He is a registered landscape architect (AILA) working in international design practice in Australia. Damian founded WLA in 2007 to provide a website for landscape architects written by landscape architects. Connect on Linkedin at