Yaluk Langa (Rivers Edge) Design Framework | Urban Initiatives

Yaluk Langa Heide Site Map shows its location upon Wurundjeri Country and the 1934 flood line which informed Heide’s original owners to reconsider their approach to ‘taming the landscape’.

The Heide Museum grounds, Birrarung River and surrounding areas are central to the traditional homelands and creation beliefs of the Wurundjeri Woiwurrung people. Incorporating principles of environmental and social sustainability, and through a process that surpassed the expectations of all involved in terms of community benefit, the Yaluk Langa (River’s Edge) Design Framework defines a series of light-touch projects which will achieve joint community design objectives and fulfil the cultural responsibilities for the Wurundjeri on this significant land.

Since Modern times, Heide has held its place in Australia’s history as a paragon of art and culture, emulating progressive thinking. In 2019, Heide required a practice to document a revegetation process already underway, aiming to ‘highlight the pre-Colonial landscape’. This notion frequently describes the romantic ideal of an untouched landscape. As well-intentioned as the idea of landscape restoration might be, real restoration to the ‘pre-Colonial landscape’, which was in truth highly managed, is simply not possible without Traditional Owner collaboration.

Mindful of the directives of the Indigenous Design Charter and informed by our experience on previous highly consultative projects for communities who have suffered trauma, our practice proposed to Heide a ‘participatory design process’: one in which we would act as collaborators to produce a Design Framework for the site, determined by the Wurundjeri community, and facilitated and co-designed by us.

Site Timeline illustrates key milestones in the landscape’s evolution which come full circle – ‘Always was, always will be Aboriginal land’.
The original ‘Experience’ map, a ‘Whitey’s’ illustrated response to the natural characteristics of the site and what might be possible.

We established a set of Design Principles which included defining Heide as a place of cultural safety, celebrating Wurundjeri culture, acknowledging Country, site and community healing, and Reconciliation.

Wurundjeri Elders and members of the Project Working Group: walks on Country were instrumental in the design’s evolution. (Daniel Walker – Photographer)

A Project Working Group was formed, which included members of the Wurundjeri Woiwurrung Cultural Heritage Aboriginal Corporation Narrap (Land Management) and Research teams, with Elders and community specialists joining the group throughout the project. Workshops and site walks (when possible, during COVID) were times of open and generous engagement, developing and cementing trust. Following eighteen months of collaboration, we invited Heide and Wurundjeri communities to a Yaluk Langa Participatory Design Day, where they engaged in decision-making and ceremony. This engagement inspired the evolution of the Framework, central to which was the concept of delivering a metaphorical ‘songline’: songlines being the trade routes along which Aboriginal people travelled, performed ceremony, celebrated, shared, and taught culture.

Uncle Dave commenting on an indigenous Grass Tree growing happily amongst introduced Poplars became the moment the concept of a Reconciliation Garden was conceived. (Daniel Walker – Photographer)
Uncle Bill Nicholson performs a smoking ceremony and welcomes community attendees to Yaluk Langa Participatory Design Day, instigated by our practice, May 2021. (Daniel Walker – Photographer)

Acknowledging Country on Participatory Design Day – “I know that I could take my grandchildren through Heide and say “I helped design that”, and they can say to their friends “my grandad helped design that”, because we learnt to walk country together, with Indigenous and non-indigenous, we respected each other, we respected our values.” Uncle Dave Wandin on the Yaluk Langa project. (Daniel Walker – Photographer)

The resulting Framework plan highlights five zones, each reflecting a theme inspired by its natural characteristics: Bushland (Equilibrium), Ephemeral (Dreaming), Grassland (Safeguarding), Poplars (Reconciliation) and Yaluk Langa (Ceremony). The zones are connected by a pathway along which visitors travel, engage in ceremony, celebrate culture, and consider Dreaming- a ‘songline’ embodying the teachings and culture of the Wurundjeri community. The Framework includes a series of community-endorsed strategies and principles to guide the development of each of the zones.

Design Framework Plan
Experiences from the reading of Country are formalised into the Songline. The Design Framework, defines a plan and strategies from which future projects will implemented.

Our role as advocates and designers of a process that has established an enduring partnership between Heide and Wurundjeri communities is something we see as a truly special achievement. As co-producers of a design that has the potential to generate huge social change, site and community healing, and contributes to the already-thriving cultural landscape at Heide Museum, we are extremely proud.

Framework projects have commenced with three contemporary scarrings, one for each Wurundjeri family, scheduled for Winter 2022 on these three trees chosen by community elders. (Daniel Walker – Photographer)

Yaluk Langa (Rivers Edge) Design Framework

Landscape Architect: Urban Initiatives
Project Lead – Katherine Rekaris, Landscape Architect – Daniel Walker, Practice Director – Tim Hart

Collaborators:  Wurundjeri Woiwurrung Cultural Heritage Aboriginal Corporation

Client: Heide Museum of Modern Art

Image Credits: As captioned

Text Credit: Urban Initiatives

About Damian Holmes 3266 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 https://www.linkedin.com/in/damianholmes/