Vision of a bushman: the participatory co-design development of an Olkola cultural knowledge centre

Tuesday, 2 July 2019
Dr Hannah Robertson
Andre Grant
Debbie Ross

This paper outlines the foundational principles of a collaborative design partnership between the Olkola Aboriginal Corporation, The Centre for Appropriate Technology and Monash University. 

In December 2014, 869,822 hectares in central Cape York were handed back to the Olkola Traditional Owners in one of the biggest transfers of Aboriginal Freehold Land in Australia. The hand back enabled Olkola to extend their land management activities to include: a carbon abatement programme, monitoring and habitat protection of the Alwal (Golden Shoulder Parrot), cultural tourism and scientific biodiversity expeditions. Now, Olkola, guided by the vision of senior elder Uncle Mike Ross, are seeking to build a Cultural Knowledge Centre. The Centre will include a ranger station, scientific research facility, visitor amenities and importantly a place for keeping and showing Olkola artefacts and knowledge on Olkola Country. The Centre’s design is being developed using participatory, place-based, self-help and appropriate technology methodologies and theories. The Centre presents significant opportunities to: 1) support economic development and land management activities, 2) provide active Olkola agency throughout the design and construction phases, and 3) enable Olkola people to live on Olkola Country. In an era when Government infrastructure investment on homelands has been mostly retracted, this innovative collaboration illustrates an alternative that synthesises technical, practical and traditional knowledge to support the creation of meaningful livelihoods on country.