I recently wrote a review and reflection for the Planning Institute of Australia, inspired by my reading of ‘Sand Talk’ by Tyson Yunkaporta and experience in intercultural planning for Infrastructure NSW.

The murky air from a nation on fire had me trapped inside, looking out over Wathaurong country and the silvery meander of the Barwon River.  The view of creeping suburban development from Geelong down along the Bellarine Peninsula a reminder of the contrasting views about people and place held by urban planners and traditional owners. My own experience of an Indigenous lens goes back to working on public art programs in the late 1980’s, since then, I’ve been tumbled like a river stone through community services, public policy, urban renewal and health projects with Indigenous colleagues and communities. Now our management and shared custodianship of community and environment seems both urgent and important as we look for better solutions to a sustainable future and to the healing of our painful and difficult history.

Central to Aboriginal culture, there is no division or hierarchy between people, place and spirit. “All law breaking comes from that first evil thought, that original sin of placing yourself above the land or above other people.” (Yunkaporta) So our inter-connectedness and a holistic view of people, place, spirit and environment is an important staring point. This contrasts a traditional western view of seeking to manage and control the natural environment to serve a human or economic purpose. The notion of knowledge and ‘expertise’ values lived experience and holistic thinking, as distinct from a Western emphasis on academic learning and specialisation. According to Yunkaporta accountability for caring for country is held across generations, implying and awareness of the impacts of the use and management of resources on those who follow behind us. These are some of the ideas we need to explore to embrace ‘inter-cultural’ planning.

The notion of walking in ‘two worlds’ is common in inter-cultural dialogue. It is interesting to consider this notion of a bi-cultural approach when it comes to planning and design. I am hopeful that a respectful, collaborative and inclusive approach to the relationship between people and place offers ‘planning’ new possibilities, insights and outcomes. If these ideas are of interest to you. Join our professional development workshop in June “Planning Together Ways”