Seeing early on how entrenched a lack of inclusion or attention aimed at Indigenous participation and traditional skills was within the field, Kaylie was eager to become a part of a growing movement that valued the knowledge that could be derived from thousands of years of Aboriginal awareness of the Australian landscape.
Working towards increasing Indigenous representation from the early seeds of her burgeoning career, Kaylie was awarded the 2018 UNSW Built Environment Arcadia Landscape Architecture Scholarship for Indigenous Students while studying her Honours at UNSW. After three years working her way through the ranks at Arcadia, Kaylie became the company’s first Indigenous Landscape Strategist.
ODS had a chat with Kaylie about what a role like Indigenous Landscape Strategist means for her and for the industry moving forward.
Q. What do you enjoy most about landscape architecture?
A. I love that landscape architecture offers an artistic outlet, while creating tangible outcomes for community and the environment. I was drawn to it because it offers a creative response to issues of environmental justice, ecological degradation and environmental stewardship. I love that there are avenues to work as a social and environmental advocate, while also an opportunity to enrich my cultural and scientific knowledge of Country.
Q. What is an Indigenous Landscape Strategist?
A. This is a new role that Arcadia created to acknowledge the position I had begun playing outside of the normal remits of a landscape architect. In addition to my role as a senior landscape architect, I play a key part in improving our internal cultural competency, including staff education and internal strategies. Outwardly, my role focuses on connecting to First Nations narratives and developing designs that speak to Country (this Country-centred design approach is conducted via a collaborative process with cultural leaders and knowledge holders).
Q. How do the concerns of Indigenous landscapes impact on designing public space projects, particularly in multi-cultural environments?
A. I believe it’s a vital step in reconciliation. If you are in Australia, you are on Aboriginal land — this connection stretches from the beginning of time to the end of time — echoed in the sentiment “Always was, always will be”. I think understanding this eternal association is important for all communities, multicultural or otherwise. As the oldest living cultures in the world, the diversity and rich heritage of First Nations cultures across Australia is something all communities can connect with and celebrate. In fact, in a contemporary setting, I would say that employing an Indigenous approach to urban design and landscape architecture is likely a lot more welcoming to our multicultural communities than a colonial approach has proven in the past.
Q. What is your design approach?
A. I am still developing what this means (and it will probably always be a work in progress), but I aim to centre Country in my approach to design. In Aboriginal culture, we have an ethos that if you look after Country, it will take care of you. As such, I seek to connect with this ethos in my designs and explore the ways that design can support the health of Country and community.
Q. What are the biggest impediments to the design process when it comes to Indigenous landscapes?
A. The colonial process. Historically, the built environment has been a vehicle of colonial expression — taking Aboriginal land and shaping it to conform with European values and utility. Because of this, the process of urban design has historically been to the exclusion of First Nations peoples, which has meant that we have very low representation in the industry. If the built environment industry wants to connect with Country and stop colonising these lands, we need to change the ways in which we practise, restoring decision making back to First Nations people in a collaborative process of design.
In my view, this requires institutional and industry-wide changes, from the way we educate our emerging practitioners, to the way we practise and collaborate, as well as the framework in which planning and development decisions are made and approved. It is my stance that these all require partnership with Traditional Custodians to connect with sacred knowledge that has been developed over eons and is practised in a contemporary setting today.
Q. Do you feel it is important to have an Indigenous mindset when it comes to creating landscapes, as opposed to a cohesive one-for-all approach?
A. Personally for me it would be difficult to remove myself from an Indigenous mindset as this is integral to my identity — but of course I take other users’ experiences into consideration when designing. I think that design is inherently personal. It’s impossible to remove our values, mindsets and experiences from design and, at the end of the day, it’s our tastes that shape the designs on paper. Hence why having a diverse and representative industry is so important to equitable design. I think in the past, the cohesive “one size fits all” approach has really meant the one size fits the desired user (ie. white male). We are past that now, I hope.
Q. What does being an Indigenous Landscape Strategist mean to you personally, and what does it signify professionally to the industry?
A. I’m proud to be acknowledged for the contributions I make outside the usual remit of landscape architecture. In the future I hope that some of the functions I perform as a part of this role become part and parcel to general landscape practice (ie. collaborating with cultural leaders, conducting research on Country and generating Country-focused designs). I hope that in fulfilling this role, some of my Blak brothers and sisters see the potential for this field to work for community, and landscape architecture becomes a popular choice among young First Nations People looking for a creative career that works with Country.
I was previously a recipient of Arcadia’s UNSW Landscape Architecture Award for Indigenous Students, which Arcadia established after being confronted with the unacceptable representation of Indigenous Australians in landscape architecture. This scholarship program is now available nationally for Indigenous students enrolled in an AILA-accredited landscape architecture programme at any associated university in the country, at undergraduate and post-graduate levels.
Q. What is one of your favourite projects you’ve worked on to date and why?
A. I’m only two years out of my studies in landscape architecture, so my career is still in its infancy. Nevertheless, I’ve had exciting opportunities to work on collaborative projects and look forward to the next stages of many of my projects.
Prior to starting at Arcadia, I worked with Yerrabingin on Australia’s first Native Rooftop Farm and South Eveleigh Cultural Garden, which were undertaken in a guerrilla style of codesign with community. Since working at Arcadia, I have had the opportunity to collaborate with community on several projects, with some of my most exciting work including the UQ Herston Reconciliation Gardens project, where we were looking at exploring Indigenous medicines and foods, as well as restoring an important gathering area for Indigenous students.
Recently, I have also had the opportunity to collaborate with community leaders in Awabakal Country on a large masterplanning project, as well as collaborating with some knowledge holders in Ngunnawal Country for a new high school. I’m proud of the steps we have taken to change the process of design from a consultative to a more collaborative approach and excited to see how these progress in the future.
Q. If you could share with people one thing when it comes to understanding Indigenous landscapes, as a means of educating a diverse populace, what would it be?
A. The pathway to connecting to Country involves collaborating with First Nations communities, knowledge holders and Elders — as the old axiom goes, “nothing about us without us.”
ARCADIA | INSPIRED PLACES CONNECTING PEOPLE
With offices in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, landscape architecture firm Arcadia is outfitted with a talented team of landscape architects and urban designers focused on designing world-class landscapes. Creating memorable spaces that improve quality of life and promote community engagement, Arcadia thrives on bringing people together through public spaces.
With services ranging from concept design and development to tender and construction documentation, supervision and post-construction services, Arcadia works across the urban design, landscape masterplanning, public realm, commercial residential, institutional and infrastructure sectors.