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Our Languages Matter Workshops

By

  • ThinkPlaceVictorian Aboriginal Heritage Council (VAHC)
  • Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP)
  • ThinkPlace

Description

ThinkPlace was engaged by the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council and DELWP to create and run a process that would encourage and facilitate greater inclusion of Aboriginal people, language and custom in place-naming throughout Victoria.

We worked with Traditional Owners and other stakeholders to co-design new frameworks for Aboriginal people to connect with government – running sessions across Victoria where Traditional Owners engaged with local councils, surveyors, developers, planners and more.

The innovative, Australia-first process for engagement that we designed offers a breakthrough in creating a new naming practice that is collaborative, inclusive and truthfully reflects Australia’s complex history.

Key Features

1

ThinkPlace collaboratively invented a new framework for engagement between Aboriginal communities and placename authorities.

Sessions began with welcome to country and smoking ceremonies, and Traditional Owners shared language and cultural heritage knowledge.

This approach meant that each workshop was unique, with discussions localised to the place in which we were convening. Recognising the different language groups and competencies in the room (including technical languages) we created shared understanding, shared intent and shared direction by depicting sessions visually, rapidly scribing with a mix of pictures, diagrams and simple words.

2

The project has created meaningful, ongoing engagement between Aboriginal communities and placename authorities.

It has increased the ability of stakeholders to understand, pronounce and value Aboriginal place names, given a platform for Traditional Owners across Victoria to register their objections to offensive local place names, and has initiated a process of replacing offensive names with appropriate ones.

Reinstating Aboriginal names for places has led to new signage and interpretation which the department says is already opening up new business opportunities for Traditional Owners around tourism and interpretation.

3

DELWP reports that the sessions have produced value beyond that intended.

The project has provided placename authorities, with the tools and motivation to productively engage with, and build enduring relationships with, Aboriginal communities in all naming processes.

Thanks to the co-design approach, the process was reported by participants to be cohesive and invigorating, building a bank of goodwill between Aboriginal communities and stakeholders.

The sessions achieved what years of effort had failed to do: creating shared purpose, developing understanding and designing a shared approach that enables all interested people to create change together.

4

The initial brief was to simply give an opportunity for people to know more about guidelines for naming and to promote opportunities for indigenous naming in the future.

However – with extensive collaboration and consultation – ThinkPlace pushed beyond the initial brief, working to develop a process that more holistically innovated the way these groups came together and communicated.

ThinkPlace created a space and a process that allowed diverse people and interests to come together and build shared understanding and purpose, in a way that is both pragmatic and symbolic, to reshape how things are named and why.

5

Client feedback:
Susanna Collis (DELWP) – “This is the first time anyone in any jurisdiction has attempted to do this anywhere in Australia”

Rafe Benli (DELWP) –
“This has been an incredibly cohesive process for participants. They came expecting to be bored and left invigorated”

“From the live scribing to the talks about language and culture it created delight. And that shared delight got everyone connected to what we were doing and why”

“We fully expect as a result of this project there will be an increase in the use of Aboriginal languages to name roads, features and localities across the state,”

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