Acknowledgement of Country

As a landscape architect and landscape designer whose primary artistic medium is the land, both urban and rural, I've begun to Acknowledge the Land and the traditional stewards /elders of the landscape both past and present when I enter the design process.

When I do this I make a deeper connection with the land, the earth and its peoples, whether I am designing a garden in Toorak, Templestowe or Newport, developing a new residential housing development or a schools vegetable garden.

Some 25yrs ago I felt that a single 'acknowledgement of country' at the beginning of the design process would be sufficient, if you like a "token gesture that would cover my ass and be done with it".

But over time I have slowly come to terms with the practice of daily acknowledgement of country, land, earth and the lineage of those who have been and continue to be stewards of it.

Reconcillitation Australia writes:

"An Acknowledgement of Country is a way of showing awareness of and respect for the traditional Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander owners ... and of recognising the continuing connection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to their Country."

and

"... recognises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Australians and custodians of their land. It promotes an awareness of the past and ongoing connection to place of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians."

and

"...the meaning of Country is more than just ownership or connection to land, as Professor Mick Dodson explains: 'When we talk about traditional ‘Country’…we mean something beyond the dictionary definition of the word. For Aboriginal Australians…we might mean homeland, or tribal or clan area and we might mean more than just a place on the map. For us, Country is a word for all the values, places, resources, stories and cultural obligations associated with that.'

As designers when we Acknowledge Country with intention and integrity it can open a 'Pandoras Box' of issues (guilt, fear, shame, hatred). Beyond these issues, over time, acknowledgement starts to have the effect of guiding design with different intent and intention. A realisation starts to arise that we too will soon be past, that our designs will fade and that as designers we are a part of the stream of design consciousness that is constantly evolving. Our designs become less about 'me the designer', and more about how we work with the landscape as a whole, how change can benefit our present clients and future users, how the materials we use affect climate change (for instance).

For me the landscape medium has become vast and I have become small, very small. The fame I hoped to enjoy, the kudos I hoped to be given, the money I hoped to make, the status I hoped to gain while still available to me have become more like whispers, less important, less significant than how what I do affects the broader community.

When designers acknowledge country they look after it more, look for ways to treat it better. It becomes like a good friend who we look out for, look forward to meeting with, can be vulnerable with, live naturally with, without having to close ourselves off and live separately from it.

Acknowledgement of country initiates powerful healing for country, past and present elders and ourselves. It has changed the way I work with the landscape and the people within it.