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Ancient ceremony for state-of-the-art business school project

17 Jul 2013

The aboriginal elder known as Uncle Max wore a red cloth around his waist and carried a parcel of gum leaves, while others wore suits and ties and carried hardhats and reflective vests as they strolled onto the vast building site in the Sydney suburb of Darlington.

Uncle Max represented the ancient traditions of the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation. The others at the gathering represented John Holland, very much a 21st Century construction company, and the most senior levels of the University of Sydney.

All shared a single concern - the future of the University of Sydney's new state-of-the-art Business School facility to be built on the site over the next two years by lead contractor John Holland at a cost of $180 million.

While the new teaching and learning precinct is intended to shape Australia's next generation of business leaders, John Holland and the University believe that it can only succeed with the support of the local community including its indigenous members. With construction about to begin, John Holland asked Uncle Max to conduct a traditional smoking ceremony to drive evil spirits away from the site and allow good spirits to enter.

After lighting a fire in a container known as a Coolamon, Uncle Max added gum leaves from selected trees appropriate for a ceremony marking a "beginning". As smoke wafted up from is container of fire and greenery, Uncle Max moved around the perimeter of the site and amongst participants.

"The new Business School will be a world class facility devoted to knowledge and learning," said Business School Co-Dean, Professor David Grant. "The Gadigal people have a deep and ancient knowledge of the land on which it is to be built and it is therefore fitting that we journey into the future with them."

Professor Grant thanked John Holland for organising the smoking ceremony. In thanking Uncle Max, the University's Provost and Acting Vice Chancellor, Professor Stephen Garton, talked of the importance of community engagement. "The University is never closed to the community or Australia's indigenous people," he said.

The new facility, the most significant capital investment in the Business School's history, will include five floors of teaching, learning and administrative space with a 550-seat lecture theatre, three 300-seat theatres, learning hubs and student accommodation. To learn more about the project, or to follow the progress of its construction, please visit the Abercrombie Precinct website.

John Holland, a wholly owned subsidiary of Leighton Holdings Limited, has previously led construction on a number of class-leading tertiary infrastructure projects.

They include the redevelopment of the Southbank Institute of Technology in Queensland, Urbanest student accommodation facilities in both Brisbane and Adelaide and the Medical Sciences buildings and Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies at the University of Tasmania.