Space, Place and Country

Country is a notion that has come to English-speaking Australians from the explanations and place-maintaining work of Indigenous people all round the continent. Country is a place with life coursing through it, life that is both a natural force and a configuration of culturally produced effects that get socially managed or damaged by everyone abiding in that stretch of Country. Country is a place where human beings can have a big impact but they are not the main element. As the Indigenous architect, Kevin O’Brien, says “Country is an Aboriginal Idea…It understands that every moment of the land, sea and sky, its particles, its prospects and its prompts, enables life.” (p.6 Finding Country/Burning Campus)

On the other hand, the primary forces that have shaped our contemporary Australian cities – whether based on political, economic, legal, urban planning or design principles – do not hold the idea of Country at their core. The city often forget the enduring presence of Indigenous people with their long-maintained ties to managing and cultivating the land the city is built upon.

We are interested in exploring shifts in thinking and practicing if Country is held as central. This has implications for artistic, theoretical, legal, political, ecological and social practices.


Working Committee members:

Dr Bianca Hester (Post-doctoral fellow, SCA)
Dr Saskia Beudel (Post-doctoral fellow, SCA)
Dr Laura Fisher (Post-doctoral fellow, SCA)
Barbara Campbell (PhD Candidate, SCA)
Glenn Wallace (PhD candidate, SCA)







On Saturday 21 February 2015, SCA’s Space, Place and Country research cluster ran the first of a series of events scheduled for the year. An invited group of 23 people met outside Redfern Terrace to be led on a cultural walk by Nathan Moran, CEO of the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council. Among the group were artists, writers, architects, musicians, historians, producers, and educators, some with their own long history of involvement with Redfern. Rain began to fall as Nathan’s route led past landmarks including Tony Mundine’s gym, the tent embassy on the block, the now empty Murawina childcare centre, and along the iconic railway bridge mural, 40 000 years, designed by Carol Ruff in 1983. Nathan’s encyclopedic knowledge of the cultural institutions, politics and community of Redfern unveiled dense histories as everyone stood undeterred by rain, listening under umbrellas. The walk took in numerous other key sites: the Gadigal Information Service, home of Koori Radio; the Aboriginal Dance Theatre; the old Black Theatre site; and the site of the original NSW Aboriginal Land Council, as well as more murals including Mission Boy Dreams designed by Roy Kennedy, and Cherry Pickers by Adam Hill. By the end of the walk the skies had cleared, and lunch was held at 107 Projects, followed by discussion among the participants.

Down City Street participants

Down City Streets participants. Photo: Polly Stanton

The aim of the day was to foster discussion between the group, made up of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous participants, about possible future collaborative projects focused around the Indigenous concept of Country that provide equal benefit to both the Indigenous community and the university. A series of workshops will follow the walk, the first of which will be led by Indigenous architect, Kevin O’Brien (QUT), on 18 May 2015. The workshop will be based around his Finding Country project.

Down City Streets website



Kevin O

Image courtesy Kevin O'Brien Architects in association with the Finding Country Collective, Finding Country Exhibition, and Philip Crowther

Finding Country is an ongoing project initiated by Kevin O’Brien in 2006 and continuing as a pluralist contest between the idea of Aboriginal space (Country), and European space (property) in Australia. Aboriginal Country is excluded from the Australian city and even more so in the derivative architecture. Despite the 1992 landmark Mabo case High Court decision, a decision that struck down the doctrine of Terra Nullius (an empty land belonging to no-one), architecture in Australia continues its 18th century European tradition of drawing on empty paper. The Finding Country position is that this paper is not empty, but is full of what can’t be seen.

The workshop is focused on ways to empty the City in order to reveal a practical idea about Country. Drawing and sculpture will be the modes of inquiry. Individual submissions will be assembled into one collective conceptual sculptural mapping of ideas about the ongoing tension between City and Country. Since its beginnings the Finding Country project has endeavoured to find an Aboriginal origin for architecture in Australia through exhibitions, built projects, writings and studios. This workshop is part of that ongoing process.

Kevin O’Brien is Professor of Design at Queensland University of Technology and a practicing architect. In 2006 he established Kevin O’Brien Architects (KOA) in Brisbane and has completed architectural projects throughout Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and the Northern Territory. In 2012 he directed the Finding Country Exhibition as an official Collateral Event of the 13th Venice Architecture Biennale, Venice.

Workshop Details

Finding Country Workshop

Monday 18 May 2015
Carriageworks Workshop
245 Wilson Street, Eveleigh
9.30 am – 7 pm
The workshop is best suited to people with a postgraduate qualification

RSVP: by 15 April 2015


Carol Ruff detail

Photo: Carol Ruff, ‘Detail of the original mural on Lawson Street’, South Sydney Herald, 11 November 2013

My Sydney, a writing workshop led by Cathy Craigie, will begin at the 40,000 Years mural at the Redfern railway bridge (designed by Carol Ruff 1983) where Cathy will talk about her knowledge of and involvement with the mural. She will also discuss the history of Redfern and its surrounds, including her own longstanding family history in the area; and will tell tales of the inner city focusing on its ‘hidden histories’ (such as old trade routes underlying some of Sydney’s major arterial routes; lakes and waterways beneath its urban infrastructure; little-known pasts of the Town Hall, to name a few). Discussion will take place on foot, with a walk that departs from the mural and ends up at 107 Projects in Redfern.

After talking about ‘her Sydney’, Cathy will dedicate the second part of the workshop to participants writing about their Sydney – the ways they know it and live in it, to explore their own hidden histories of the city. Participants are encouraged to bring an object or image that connects them with Sydney in some way; and can use laptop, pen and paper, or voice recorder according to personal preference.

Cathy Craigie has spent most of her adult life living and working in the inner city Aboriginal community. She has been an active member of the community and has been involved in projects such as ‘Guwanyi’, the story of Redfern’s Aboriginal community with the Museum of Sydney. Cathy is also the founder of Gadigal Information Service and Koori Radio and is currently the Chairperson of this Redfern organisation.

Workshop Details

My Sydney Workshop

Tuesday 19 May 2015
10 am – 3 pm
Redfern Community Centre and 107 Projects

Enquiries and bookings:
RSVP by 20 April 2015

More information

Steering Committee members:

Prof. Ross Gibson (University of Canberra)
Prof. Stephen Muecke (University of NSW)
Prof. Nikos Papastergiadis (University of Melbourne)
Prof. Michael Tawa (University of Sydney)
Dr Olivia Barr (University of Technology, Sydney)
Dr Danny Butt (University of Melbourne)
Dr Lucas Ihlein (University of Wollongong)
Clint Bracknell (University of Sydney)