Beyond the dots and squiggles – tapping into the soul lines of a place

Indigenous urban designer Alison Page will talk about finding and amplifying the soul lines of a place in her opening keynote address at next week’s Place Branding Australia Conference, taking place on June 12-13 as part of the Vivid Festival.

Alison Page

Page is among an exciting lineup of speakers who’ll share tips and insights on how placemakers and local authorities can forge an identity and develop a narrative that can bring huge economic and social advantages.

Page is a descendant of the Dharawal and Yuin people whose career began in architecture and interior design and expanded to urban design, sculpture and film.

Anyone who’s been to Sydney’s Barangaroo will be familiar with the beautiful and haunting audio visual artwork, Wellama, outside the Cutaway.

Page says of all her many and varied projects to date it’s one that’s closest to her heart.

Wellama, meaning ‘to come back’ depicts Eora fisherwomen and explores the practice of traditional knowledge, including the preparation of medicines, management of land with fire and maintenance of seasonal calendars. 

Page, who’s from La Perouse, says the best thing about making the installation was working with her family and learning about how her ancestors were living around Sydney Harbour when the First Fleet arrived.

“Wellama was really about kind of tapping back into that history,” she tells Government News.

“A lot of those the songlines have been buried, but now we have all these different mediums and different ways in which we can amplify these stories again.

“That project for me was a co-creation with my family. There was no script or anything – it was like, hey, let’s try and occupy the skin of our ancestors.”

Memory and Place

Page says what she loves most about her practice is being able to think about the memory of place and the memory of her people.

“As Australians we all buy into the boating, camping, fishing lifestyle. And I just think, well, that was what my people were living with 5000 years ago, living in these beautiful temperate climates, in this amazing landscape, really engaging with sea country, in the salt water lifestyle.

“And, you know, for me, I just feel like part of the healing of this country is really about kind of inviting people to to live that life as well, because it’s a good life.”

At Place Branding She’ll talk about unearthing the unique stories and gifts that a community can truthfully showcase.

“My work is primarily looking at the story of places and people,” she says.

“That means looking at our song, our dance, our stories, how we used our three dimensional world around us to reinforce the library of the Dreaming.

It’s an interesting idea for urban designers, landscape architects, architects to think about. What would happen for Australia if we actually tapped into the voices of the first peoples?

Alison Page

“The Dreaming is the basis of all of our ontology, all of our religion, our culture. It’s centred on the idea of stories embedded in place.

“And that’s why Australia is covered in a network of interconnected sites that have the perpetual energies of the ancestral beings that embedded these lores, these knowledges into them.

“So it’s an interesting idea for urban designers, landscape architects, architects – anyone concerned with making places – to think about. What would happen for Australia if we actually tapped into the voices of the first peoples?”

Page says Aboriginal art and culture has been popular across the world for a long time, but what’s happening now is “beyond the dots and the beautiful squiggles”.

“When you start to realise the actual meaning behind these rituals of the Welcome to Country, or the meaning behind the dance and the song, that’s when you really start to tap into soul lines and the library of the Dreaming and realise that there’s this rich, vibrant culture that is sitting underneath it.

“All that really speaks, I think, to the Australian identity and what the Australian identity could be.”

First Peoples’ narratives

Page says she’s particularly looking forward to participating in a panel session on June 13 about weaving Indigenous stories through the narrative of a place.

“This one will be really interesting to see,” she says.

“I have this feeling that it’s part of the Zeitgeist where I think a lot of people are looking back to these more enduring stories, the traditions, the rituals of First Peoples.

“Perhaps in this fleeting, accelerated world, maybe we’re all trying to hang on to something like that.”

Tickets are still available for Place Branding Australia, which will be held at the Kimpton Margot Sydney over June 12-13.

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