Alexandria Park School, Sydney
Connecting with Country Case Study
Alexandria Park Community School is an important contemporary cultural node and source of pride for local families, but its history includes tension with the NSW Government after the closure of several nearby schools that had previously served the community. AMAC Group were engaged for Stages 2 and 3 of the school redevelopment project to provide Community Consultation, further Test Excavation under an Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Management Plan and an Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Interpretation Strategy.
As part of the project, the developer held a design competition for culturally informed landscaping and way-finding signage. The winning details were provided to AMAC Group as the cultural heritage consultant, we facilitated discussion and provided a reporting mechanism through which the redevelopment team exchanged design ideas and responses with community stakeholders participating as Registered Aboriginal Parties (RAPs).
Our Heritage Interpretation Strategy methodology continued the good relations established during test excavation, provided for group and one-on-one discussion through site meetings, phone calls and emails to gather responses to the design competition material. All consultation was led by AMAC Group’s Aboriginal Heritage Director, Benjamin Streat, who has over 20 years experience and a reputation for respectful rapport, professionalism and inclusivity – qualities that Streat teaches to all AMAC Group staff.
Responses to the design were reported in the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Interpretation Strategy, as this project pre-dated the NSW Government Architect Draft Framework for Connecting with Country, the principles used for AMAC Group’s interpretation strategy were: the Burra Charter, NSW Heritage Office (2008) Heritage Interpretation Policy, and the National Trust of Australia (2012) ‘We’re A Dreaming Country’ Guidelines for Interpretation of Aboriginal Heritage.
So that the Heritage Interpretation Strategy had a detailed cultural context, it included a history of the pre-colonisation era that considered archaeological understandings of Aboriginal people’s long occupation of the region, the language, economy, society and a post-colonial history of site use after British alienation of the land.
Under privacy guidelines, oral histories were collected that covered the appropriate Aboriginal language for the site, language for signs, place naming, and significant 20th century and current Aboriginal people associated with the historic and current site uses and strong cultural connections to nearby places. Other topics included engaging students with the site art, native species for planting, review of inappropriate cultural contexts, and a methodology for working with forthcoming site art and artists. A consultation log was published for all forms of engagement between AMAC Group and the RAPs.
An assessment of significance was also provided per criterion identified in the Burra Charter and based on feedback from the nine groups of Aboriginal stakeholders. The strategy also discussed several interpretation themes, the audience profile and implementation, curation of artefacts recovered from test excavation, and a set of detailed and specific project recommendations.
AMAC Group’s Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Interpretation Strategy was used to inform the final Heritage Interpretation Plan by TKD Architects which enabled construction, the project is now complete, and the landscaping, plantings, language and place naming of Alexandria Park School are suffused with locally derived and appropriate cultural values.