Remote Building Project: Wave Hill Walk-off Pavilions, NT

Our student communications designer, Sarah, recently undertook a remote building and design studio in the Northern Territory.

Completing her Master of Architecture at the University of Melbourne, the trip was a part of the long-running Bower Studio that connects students to real-life need in remote communities across the Northern Territory, Western Australia, Papua New Guinea and Thailand. The projects utilise a local workforce alongside the students and staff, often providing small-scale sanitation, healthcare or community facilities.

The Bower 2016 trip travelled to Kalkarindji, a small township along the Victoria River, 800km southwest of Darwin. This region is the traditional land of the Gurindji people. The Gurindji are the first Indigenous Australian community to be granted the rights to their land.

In 1966, poor conditions and unfair wages for Indigenous workers on the Wave Hill cattle station drove Gurindji workers to walk off the job and eventually petition for the rights to their traditional land. Over time, the Gurindji community moved from the cattle station along a trail, eventually settling in the town of Daguragu. The Gurindji Strikes led to the granting of a freehold title to their own land in 1975. This nine-year worker’s strike was a crucial turning point in Australian history, and provided impetus for the Aboriginal Land Rights (NT) Act of 1976.

August 2016 is the 50-year anniversary of the Wave Hill Walk-off and this year’s project recognised the significance of this journey by constructing shade pavilions at 3 locations along the historic trail. The pavilions are markers as well as usable spaces and could encourage locals and visitors to the walk the journey to commemorate this significant part of our history.

Designed by previous Bower students, the form of the pavilions was derived from original relics that remain on the Wave Hill Cattle Station. A team of eleven students, four staff and some local men worked together to construct all three shelters over a two-week period. Camping out of the town, the team would travel to site to work during the day in the warm winter heat of 35-39 degrees. The evenings allowed us time to spend with the locals as we formed new friendships and gained a greater perspective on what life looks like for those in remote indigenous communities.

The studio was a challenging but extremely rewarding experience. Whilst the building process was physically strenuous, the course content exposed us to the complex social and political landscape that these communities continue to find themselves within.
As students, we were stretched to face issues of inequality, remoteness and welfare cycles among others. No easy solutions can be found from these experiences but I believe that it is from this place that 11 soon-to-be-architects might begin to consider the role they can play in restoring this landscape. Primarily though, we were blessed by the welcoming spirit of the Gurindji people, the chance to hear their stories in person, to see their pride for culture and for the genuine gratitude they had for our role in recognizing their legacy in the history of this nation.

Read more about the project here