The Curtin University Indigenous Learning Circle (Yarning Circle) is a culturally welcoming space for ‘On Country’ and integrated learning experiences within Curtin University’s Perth Campus at Bentley on Whadjuk Country.
Turning the traditional classroom environment inside out, the Yarning Circle delivers unique educational and social outcomes for both the campus and the wider community. campus community and a healthy culture.
The design challenge for the Curtin University Indigenous Learning Circle was to holistically design a place that inspires interest, interaction and sociality. As a place where culture, art, ceremony, recreation and learning are interlinked, the design solution for the Yarning Circle was required to sit at the intersection of a healthy environment, a healthy campus community and a healthy culture.
Positioned in front of Curtin University’s Ceremonial Walk, at the nexus of the Djiridji (Zamia) trail and the beaux-arts axis of the campus, the Yarning Circle sits adjacent to one of Curtin University’s main entrances and offers outdoor learning space to encourage greater connection to cultural processes and landscape systems.
The project’s design process – undertaken alongside Professor Simon Forrest (Curtin University’s former Elder-in-Residence), and Dr Noel Nannup, with early input from the University’s School of Design and the Built Environment – utilised Yarning Circle Protocols to create a culturally safe place for the University and wider community to meet, reflect and yarn.
The design of the Yarning Circle is based upon respecting and celebrating the cultural and environmental significance of the landscape and its ancient and present- day systems.
Created via an integrated and collaborative design approach, the project’s underlying vision of ‘healing country-healing people’ has resulted in the creation of a focal point and collective gathering space for community, educational and ecological experiences. The larger outcome is that the project and its process have broadened ‘Learning on Country’ opportunities first realised at Curtin’s Nowanup Bush Campus to the Perth Campus. The location on Campus forms part of the wider Noongar cultural interpretation as it sits in the vicinity of the Living Knowledge Stream, Djridi trail – Zamia trail.
Consisting of a circular 6-tonne shade canopy, rammed earth seating, and a network of garden paths that meander through thousands of native plants, the Yarning Circle celebrates Curtin’s cultural heritage, and provides a symbolic link to Curtin’s Nowanup Bush Campus.
Strategically, the Yarning Circle builds upon the Curtin University Living Knowledge Stream Guidelines (2017) which provided a framework for a cultural trail and blue-green infrastructure network focused on ancient songlines that traverse the Bentley Campus.
The landscape of the Yarning Circle involved the installation of over 2500 endemic plants and trees, including over 40 mature Djiridji (Zamia) and Balga. Plant selections were based on original vegetation complexes, and upon respecting and celebrating the cultural and environmental significance of the landscape and its ancient and present-day systems. It provides a focal point for important community, educational and ecological experiences, and connects Jack Finney Wetland, the Djiridji Trail and the University’s ‘Ceremonial Walk.’
Centering Indigenous Knowledge – site positioning
Early in the project, Professor Forrest used ‘divining rods’ to locate the centre of the Yarning Circle along Nyungar storylines. This critical cultural positioning was then incorporated by the design team as a key design move that informed most other decisions, including the siting and configuration of the seating, vegetation bands and shelter.
Centering Indigenous Knowledge – design process focused on Yarning Circle Protocols
Yarning Circle protocols were embedded into the design process to ensure the outcomes were the result of collective respectful dialogue and input, at all stages. The project’s stages were brought into alignment with respect to the ‘Five Pillars’ of Yarning Circle protocol, as shared by Dr Noel Nannup.
Centering Indigenous Knowledge – telling the story of the landscape
The plants selected for the site centre Nyungar knowledge to tell the story of the landscape. The Djiridji (Macrozamia sp.) connect to the telling of the Djiridji trail, Balga (Xanthorrhoea sp.) connect to multiple cultural uses and meaning, the sedges and grasses connect to the Yarning Circle’s location adjacent the Jack Finney wetland, and a range of endemic edible plants were woven into the design.
This project has large-scale impact for small-scale capital spend. It’s not only a highly utilised outdoor space on campus, but also a tangible milestone in Curtin’s continued action towards reconciliation.
Collaborators: Professor Simon Forrest (Curtin University Elder in Residence at the time of project), Curtin University School of Design and the Built Environment Architecture students (including Thomas Allan, Sam Chapman, Samuel Dawson, Ricardo Muller) and staff, Dr Noel Nannup, Curtin University Centre for Aboriginal Studies, Curtin University Properties, Facilities & Development, ACORPP Project Managers, ESC Lighting, Stantec Engineering, Hydroplan Irrigation, HWA Quantity Surveyors.
Location: Curtin University, Kent St Bentley, Western Australia
Design year: 2019-2020
Year Completed: 2021