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Mapping the "Unseen" Landscape

Using Participatory Mapping to Raise Awareness of Aboriginal Landscapes in the South East of South Australia

Cartographier le paysage « invisible »

Une démarche participative pour révéler les paysages aborigènes du Sud de l'Australie


The Aboriginal people of the South East region of South Australia, together with local and state government and universities, have recently embarked on a series of cultural revival projects to strengthen their community and to celebrate the rich heritage and connections that they maintain with the land. This paper charts the process and development of a participatory mapping project, spanning various Aboriginal homelands (but with a focus on the Boandik homeland) that was undertaken by landscape architecture lecturers and students with the collaboration and participation of the South East Aboriginal Focus Group, and non-Aboriginal groups and organisations. The paper highlights how mapping the «unseen» or intangible qualities of Aboriginal homelands in creative ways can help to communicate and educate the non-Aboriginal community about Aboriginal connections to and knowledge of the land. Through an exhibition of the maps, the project has helped to advance discussions towards the creation of an Aboriginal cultural centre in the region.
Les populations autochtones qui occupent le sud est de l'Australie, associant à elles les institutions gouvernementales locales et de l'Etat et les universités, ont récemment embarqué dans une série de projets de revitalisation culturelle pour renforcer leur communauté et célébrer l'héritage et les relations qu'elles entretiennent avec leur territoire. Cet article retrace le processus et le développement d'un projet cartographique participatif qui couvre différents territoires autochtones (avec une focale sur les terres Boandik), tenu par des professeurs et des étudiants d'architecture de paysage en collaboration avec le focus group des autochtones du sud est, et des non autochtones ainsi que des organisations. L'article met en évidence comment cartographier le paysage "non vu" ou les qualités intangibles des territoires autochtones dans une perspective créative, pouvant contribuer à communiquer et éduquer les communauté non autochtones à propos des connections et des connaissances que les autochtones ont du territoire. A travers l'exemple d'une exposition de cartes sensibles, le projet a aidé à faire avancer les débats dans le sens de la création d'un centre culturel autochtone dans la région.


The Aboriginal Homelands of the South East Region

Several Aboriginal groups and nations constitute the Lower South East region of South Australia, which includes, but is not exclusive to, the Meintangk, Potaruwutij, Boandik, Tatiara, Ngarkat and Tanganekald people. Members of these nations came together in 2005 to form the South East Aboriginal Focus Group, a key Aboriginal organisation in the region that frequently partners and engages with local government, schools, and natural resource management agencies to advocate and advance Aboriginal culture and knowledge systems. Offering a collective voice on Aboriginal matters, the mapping project discussed in this paper was closely developed and carried out with members of the South East Aboriginal Focus Group. As research partners and local hosts, these members guided the project from inception to completion, and provided valuable information on the historical and contemporary context of the project's main geographic focus - the lands, waters, and townships in and around the Mount Gambier region - which are understood to be situated within the Boandik homeland.

The city of Mount Gambier is the largest centre in the Lower South East Region and the second biggest city in South Australia (six hours drive south of Adelaide), with universities, government agencies, and services that supply a large farming and forestry district. Known as Berrin in Boandik, the location served as an historical meeting place for the Aboriginal people and is steeped in legend and stories. The volcanic cones, craters, water bodies, limestone caves and sinkholes that dominate the immediate region are said to have been created by the creation ancestor, Craitbul, and his kin.

The region has been occupied by Aboriginal people for over 40,000 years. And yet in less than 180 years, this countryside has been substantially modified by non-Aboriginal settlers, so much so that the landscape today is almost unrecognisable compared to its original state. River courses and wetlands that spanned like veins and arteries to the north and south of Mount Gambier have been drained and realigned to generate more accessible agricultural areas.  Large stands of scraggly native forests have been replaced by neatly-arranged pine forests and grapevines. And major townships, cities and homesteads now occupy places that were (and continue to be) significant meeting, cultural, and spiritual sites for the Aboriginal people. Indeed, the Aboriginal homelands represented by the South East Aboriginal Focus Group arguably feature some of the most highly-modified homelands in rural Australia.

With such dramatic physical changes wrought upon the Aboriginal homelands and with non-Aboriginal settlers (mainly Scots) taking up large pastoral leases in the area shortly after the proclamation of South Australia in 1836, many Aboriginal people were forced to move «off country1» within a few decades of contact. While the historical population of Aboriginal people in the region is unknown, archaeological evidence, ethnographic reports (Smith 1880), and oral history suggests the region contained land and sea resources to support thousands.  Today, many non-Aboriginal residents believe that the Aboriginal people of the region are no longer present,»2 a belief that is unfortunately untrue. For instance, a tourist site in the town of Beachport for the Boandik elder and tracker, Lanky Kana, who died in 1904, reads that he was the «last surviving full-blood Boandik person.»

The persistence of this error has led many locals to form the view that the Boandik homeland, along with the other Aboriginal homelands of the region, is relegated to the past. Indeed, there is a sense amongst some locals that the cultural make-up and spiritual associations the Aboriginal people maintained with the land and the sea has been forgotten. Such opinions, formed over generations, are hard to alter, but a series of recent programs and interventions designed and led the South East Aboriginal Focus Group (along with other Aboriginal groups) and government agencies are helping to shift ingrained beliefs about Aboriginal homelands. These include: a canoe-making project, which involved the crafting of a bark canoe from a live tree and documenting the construction process on film (Heyes et al 2015; Change Media 2010); an on-going language revitalisation program supported by linguists (Blake 2003, Gale 2014) and which involves the development of a wordlist from archival material; a light and sound show featuring modern-day interpretations of Dreamtime3 stories; a film about volcanoes and Aboriginal belief systems; and a travelling exhibition of art works featuring maps about the intangible qualities of Aboriginal homelands, particularly the Boandik homeland. It is this exhibition, its making, and the participation the South East Aboriginal Focus Group, and non-Aboriginal locals in the process, which is discussed below.

A Renaissance of Aboriginal Culture and Customs

The suite of programs and activities that have occurred in the region to celebrate and acknowledge Aboriginal culture and customs have contributed to the on-going production of Aboriginal heritage. But without an Aboriginal cultural centre representing the various homelands, the cultural material generated by these various programs and activities has unfortunately remained un-curated and scattered.  Presently, there is momentum in the community to generate a cultural centre so that past and newly-generated cultural material can be brought together in one location. It is envisaged that the centre, like that of neighbouring Aboriginal communities who have such buildings (e.g. the Ngarrindjeri people have a centre called Camp Coorong; the Jardwadjali and Djab Wurrung people have Brambuk Cultural Centre; and the Kaurna people of the Adelaide Plains have Warriparinga Cultural Centre), will serve to not only celebrate the tangible and intangible qualities of the Aboriginal homelands of the South East region, but also become a gathering place for tourists, school groups, and the non-Aboriginal community.

To maintain momentum for a cultural centre in the region, the University of Canberra landscape architecture program, together with the South East Aboriginal Focus Group, teamed up with over fifty local partners in 2013 to generate a series of counter-maps4 representing the intangible qualities of the Mount Gambier region (i.e. Boandik country). This participatory mapping project was titled «Transects:  Windows into Boandik Country.» It included collaborators from: the South East Aboriginal Focus Group, the Mount Gambier City Council (local government); the South Australian government agencies called the South East Natural Resource Management Board, Forestry SA, and the Department of Environment, Water, and Natural Resources; landholders; local archaeologists; and local experts in botany and Aboriginal heritage.5

Taking a Step Back or Re-learning How to See the World

The participatory mapping project was structured around the inaugural University of Canberra design studio called Australia and the Land, which was created to focus on design and Aboriginal issues in rural Australia. Eighteen landscape architecture students (third year level) who took the course were asked to work with the South East Aboriginal Focus Group, and non-Indigenous hosts, to develop large-scale counter-maps of the Boandik homeland. The project involved several steps in the making of the counter-maps: 1) reading, discussing, and sharing key literature on Aboriginal culture of the region, as well as literature on counter-mapping and landscape representation; 2) an exploration of the counter-mapping process and the Boandik landscape through the construction of maquettes6  in a design studio environment; 3) travelling to the field to learn about the Boandik landscape from the South East Aboriginal Focus Group and other hosts, along designated transects, and recording the experience; 4) transforming the field experience, recordings and readings into large-scale counter-maps in the design studio; and 5), presenting the counter-maps to the community at a public exhibition.  

Guiding students through an unconventional7 mapping process, which required them to abandon their traditional thinking about space and place, was necessary from the outset of the project. Learning how to map without the aid of Google and GPS devices is not without challenges, especially today where navigational devices are accessible anywhere on a smartphone. To counter-map, the students had to «unlearn» how to read a map and be open to new ways of knowing, seeing, and recording the environment around them. They had to come to terms with the fact that conventional maps tend to privilege settler-spaces and non-Aboriginal ontologies and epistemologies. Further, the intangible qualities of spaces often go ignored or unrecorded on conventional maps, and yet unseen elements of the landscape, such as stories, placenames, sounds, and smells, often provide the most effective mechanism to remember and distinguish places and spaces (Porteous 1990; Nuttall 1992; Eades 2015).

Aided by readings with themes on reading and knowing the landscape8, cultural mapping9, landscape representation10, and participatory mapping and knowledge assemblages11, the students were guided through a process where they were given time to discover by themselves on how to map in unconventional ways.  The readings, discussed in weekly seminars, inspired them to develop methods and techniques to represent intangible qualities of landscape as counter-maps, a skill that was necessary to grasp before heading to the Mount Gambier region to work with local hosts.

To ease into the process of counter-mapping, students were first asked to prepare a maquette that embodied themes from weekly reading discussions and which represented a place, setting, or landscape phenomena (either through a photo, image, drawing, or object) that features within the Boandik homeland. Within three weeks allocated to this assignment, students constructed maquettes conforming to dimensions of 700 mm x 150 mm x 150 mm, parameters which were set in the brief. Further, the maquette had to be placed on a 1.2 metre plinth and 800 of explanatory text had to be included as part of the maquette. Students were encouraged to construct their maquettes from materials that were representative of the Boandik landscape that they had chosen to represent. The maquettes, examples of which feature in Figure 1, provided teaching staff with an appreciation of the extent to which students were able to imagine and represent an Aboriginal homeland they had not yet seen. This model-making process paved the way for the next major task of the design studio, which involved them travelling from Canberra to the Boandik homeland to develop counter-maps of the countryside with local hosts.

Abstract Representations of Boandik Country. Generated by landscape architecture students, maquettes were made based on readings and research about counter-mapping. The brief required the maquettes to represent certain places within the Boandik homeland. The maquettes were made immediately before students headed to the field for a week to learn about Boandik country from local experts. Pictured left, this maquette represents Boandik Dreamtime stories associated with the creation of a volcano in Mount Gambier. Pictured middle, this maquette symbolises stories associated with early contact between Boandik people and non-Aboriginal people, which often occurred in tragic circumstances such as when passenger ships wrecked along the coast. Pictured right, this maquette represents the extensive water systems, above and below land, that are a feature of the Boandik homeland.

Capturing and Representing the «Unseen» Landscape

For this participatory mapping project, the «unseen» landscape was interpreted as the intangible and indiscernible features of the Aboriginal landscape that have been present in ancient times or have formed more recently. Examples of the «unseen» landscape included sacred or spiritual sites, ceremonial sites, places of memory, sites of significance, meeting places, places to avoid, birth places, and places that are known and named for certain material qualities, textures, and natural phenomena.

As part of the introduction to the Boandik landscape, and to be cognisant of the long-held belief systems associated with the land, students consulted Smith's (1880) ethnography, The Boandik Tribe of South Australia: A sketch of their Habits, Customs, Legends, and Language. This book describes Boandik ontology, including the various clans that make up the Boandik group, their creation stories, and legends associated with landscape creation. A significant ancestral figure Craitbul, was a great giant who camped in the Mount Gambier region with his wife and two sons to escape an evil spirit called « Tennatenoa » or « Woor ». The volcano cones that are a feature of the Berrin region today are said to be the cooking ovens that Craitbul and his family made while passing through the countryside. Stories related to Smith (1880, p. 15) indicated that Craitbul and his kin were of such immense size that they had to «stoop and bend their heads to get under the tallest gum tree.» Craitbul features in many Boandik creation stories involving animals, too. It is said that he «breathed his breath into bark and gave it [the] life [of Kangaroos] » after his sons had given him a piece of special bark upon which they had affixed pieces of bark in the shape of a body, leg and head (ibid.). These and other Boandik stories helped students gain a better understanding of the formation of the Boandik homeland.

Presented with these stories of the Boandik landscape, and after mapping a feature of Boandik country through a maquette exercise, students then travelled to Mount Gambier (a 3 hour flight from Canberra) with their lecturer and design tutor. Previous projects and connections that had been established with South East Aboriginal Focus Group and non-Aboriginal members of the region made it possible for meetings and excursions to be more easily arranged with local hosts.  These hosts included Aboriginal elders, landholders, archaeologists, botanists, heritage officers, and natural resource managers from government. They volunteered their time to assist the eighteen students with their mapping assignment. Upon arrival and meeting with members of the South East Aboriginal Focus Group, the students were reminded that Aboriginal occupation and maintenance of the landscape is on-going, and that the movements and activities of the Aboriginal people in modern times within and across their homelands adds new dimensions and histories to the ancient homeland. It was conveyed to them that new memories are constantly being forged upon the land, as are new placenames, stories and events. And, the matrix of these features, occurrences, and phenomena, exist as mental maps amongst the Aboriginal people of the region.

The participatory mapping brief required that students form six groups, with three members in each, and that they develop a methodology to map and record a «transect» of Boandik country that was provided to each group. The size and configuration of the transects, Figure 2, were previously developed in consultation with the South East Aboriginal Focus Group, based on the premise that a portion of Boandik country would be mapped on a «spoke and hub» framework. Also behind the placement of each transect - six in total - was that each one begin at Mount Gambier (notionally, the hub of Boandik country) and extend into varying parcels of land that included forests, coastal systems, wetland systems, volcanic formations, limestone caves, and mountain ranges. One transect spanned over 100 kilometres while the other five transects were approximately 50 kilometres in length.

Map showing the Transects students explored for the studio project. The demarcation of each transect was indicative and they served to provide the students with a variety of geographical regions to study. Map produced by the authors.

On day one of the five-day field trip to Boandik country, the students were introduced to the locals who would accompany them on their excursion along their designated transect. After a group introduction and lunch attended by nearly one hundred people, the student groups commenced their mapping exercise with their Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal hosts. Like the maquette, students were given a brief to guide their activities.  They were asked to analyse, interpret and represent the course of the transect they travelled along, using a methodology of their choice to document the experience. They were encouraged to make detours along the way, to walk and feel the countryside under their feet, to sit and talk with their local hosts, and to listen to the surroundings. Ultimately, their experiences needed to be represented on a panel 2.4 metres x 1.2 metres in size. They would work on this for nine weeks when returning to the design studios in Canberra.

The students spent between two and three days with their local hosts travelling along their designated transects. To ensure they were also receiving an overall picture of Boandik country, it was necessary to hold activities with the entire group. These included: tours of the Naracoorte Caves (Unesco World Heritage site) and other limestone cave formations located off the beaten track that are significant to the Boandik people; a walk through sand dune systems to learn about plants important to the Boandik people; a tour of volcanic formations that feature in Boandik creation stories on Craitbul; and excursions with elders in the field, during which Boandik language for landscape terms were discussed.

Students returned from daily outings along their respective transect with magnificent stories and experiences. Some relayed how they had visited shell-midden sites and quarries important to the Aboriginal trade of flint.  Others described how they had crawled into caves with their hosts to see «finger-fluting» markings, which represent some of the oldest forms of Aboriginal artwork known in Australia. One group trekked where dinosaurs had left footprints and another group climbed the highest lookout in the region, a place associated with the Craitbul legend. For the international students in the class from China, Korea, and Thailand, the trip represented their first interaction with outback Australia and Aboriginal Australia. Confined mainly to Australia's major cities, they remarked that this was the first time they had seen the real Australia. The international students expressed how the experiences on the land with their hosts had made them reflect on the Indigenous people living in their own countries, and how little they know about them and their associations with the land. This was a welcome yet unexpected outcome of the project. It provides hope that students who are involved in such projects will return to their home countries to seek out and embrace Indigenous viewpoints on landscape.

Turning Interpretations into Representations

Returning to Canberra, the students began the task of transforming their experiences and recordings into counter-maps. They were guided by their lecturer and tutor through this creative process and were encouraged to consider the materiality of the transect they encountered, the paths they travelled, the traces they left, and the people and events that featured along the way. Each group was asked to explore different possibilities through conceptual sketches and full scale prototypes of their panel before the construction of the final panel. This design process was adopted to ensure that the final maps meet exhibition standards and that the quality of the interpretation of each transect was rich in meaning. The use of laser cutters, routers, and other modern design technology was encouraged for the production of the counter-maps.

After nine weeks of brainstorming, developing concepts, model-making, and being in regular contact with their hosts, the students presented their maps to a design jury in the Canberra design studios. Presented alongside their counter-maps were catalogues that featured explanations of the visual elements, the research that informed the making of the panel, the significant Boandik landscape features identified by the group along their designated transect, and biographies. In addition to the catalogues, each student generated a visual journal of their experiences during the course. These illustrated the student's thoughts, musings, and creative processes, and charted the development of the ideas behind the counter-map designs.

The counter-maps developed by the students, featured in Figures 3 to 9 and described below, illustrate the broad-ranging ways that the Boandik landscape was interpreted.  Abstract and conceptual in nature, the maps embodied conversations the students had with their hosts in the field, along with research conducted in libraries and archives. Containing several layers of meaning, the panels were highly personal, too. To the unsuspecting eye, the panels might be considered more artwork than maps, yet they evoke and are a statement about the Boandik homeland.  Text, lighting, wood, paint, and galvanised iron all came together to tell stories about the Boandik people's connection to country in past and contemporary times.

In Pathways from Forest to Seashore the students who journeyed along Transect 1 chose to tell a story about the seasonal characteristics of the Boandik homeland, making a map that featured drawings of the birds and animals collected by the Boandik for subsistence purposes along the coast. The circular nature of the map, a seasonal calendar, was designed to illustrate that Boandik appreciations of the seasons are fluid and that Boandik movement patterns across the landscape, in the pre-contact period, was shaped not only by weather conditions but the presence or absence of certain foods. For exhibition, this map was suspended from the ceiling at eye-height. People were encouraged to spin the map, thereby showing the passing of the seasons.

Transect n°1 counter-map called Pathways from Forest to Seashore.

For Transect 2, the map called A Country with Fences has lost its Spirit told a story about how the configuration of commercial forest plantations has affected Boandik senses of country. Drawing on a quote by one of their hosts in the field, the map title evokes the compartmentalisation of the land and how the farming of landscape - through either soft or hard edges - has led the physical and spiritual deterioration of the land. The students used an arrangement of wooden panels on their map (made from locally grown Blue Gums Eucalyptus leucoxylon), to highlight the mosaic of the pastoral and forest landscape today. On exhibit, the map was designed to encourage user interaction, with the wooden panel doors opening to reveal quotes about the land, and space for users to pen their own thoughts about the changing nature of the Boandik homeland.

Transect n° 2 counter-map called A Country with Fences has lost its Spirit.

Representing Transect 3, Dreaming Habitat was created to celebrate the rich historical sites and occupation of the volcanic and upland regions of Boandik country. The students designed a map consisting of four layers of landscape: footprints and tracks (animals and humans), the rebirth of forest systems (caused by fire and volcanic activity); wetland systems; and the Boandik placenames of landscape phenomena. Contained within a box, each layer has a temporal dimension, and was designed to be opened and closed by the user as they move through the Boandik landscape over time.

Transect n° 3 counter-map called Dreaming Habitat.

For Transect 4, the students in this group developed two maps, The Way We Went... and Scar Tree. Drawing heavily on the landscape quality of the transect they traversed, the maps were made from Blue Gum and Red Gum, two large Eucalypt species of trees. Dominating the land, Red Gum in particular, was used by the Boandik people for shelter, tools, and hunting equipment. Both maps contain a narrative of the places the students traversed with their hosts, including major nodes that were important meeting places for Boandik people prior to settlement. The materiality of the timber - and its colour and texture - evoke the places travelled by the students and highlights the heritage value of the large stands of trees that remain on private and public lands that demand protection.

Transect n° 4 counter-maps called The Way We Went... and Scar Tree.

In the map Kromelite Menindie (literally, «red mud» in Boandik), representing Transect 5, the students emphasised the mud (literally and figuratively) that was left after wetlands were drained by European settlers. The map symbolises other damages done to the environment through agricultural practices, as well as other changes that have occurred to Aboriginal society since European settlement. The students etched the narrative of their journey on the map, thereby personalising it and infusing it with their own stories and experiences that they encountered along the transect.

Transect n° 5 counter-map called Kromelite Menindie.

For the map Sweet Waters, representing Transect 6, the students generated a piece with a focus on the Earth Mother nurturing a foetus. The womb is represented by a large wetland called Bool Lagoon, a place for regeneration and rebirth. The markings on the woman's skin, in the students' words, are a «reminder of the traditions and customs that held Aboriginal tribes together, and the three strands of her hair represent the three major Aboriginal tribes that held meetings nearby.» Further, the feathers relate to the Sulphur Crested Cockatoo that frequents the area and is associated with Aboriginal creation stories. The Earth Mother reaches out in hope that her newborn will enter a homeland that has healed and is respected, and where Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people come together to guard this special place meeting place. At close inspection of the map's background, it is possible to see the survey lines of the countryside that was divided and colonised by settlers, along with a mob of sheep making their way across the landscape. The green patterns not only represent pasture but also take their form from tartan kilts, like those worn by the original Scottish immigrants that set up farms in the area.  The students who made this map also developed an original and moving song about the Bool Lagoon wetland, along with a video documenting the creation of their panel.

Transect n° 6 counter-map called Sweet Waters.

The design jury that formally evaluated the works were impressed with the outcomes, with one jury member writing that:

«I was very impressed that many of the students had absorbed and reflected the fact that the land was and still is, very significant to the local Aboriginal people. Two of the panels stood out for me because they depicted the importance of Aboriginal people's connection to country and their creative use of materials and textures to depict the clash between the country's original inhabitants and the colonial settlers.» (Ed Wensing, quoted in Heyes and Tuiteci 2013, p. 20.)

The jury also remarked on the role that universities play in educating the next generation and the wider community. As this project intended, they stressed that « requiring students to undertake field visits, to walk country to meet with and listen to the local people, and to develop visual panels and texts depicting their experiences, we are advancing our community's understanding of the continuing connection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people to their customary lands» (ibid.).

Exhibiting the Works

A month after course completion, a number of students assisted with the curation of an exhibition featuring the panels, booklets, journals, videos, and songs. The entire works were transported to Mount Gambier (back to Boandik country), where they were showcased at the Main Corner Cultural Centre, a major public art gallery. The exhibition, «Transects: Windows into Boandik Country», was launched by members of the South East Aboriginal Focus Group to a large audience.  The members of the Focus Group acknowledged that the exhibition and the gathering of individuals was a significant event on Boandik country and that it highlighted the special connection they maintain with country.  It was an emotional experience for all involved in the making of the maps. Two members of the South East Aboriginal Focus Group opened the proceedings by conducting a welcome to country ceremony, in the Boandik language. These members later indicated that they had given considerable thought to their opening words, for it is rare that they speak publicly in Boandik, and they wanted to ensure that they used Boandik words that would capture the significance and collaborative nature of the event. An international student involved in the project provided a rich and thoughtful speech, highlighting the profound impact the project had on her ways of understanding Indigenous culture and the land. Speeches by the other partners and hosts followed. A catalogue of the exhibition was also prepared so that the project aims, objectives, and collaborative spirit was captured for future generations. The exhibition launch and the project itself were covered in local media through radio interviews with staff and students, and in local newspapers. The journalists sensitively documented the project from its commencement.

Following the launch, the exhibition was on public display for a fortnight. It attracted much local interest, so much so that other councils and art galleries expressed interest in displaying the works. A committee was formed with the South East Aboriginal Focus Group to enable the exhibition to travel. Accordingly, the exhibition has since shown at the South East Field Days in Lucindale, the Port McDonnell Community Complex, the Old Wool and Grain Store Museum in Beachport, and the Kingston Art Gallery.  It is believed that hundreds of people (tourists and locals) have now interacted with the exhibited works. Many of the farmers involved in the project have since indicated that they were profoundly impacted by the experience, and it caused them to reflect on their own farming and natural resource management practices. One farmer, whose property contains many important stands of Red Gum trees (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) that bear the scars of where Boandik people once removed bark to make canoes, boomerangs, and shields, has indicated that he will further protect these sites from stock and fire damage. He also pledged to protect young forests on his property so that future generations of Boandik people might make use of these trees when they mature, over 200 years from now.


The participatory mapping project represented Aboriginal heritage in the making, even though it was not conceived as such at first. It opened up a broad dialogue in the South East community about Aboriginal connections to country, with the creative works becoming a fulcrum around which Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal groups could openly discuss issues surrounding land management and the protection of significant sites. The counter-maps produced during the project, which need to find a permanent home at the end of their travels, have strengthened the argument and need for an Aboriginal cultural centre to be established in the region. With the counter-maps openly endorsed and embraced by the South East Aboriginal Focus Group, and with the students and the non-Aboriginal hosts undergoing transformative experiences as part of the project, such initiatives suggest that the Transects model could serve as a catalyst for other communities across Australia to revitalise the unseen qualities and richness of Aboriginal landscapes. It is imperative that landscape architecture programs engage in genuine partnerships with Aboriginal communities across Australia, as the Australia and the Land course has achieved. Such collaboration enriches the lives and well-being of all individuals involved, and importantly, helps to elevate Aboriginal understandings of the land within the non-Aboriginal community, and in the discourse of landscape architecture.


Thank you to the South East Aboriginal Focus Group (SEAFG), and other Aboriginal groups for your strong support of this project. This project was made possible through financial and in-kind support of a number of organisations and individuals from Mount Gambier and the surrounding region. Thank you to the City of Mount Gambier and the South East Natural Resource Management Board (Govt of SA) for providing funding towards this project. We pay special thanks Councillor Jim Mayer, Barbara Cernovskis and Alison Brash for their strong support of this initiative. Thank you to the following people and businesses for hosting students and showing them around the countryside: SEAFG - Doug Nicholls, Des Hartman, Robyn Campbell, and Kingsley Ahang; Forestry SA - Mark Whan, Bryan Haywood and Troy Horn; farmers - Ian Stewart, Greg Todd, Nick Hunt and Michael Aldersey; DEWNR - Rob Palamountain, Melissa Hunter, and Deborah Craven-Carden; Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation Division, Dept. of Premier and Cabinet, Govt. of SA - Justine Hobbs and Dale Hancock; Bush Repair - Ken Jones; SELGA - Ann Aldersey; Burrandies Corp - Emma Hay; and Karen Hunt, Neville Bonney, Geoff and Samantha Aslin, and Jack and Pat Bourne. Thank you to the Centre for Creative and Cultural Research at the University of Canberra for supporting this project. Two anonymous reviewers provided valuable comments and suggestions.


Landscape, mapping, Aboriginal, Boandik, Australia
Paysage, cartographie, autochtones, Boandik, Australie


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Scott Heyes, David New and Setoki Tuiteci

Scott Heyes, PhD, is an assistant professor of cultural heritage at the University of Canberra and Research Associate at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. He holds a PhD in geography from McGill University, and landscape architecture degrees from the University of Adelaide. His research and teaching projects are concerned with better understanding Indigenous ways of knowing and seeing landscapes and seascapes. He is currently conducting research on place-related projects with the Inuit of Northern Quebec, the Boandik people of South Australia, and villagers from Vuna, Fiji. For correspondence: Centre for Creative and Cultural Research, University of Canberra, Australia 2601.
Courriel :

David Newand

Aboriginal Engagement Officer, Natural Resources South East, South Australian Government.

Setoki Tuiteci
Master of Environmental Design student and senior design tutor for, Australia and the Land, University of Canberra.

Pour référencer cet article

Scott Heyes, David New and Setoki Tuiteci
Mapping the "Unseen" Landscape
publié dans Projets de paysage le 30/06/2015


  1. This term is used extensively in Aboriginal Australia and refers to living outside of one's traditional homeland. Note that «Country» is a concept widely used by Aboriginal people and is often used interchangeably with the term «homeland.» It refers to all living things (plants, animals, and people) and non-sentient beings, and represents a way of belonging to the land. Aboriginal language usage of the word country is much broader than standard English. (Australian Museum, 2009: See
  2. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (2015) Census data from 2011 indicates that 570 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and 24,335 non-Aboriginal and non-Torres Strait Islander people lived in the Mount Gambier area. The ABS does not capture specific data on populations of Aboriginal homelands.
  3. In Aboriginal Australia, the Dreamtime refers to «the sacred time containing the creation of the first ancestors and the enduring existence of every person; a collection of events beyond living memory that shaped the physical, spiritual, and moral world.» (Oxford Dictionary, 2015).
  4. This relatively new term, emanating from geography (Peluso 1995), was used in this project to refer to participatory mapping processes that enable indigenous-identity building, and to further progressive goals. Counter-maps are intended to incorporate many forms of knowledge and they may take the form of artwork, installations, or other physical representations of places.
  5. Research partners and collaborators provided their time, resources, logistics and personnel freely to this project. Funding for this project, received from the Mount Gambier City Council, and the South East Natural Resource Management Board, went towards accommodation and travel costs for the landscape architecture staff and students to stay in Mount Gambier. Funds were also used to pay for map-making materials, the mounting of an exhibition, and to defray student printing costs. Elders from the South East Aboriginal Focus Group were paid an honorarium for their time and participation.
  6. In landscape architecture, maquette refers to a small model or study in three dimensions.
  7. «Unconventional» is taken here to mean a mapping process that runs counter to the Cartesian coordinate mapping process and techniques that students are exposed to in their formal education, such as map making using geographic information systems.   
  8. Carter 1987; Clarke 1999; Duncan and Duncan 1988; Ingold 2007; Long 2008; Lopez 1986, Muecke 1994; and Sutton 1998.
  9. Veronesi and Gemeinboeck 2009; Jacks 2007; Mahood 2006; Nicolaisen 1990; Roth 2009; Sletto 2009; Brazenor et al 1999; and Soini 2001.
  10. Bradley 1999; Casey 2002; Corner 1992; Knapman 2011; and Marcantonio 2008.
  11. Aberley 1993; Bender 1999; Chapin et al 2005; Fox 1998; Harley 1988; Johnson et al 2006; Lydon 2000; Mason 1998; Mohamed and Ventura 2010; and Turnbull 2000.

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