Mr Kombumerri’s comments come as the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment signals a shift in focus to promote the value of Aboriginal knowledge in shaping development across Sydney.
A draft framework, published on Tuesday, aims to help government, industry, and developers strengthen connections with Indigenous people to guide the way buildings and precincts are planned, designed and built.
Mr Kombumerri used White Bay, which the government wants to redevelop, to illustrate what these principles might look like in shaping a new precinct. He said there would ideally be an emphasis on using local materials.
“Public access is very important. You would need to get very close to the water. If not feet-in-the-water close then you need pedestrian access. We don’t close off our important natural features to the public.”
NSW Government Architect Abbie Galvin said Indigenous culture had previously been factored into design and planning “in a really sporadic, ad hoc way”, with a “blind spot” to the importance of acknowledging country.
“I think what we need to be seeing is an increased participation of Aboriginal people – participation, not just consultation – and that needs to be through more of a leadership role.
“It’s not the final layer and putting a painting on the wall. It’s looking at the whole building or the precinct.”
Ms Galvin pointed to the redevelopments of Circular Quay, Blackwattle Bay, the Bays West precinct and construction of western Sydney’s Aerotropolis as projects which would benefit from Indigenous principles.
“As Caucasians, we have a very people-centric approach. We manage the environment and we forget the whole system.
“Aboriginal culture is so focused on a broad system – as a person you’re part of that system, you don’t lead the system.”
Ms Galvin expected there might possibly be pushback from some Aboriginal communities which didn’t think the policy framework went far enough but said the framework was about “opening a door to creating a new process”.
Mr Kombumerri worked on the Connecting with Country discussion paper with members of the Aboriginal community and said it was important to start the conversation.
“It’s new and it’s messy and it probably will always be messy, but we have to enter this space.”
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Megan Gorrey is the Urban Affairs reporter at The Sydney Morning Herald.