First Nations Articles & Useful Documents

1 June 2023

A number of excellent articles, reports and documents aim to help practitioners gain a better understanding of First Nations knowledge and designing with Country. This resource roundup is by no means exhaustive. We will continue to add resources over time.

National Standard of Competency for Architects (NSCA)

The NSCA 2021 introduces “the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People’s ongoing connection and custodianship of Country”, with related performance criteria on understanding how to “implement culturally responsive and meaningful engagement processes” (PC 8), understanding “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ aspirations to care for Country and how these inform architectural design” (PC 17), understanding how to “embed the knowledge, worldviews and perspectives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, shared through engagement processes, into the conceptual design in a meaningful, respectful and appropriate way” (PC 27) and understanding how to “apply creative imagination, design precedents, emergent knowledge, critical evaluation and continued engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples to produce a coherent project design.” (PC 36).

2021 NSCA Explanatory Notes and Definitions

These explanatory notes and definitions help explain the new competencies around Understanding Country and Environmental Sustainability, Life Cycle Assessment and Whole Life Carbon.

As AACA CEO Kathlyn Loseby explains:

“This is a guide document. It offers definitions of new terms, explanations of what the performance criteria mean in practice, and examples of how competency might be demonstrated at different stages of an architect’s development.”

Dr Danièle Hromek (Budawang/Yuin) wrote the definitions, explanatory notes and examples that relate to Understanding Country.

Defined terms include ‘Country’, ‘Caring for Country’, ‘Respects Country’, ‘Implications for Country’, ‘First Nations land management’, ‘Cultural practices’, ‘Culturally responsive’, ‘Cultural competence’, ‘Cultural safety, ‘Engagement processes’, ‘reciprocal relationship’, ‘Cultural knowledge’, ‘Knowledge holders’, ‘Vouching’, ‘Authorship of cultural knowledge’, ‘Cultural appropriation’, ‘Law’ and ‘Lore’.

Connecting with Country – Government Architect NSW

The Connecting with Country Draft Framework aims to develop connections with Country that can inform the planning, design and delivery of built environment projects in NSW. The document’s ambition is to improve the health and wellbeing of Country by realising three long-term strategic goals: reduce the impacts of natural events such as fire, drought and flooding; value and respect Aboriginal cultural knowledge with Aboriginal people co-leading design and development of all NSW infrastructure projects; and ensure Country is cared for appropriately and sensitive sites are protected by Aboriginal people having access to their homelands to continue their cultural practices.

Language and Terminology for Referencing Aboriginal Culture and Heritage in the Design of the Built Environment

Authored by Danièle Hromek (2019)

Using correct language is an important part of truth telling, which is vital to true reconciliation and conciliation. This excellent guide has been written to support more respectful and appropriate engagement with Aboriginal culture and heritage in the design of the built environment. It identifies words that are outdated, derogatory or inappropriate, and helps us learn the best ways to communicate in an informed and respectful manner. It educates about policies and events from Australian history and reminds us of related sensitivities around hurtful language and terminology.

Cultural Principles and Protocols for Designers

Authored by Danièle Hromek and Terri Janke (2017, republished 2021)

This excellent document outlines principles and protocols for designers, architects and planners, and those working in related industries proposing to work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities. They are also relevant for academic design staff intending to incorporate cultural content into their curricula. Topics covered include Respect; Indigenous Agency; Communication, consultation, negotiation and consent; Interpretation, integrity and authenticity; Secrecy and confidentiality; Attribution and copyright; Benefit sharing and reciprocity; Continuing Cultures; and Recognition and protection.

Protocols are presented in concise, accessible bullet pointed lists. A series of questions are posed for each topic for practitioners to consider. Observing these protocols promotes interaction based upon mutual respect and encourages ethical, reflective conduct.


First Nations Cultural Safety Framework

Sharon Gollan & Kathleen Stacey, Australian Evaluation Society (2021)

This document helps build understanding of what cultural safety means. It explains what non-Indigenous people can do to create experiences of cultural safety, including examining the values and beliefs of the dominant culture, and critical self-reflection (with a comprehensive series of useful questions to consider). It outlines tasks and tactics for becoming an ally in anti-racism and cultural safety.


The Indigenizing practice series, ArchitectureAU

A comprehensive series of articles by ArchitectureAU on a variety of topics, including connecting with Country, cultural safety, cultural consultants, RAPs and decolonising design.

“Architecture and cultural consultants”

Troy Casey, Chris Bassi & Kieran Wong with Georgia Birks, ArchitectureAU (March 2022)

Troy Casey and Chris Bassi from the Indigenous-owned business Blaklash Creative, and Kieran Wong from The Fulcrum Agency, discuss how their ‘arranged marriage’ has developed into an ongoing working relationship with the aim of leveraging community and social outcomes. In this insightful interview, they spoke with Georgia Birks about collaborations between architects, First Nations consultants and communities.

“We all want to look at beautiful buildings and functional spaces. But will these designing-with-Country strategies actually create more meaningful relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people? Can the inclusion of First Nations voices help to reconcile the history of these places?” — Troy Casey

“Documenting Indigenous projects for publication”

Sarah Lynn Rees & Finn Pedersen, ArchitectureAU (July 2021)

Sarah Lynn Rees and Finn Pedersen provide a practical guide to documenting Indigenous projects for publication.

“While acknowledgement is important, in order to show true respect, we need to move beyond acknowledgement to document the processes, relationships and outcomes of the project, preferably by centralizing the Indigenous voices that contributed. This requires a shift away from a more traditional, marketing-based approach and starts with a series of fundamental questions about the article you are writing: Why is it being written? Whom does it benefit? Whose voices does it represent? Can it contribute to a wider understanding of Indigenous architecture and process?”

“What is cultural safety and how do we design for it?”

Danièle Hromek, ArchitectureAU (January 2023)

Danièle Hromek explains why it is imperative that designers understand cultural safety and consider it from project conception onwards.

“For First Nations peoples, culturally safe spaces are environments where First Nations histories are visible, First Nations identities are supported and First Nations experiences are respected. Cultural safety requires that we do not speak for others or on behalf of others without their approval. Cultural safety creates a space for those who are often silenced to voice their concerns and a space for those who, historically, have been excluded.”