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Aboriginal Design Can Transform Communities

If good design is a process of making sound decisions to solve problems, then it would be a logical assumption that design has much to offer the Aboriginal communities in Australia. Through my work with Merrima Design over the last 15years and now as the Creative Director of the National Aboriginal Design Agency, I have seen the potential of design not only as a product but as a process to make a positive impact in communities. Design can transform communities, culturally, economically and socially.

Culturally, Aboriginal design is significant in that it is a contemporary language for storytelling and providing new ways for communities to express their identity. The Wilcannia Hospital tells the story of 'Pardi' the River Cod who is an important totem and cultural symbol to the Barkinji people. Aboriginal Design can also be a platform to bring cultural values to bear. From extended kin-ship networks and the importance of family to our connection to Country, the built environment can incorporate and celebrate Aboriginal cultural values.

Economically, Aboriginal design has the power to provide financial independence within communities and employment of tradespeople and builders in the construction is just the start. The National Aboriginal Design Agency brokers opportunities for Artists in the built environment by licensing their artwork onto carpets, textiles, lighting and furniture. Through commissions and royalties, this social enterprise is providing meaningful employment to artists so that they can remain 'on Country' and earn a living.

Socially, Aboriginal design can empower communities, not only by providing meaningful employment but by providing a sense of ownership over the process. In Wilcannia, the community committee that oversaw the design and construction became leaders for projects beyond the life of the hospital redevelopment.

Alison PageAlison Page

Alison Page is descendant of the Walbanga and Wadi Wadi people of the Yuin nation. She is an award-winning Designer and Executive Officer of the Saltwater Freshwater Arts Alliance on the Mid North coast of New South Wales. The Alliance is governed by ten Local Aboriginal Land Councils on the NSW Mid North Coast hosts a range of cultural programs including the annual Saltwater Freshwater Festival and the National Aboriginal Design Agency.

Since 1997, Ms Page has worked with various urban and rural Aboriginal communities in the delivery of culturally appropriate architectural and design services in association with Merrima Design. Exploring links between cultural identity, art and design, her work spans architecture, interiors, jewellery and public art.

In 2013, Alison was named the Female Regional/ Rural Entrepreneur Manager of the Year in the National Australia Bank Women's Agenda Leadership Awards and was named by Crikey as one of the top ten women to watch.

For eight years Ms Page was a regular panellist of the ABC program The New Inventors. Alison is a board member of Ninti One Ltd and the Indigenous Land Corporation. In 2011 Alison was appointed by the Prime Minister to the Expert Panel for the Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous People.