What does it mean to be a university on Aboriginal land?

12 November 2020
It's all around us and throughout our campus
The University’s Walanga Wingara Mura Design Principles guide the expression of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures in the very fabric of our University and beyond.

Did you know that many places on campus were designed to reflect our connection to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and Country?

For example, the planting of Gadi trees across campus, or the artwork on the façade of the Social Sciences building that displays the word garabara, meaning ‘corroboree’ or ‘dance’, or the sculpture of a dilly bag which recognises Aboriginal woman who gathered food and bush medicine for their communities.

From its earliest days, the University was proudly in and of this land. As Australia’s first university, it is important to consider our social responsibility and leadership in embracing the values and principles of the world’s oldest continuous culture.

The Walanga Wingara Mura Design Principles (pdf, 3.1MB) inform how the University belongs to this country, and what it means to be on and learn from lands that to Aboriginal people, have always been places of learning, knowledge exchange and wellbeing.

Here are more examples you might have seen around the Camperdown and Darlington Campus:

Gadi tree

Gadi tree

Gadi, known as the Xanthorrea, or grass tree, have been planted at the front entrance of the University from City Road and throughout the campus to acknowledge the land and people of this place. Gadigal, meaning Gadi people, is derived from the word Gadi and they used the tree for a range of purposes. The Gadi are unique to this continent and not too long ago, Sydney’s landscape was defined by their presence.


Garabara artwork

Garabara, an artwork in the new Social Sciences Building, is the first project in the University’s history to integrate public art into the fabric of a building. The work, by Aboriginal artist Robert Andrew, acknowledges the Gadi peoples of this Land. The work displays the Sydney language word for corroboree or dance – Garabara, which is eroded into the surface of the building.

River plantings

River plantings

There are Indigenous references in plantings across public spaces – for example, here illustrating the natural creek that once ran across what is now Eastern Avenue.

From gardens to monuments and institutions, what we do to the land tells a story. The narrative of landscape is something that Aboriginal people have always understood, it is our history, our present and our future. Our story of connection to Country is something that has and always will be present.
Arcadia Landscape Architecture
Spine 2 by Dale Harding

Spine 2 by Dale Harding

“The work is an acknowledgement of the Great Dividing Range – the sandstone country that rises and falls along the spine of eastern Australia. Many of the University buildings have been built from this sandstone.” Dale Harding, artist, 2018.

Local flora

Local flora around campus

Of more than 2000 trees, approximately 1400 are native. There are more than 500,000 native plants, shrubs and grasses. Landscape areas are developed using symbols and patterns to reflect Indigenous gathering places and original natural environments. 

Transient garden

Transient garden

The Transient garden is an intercultural space that tells a visual story of Aboriginal peoples' past, present and future, and creates a space for deep listening, sharing and learning.

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