‘Post Mine: Leigh Creek Futures’ Studio

The studio Post Mine: Leigh Creek Futures is the first design studio Masters of Landscape Architecture undertake. As part of this course they travelled to Leigh Creek on the 29 March to the 4th April with two tutors Dan Hidvegi and Lin Ma and Professor Gini Lee from the University of Melbourne and myself. 40 students participated, many of them international students. Post Mine: Leigh Creek Futures takes as its starting point the recent closure of the Leigh Creek open cut coal mine and associated power plant in Port Augusta. What are the subsequent implications for the Leigh Creek Township and the mine site? Themes include arid ecologies, post mining rehabilitations, shrinking rural populations, cultural landscapes, tourism, considering indigenous perspectives and narratives of water. The studio is a case study that has implications for mine and post mine design, arid ecologies and working with indigenous communities everywhere. The region comprises the homeland of the Adnyamathanha people and holds an abundance of meaning and cultural significance that needs to be respected.

The Indigenous Course Enrichment activities were highlight of the trip.  Firstly our introductory tour Yura Udnyu – Our Culture, Your Culture at Wilpena/Ikara was a wonderful introduction to the creation story and plant use. Our Adnyamathanha guide Mick McKenzie was also very positive about reconciliation and the future.

Later on we spent a whole day with Adnyamathanha traditional owner Enice Marsh and her nephew Reg Wilton from Warkarla Glass Gorge Tours.  They developed a program especially for us based on the Leigh Creek themes of the studio. This included visiting fossils found at the coal mine (that reaffirmed the creation story from the earlier presentation), the Lyndhurst Ochre mine (with the obvious comparisons with Leigh Creek Coalfield) and finally a discussion about the importance and respect for water at the Aroona Dam.

We had very good response from students. Two students in the class are of Indigenous background so not surprisingly they were pleased and animated on the trip. Students were engaged and really eager to ask questions. There were many other discussions including about kinship laws. Simple binaries were broken down (Reg worked in the mine workshop as a younger man, Enice was born in the area at Balcanoona and later lived at Leigh Creek, her husband also working at the mine for a time.) One Chinese student came up to me privately to say that he had a more positive attitude toward Indigenous peoples now. I think the firsthand experience of place and people building upon lecture based presentations and theoretical written material was the key to enhancing Aboriginal knowledge and perspectives into the course.

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