In Summary

The Gija community has brought new life to the Western Australian town of Warmun in a public art project facilitated by Swinburne Communication Design Lecturer, Dr Samantha Edwards-Vandenhoek.

A research grant gave Dr Edwards-Vandenhoek the opportunity to live in Warmun, Western Australia for one month, where she spent time working with the Gija community, exploring inclusive design practices.

Four years ago there was a large flood in Warmun. The town needed to be rebuilt in many parts, but the community didn’t get much of a say in what or how it was rebuilt.

A group of locals paint a mural in the desert

Working with Melbourne street artist Tom Civil, Dr Edwards-Vandenhoek met with the people in Warnum. They spoke to local residents, from school students, art centre workers through to Elders, to find out how they would like to add some life and colour to the town.

"Public art can build resilience and a sense of place. It can also build a sense of pride, connection and empowerment, so it was really important that we consulted with the community properly,” Dr Edwards-Vandenhoek said.

“Through an inclusive consultation process, we were able to find what the people of Warnum wanted added to the town buildings.

“We painted a mural focused on the Gija dreaming story of the wedge-tailed eagle on the community centre. It was a challenge to tell such a complex and layered story in a bold and meaningful way on the largest corrugated surface in Warmun. We worked night and day utilising digital projections to map out the lettering and image elements.

“It also has a large Aboriginal flag on it, which the people felt was important to have on display. In a time of the threat forced closures, the flag is not only a powerful symbol of cultural pride. It is an important reminder that living on country is not a lifestyle choice.”

Dr Edwards-Vandenhoek works at a table with a local

Dr Edwards-Vandenhoek also got to share her passion for design with the children and youth or Warnum.

“While I was there I ran a number of school holiday activities for the local children. We gave them cameras and they got to go out and photograph their surrounds. They painted portraits and produced smaller more ephemeral paste up works too.”

Dr Edwards-Vandenhoek said that her time in Warmun allowed her to deepen her understanding of design in different cultures, as well as share some of her knowledge with the local community.

“Melbourne is such a large, cultural hub for design, so it can be easy to forget that it is not like that everywhere. Engaging with the local people and getting them involved in art helped to build their design aspirations and think about what a career in design could involve.”

“This project has been a very culturally rich experience for me. You could even say life-changing. I built up such strong connections with the people of Warmun. I learnt so much from my time up there. I hope that they felt the same.”

View more photos of the project on Swinburne's Flickr.