I’ve been lucky enough to collaborate with the Wilcannia Men’s Group to design and start fitting out a Men’s Hub in Wilcannia. The Men’s group are a collection of local residents who are taking a community response to mental health and social support, and the Hub is a place for the group to run their important programs from.
On my side, the project was linked to my PhD, developing a Re-authoring approach to Social Design. We worked together to develop a process that brought this research together with local narrative practice, where the design process and physical space aimed to strengthen stories of pride, respect and connection to culture, whilst challenging some of the unwanted narratives that hang over Wilcannia.
We’re still working together to articulate that approach but in short we spent a couple of months sharing and enriching preferred stories and collecting them on a ‘River Map’, a map that reflected the Barkindji story, “the people of the river”. We traced the history of these stories and then explored the way they could be carried forward into the future.
The next month then focused on designing the Hub and building furniture for the space. In the design we spoke a lot about place, it’s relationship with identity and ways that the Hub could support the preferred stories to grow. The guys spoke of sacred areas and the way these work, the feelings they evoke and the role they play in shaping identity. Whilst acknowledging that the Hub was in a Western building, not on country, it couldn’t be a sacred ‘area’, but maybe it could be a sacred ‘place’, somewhere that can support people to connect with some traditional values and knowledges, build identity and support trips to country
The space was organised in a way that reflected a sacred area, with different areas for different functions; a healing room for one on one yarns with brothers or elders, a gathering room for circle council, a place for respite, a place for learning and a place to “meet the mob”.
We then ran a 5 week carpentry course in collaboration with TAFE to build furniture for the Hub. Everything was built from recycled materials that were gathered from the local area. Each piece was built to celebrate the stories that people had shared and were working to strengthen, either through their form, materials, or the way they were used.
A table for the healing room told stories of ‘night time by the river’
a bench also told stories of travelling by the river, but with sheering gear for the legs, telling another layer of Wilcannia’s past.
And for the garden a large compass that points to all of the Barkindji sites in the area.
The place is still growing, we’ll tell the story and outline our process in more detail soon