Winter 2002

Karijini Centre (text in full)

A visitor centre offers a path
to understanding the outback

The self-rusting steel walls of the Karijini Visitor Centre in Pilbara rise from the red earth like a natural formation. The national park served by the centre (designed by Woodhead International) is the second largest in Western Australia and it is home to the Banyjima, Kurrama and Yinhawangka Aboriginal people. For David Lancashire, who created the exhibition housed by this remarkable building, it is the latest in a series of projects in which he explores his love of Australia’s landscape and his respect for its indigenous people.

Born in Stockport, England, Lancashire arrived in Australia in the mid-1960s. He was overwhelmed by his first experience of the outback – ‘It has changed my outlook on the way I approach design,’ he says – and he kept returning, often in the company of his wife Di, an anthropologist.

Their work with indigenous communities requires careful observation of Aboriginal protocols, humility and patience. It can take months, even years of consultation before a project begins.

‘Being a designer you are not dominant,’ says Lancashire. ‘You are actually more transparent. You say “What do you reckon?” rather than “I’ve done this design. I reckon we’ll do this.” ’ The Karijini project drew on the knowledge of the land’s Aboriginal owners, park rangers, botanists, geologists and ecologists to explain the region’s historical, geographical and anthropological significance.

‘Whether it’s animals, plant life, or trees,’ says Lancashire, ‘everything has a reason for being and it becomes part of the spirituality of the place – there’s a sense of place. This is being openly discussed in a broader sense now. People are trying to understand it more, so it is moving forward. The sooner white people realise that Aboriginal people have a lot to offer, the sooner they’ll feel more at home.’