Articles First Nations perspectives at Wurun Senior Campus a rare example of Indigenous storytelling embedded in design

First Nations knowledge, stories, history and culture are at the heart of Wurun Senior Campus, a new vertical school in Melbourne.

Located on the traditional land of the Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung people, Wurun Senior Campus → is part of the historic Fitzroy Gasworks urban renewal site in Fitzroy North, in inner Melbourne.

The First Nations designs featured throughout the campus are a rare example of interpretive storytelling about contested and difficult histories in a Victorian public space that is not a museum.

Through an inclusive design process with the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung Cultural Heritage Aboriginal Corporation, the design team has embedded a First Nations narrative throughout the campus fabric by providing meaningful interpretive elements for students, teachers and the community. The engagement process was facilitated by SHP (Sue Hodges Productions Pty Ltd) and included representatives from the Victorian Schools Building Authority along with Collingwood College and Fitzroy High School, the two schools which the new senior secondary campus serves.

To have the Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung stories and artwork as part of our school building is a wonderful foundation in which to construct a school culture of understanding and pride in our First Nations history. Our campus logo is inspired by the Manna Gum leaf and is a symbol of our effort to continue to embed the First Nations narrative in our values, curriculum and culture.

Chris Millard, Wurun Senior Campus Principal

The Wominjeka ‘Welcome’ sign outside the campus entry features illustrations of the Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung people’s Creator Spirits, Bunjil the Wedge-tailed Eagle and Waa the Crow, by First Nations artist Ash Firebrace.

Native planting at the courtyard entry and on the landscaped outdoor terraces contain species important to Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung people. Interpretive labels help observers understand each plant’s cultural significance and its traditional and current uses.

A compelling 25-metre long mural on the internal glass wall of the ground level concourse depicts stories from Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung, selected by the Elders, while a series of panels on level 1 feature the stories of significant First Nations Elders.

Colour tones of Manna Gum tree bark, leaves and buds inspired the campus interior colour scheme and further reinforce the connection to Country. The campus name, Wurun, is the Woi-wurrung word for the Manna Gum tree, a key feature of the area’s natural landscape and an important resource for the local Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung people.

Each Indigenous design element is a powerful reminder of the importance of First Nations narratives and what can be achieved through collaborative design. It’s been a privilege to be part of this project and see how the history and culture of the Wurundjeri people enriches the learning experience at Wurun Senior Campus.

Jason Embley, Grimshaw Principal

Paul Thatcher, GHD Design Director of Architecture, said “It was a privilege to hear the stories of the Wurundjeri people and to work with them to weave their history and culture in the design of the Wurun Senior Campus. Capturing this knowledge in the built form will ensure ongoing awareness and a greater appreciation of First Nations perspectives by the campus community.” 

Having an Indigenous name for the campus and these design elements as part of the campus fabric will build on the First Nations perspectives within the school’s curriculum and help ensure continuation of the Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung peoples’ stories, history and culture well into the future.