20/07/2021 - 17:15

Mapping in 3D transforms heritage consultation for Indigenous communities

20/07/2021 - 17:15


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Mapping in 3D transforms heritage consultation for Indigenous communities
Andrew Dowding conducting heritage consultation work in the Pilbara

People underestimate the power of visualising landscapes in 3D when it comes to engaging with Aboriginal communities, but as a Ngarluma Traditional Owner from the Pilbara, I know that for my Elders there is much more to the story than what a 2D map could ever fully communicate. Our stories, songs and places are all incredibly significant, and lines on a paper map can easily misrepresent them.

Before owning my own Indigenous geospatial business, Winyama, my progression into this space was very organic. I worked with my Traditional Owner group in Roebourne for some years. It was here that I started mapping and understanding how miscommunication between developers and Traditional Owners makes negotiations challenging. We’d often have development applications come into our office on paper maps full of plans and proposals, with polygons drawn around heritage sites. This form of communication didn’t resonate with my Elders, who were overwhelmed with the intricacies that two-dimensional map projections come with. I realised there was an opportunity to improve these maps to communicate the bigger picture. My method was to display Google Earth to show the exact location of a place, in 3D; once Elders could see their country, how it looks in their mind—then we could have understanding and start discussions. 

Through my own knowledge of country, I came to better understand the differences in communication between stakeholder groups involved in these conversations. I knew there was a way to have those same conversations in a simplified and productive manner for all parties. At Winyama, we strive to bridge this gap in understanding and community collaboration through technology. Our method of working is what can help balance a previously imbalanced process of communication between stakeholders in negotiations over land development. 

The importance of this is highlighted through culture-shifting events like Jukkan Gorge. Last year we saw the consequences of what can occur when communication between parties breaks down. It was the catalyst for important conversations and the asking of questions about what could have been done, and more poignantly—what can be done in the future?  

It would be remiss to exclude that failings of the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 (WA) contributed to the destruction of Juukan Gorge in 2020. However, for the first time in over 30 years, the Act is under revision and change is impending. Following Jukkan Gorge, an interim report entitled Never Again was published, seeking to give some explanation for what had occurred. The inquiry concluded a number of preventative recommendations. One of those recommendations outlined mining companies should; ‘facilitate the sharing of all heritage information and mapping technology used by mining companies with relevant PBCs, to correct information asymmetry and ensure Traditional Owners have access to records of their cultural heritage and are resourced to set up their own mapping initiatives.’ To facilitate the sharing of heritage information with mapping technology, mining companies should swiftly be exploring the use of 3D GIS as a storytelling and communication tool, rather than simply a repository of spatial data. The updated Act and the recommendations of the inquiry, combined with the seismic shift in shareholder expectations, represents a shift in industrial conduct and dealings with Traditional Owners. 

Our team at Winyama has developed the capability to streamline the process of knowledge sharing. Through the use of powerful 3D GIS visualisation technology; we are enabling mining companies and Traditional Owners to have productive and transparent discussions about impacts to lands and waters. The technology enables overlay of high quality aerial imagery and terrain data, with sites of cultural significance on top, to recreate a virtual landscape, one that can be navigated by Traditional Owners.

Indigenous Australians are no longer removed from the map. With a click of a button or scroll of a mousewheel, they are very much present within the map, within that site—able to pan around, view things from a human scale and comprehend information in a way that’s much more tangible and personal. You’re no longer talking about abstract points, lines or polygons on a map. You’re able to pan into and around sites that Traditional Owners know about, have been to, and can now visualise in a digital space. 

We are already working with a leading Western Australian mining company to integrate our 3D solution into their community engagement and heritage workflows, ensuring that plans presented to Traditional Owners are of the highest quality. We have ambitions for how this technology will develop over time and are excited to continue this important work. 

At the end of the day, it is up to business leaders to drive innovation and embrace technology within their organisations as we strive to connect community and economy together. Winyama's unique position as an Indigenous-owned business enables us to provide guidance and direction in this space, visit our website for more information.


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