This NAIDOC Week, Five Indigenous Engineers Share How the Profession Can Help Heal Country

NAIDOC Week 2021 kicked off on July 4, and to mark the occasion, create asked five Indigenous engineers to share their thoughts on this year’s theme “Heal Country,” as well as the practical contributions the engineering profession can offer to help make it a reality.

Dr. Craig Cowled, structural engineer, researcher and teacher in engineering

Dr Craig Cowled is a Worimi whose country stretches from Port Stephens to Taree, NSW.

Cowled began his professional life as an estimator of timber frame trusses before becoming a structural engineer and completing a doctorate in structural health monitoring of bridges. He now teaches at the Queensland University of Technology and conducts research for the Engineered Wood Products Association of Australasia, where he recently developed high capacity shear wood walls for mid-rise buildings that are eight times stronger than existing systems.

“I think a lot of Westerners hear the word ‘Country’ and think it’s a piece of land, but it’s about everything – nature in this space and the relationship between everything in this space.

This interconnected and complex web of dependence that everything has on all other elements of the system is important in indigenous ways of being. So, one of the key things that comes to your mind when you think of Healing Country is climate change, which is a result of our overuse of certain resources.

As engineers, we can help find ways to decarbonize our lives and return to a way of being more in balance with the world around us. I think engineers have a very important role to play in helping people see the life cycle costs of all the actions people take – not just financial, but in terms of impact on the planet.

My challenge for people is to really think long term. People think the long term is 50 years. No. If your industry and the way you do things only get you 50 years old, that’s not sustainable. I want people to really think long term – thousands of years. Is this something we can continue to do forever? It is something that will be truly sustainable.

Ruby Heard, Electrical Engineer, CPEng

Ruby Heard has Jaru ancestors in the Kimberleys, Western Australia.

After starting as a building services engineer at Arup in Melbourne, Heard now runs his own consulting firm, Alinga Energy Consulting, specializing in engineering feasibility and design for renewable energy and micro-grids. One of its current projects includes energy feasibility studies for six isolated indigenous communities in Western Australia. To capture the learnings, she documents her findings on sustainable energy solutions for remote communities in a PhD with the University of Melbourne.

“Native people believe that if the earth is sick, we are sick, and if we are sick, the land is sick because we are completely connected. So it’s not just the land of healing; it must also be about healing people. Aboriginal people still suffer from so much generational trauma.

From my recent experience, some engineers think that engineering is just about technology, and social, economic and environmental aspects are not engineering. This is how we hurt Country in the first place: by not considering the environmental, cultural and social aspects. So let’s make sure that engineers are now part of the solution.

My role now is to look at sustainable and responsible design and encourage other engineers to do the same, because if we don’t consider who we’re designing for, then what’s our goal? It all depends on the end user and the environment.

The projects I do in WA are very close to my own country. This is my first opportunity to go to the country my crowd comes from and have a beneficial impact on this community, so it’s really exciting for me.

I will be doing a few trips this year to understand the real challenges. A lot of times we don’t, because it’s a more expensive and time consuming way to do things, but it’s the right way to do things, and it’s the only way to get really proper solutions. .

Alex Devlin, civil engineer, ACCIONA Construction

Alex Devlin is a Kamilaroi male from northern New South Wales.

Devlin has worked on several large infrastructure projects, but the Northern Road Upgrade Stage 3 in Western Sydney, which transformed the artery from two to four lanes in preparation for the new Western Sydney Airport, is its largest to date. His current role as Site Engineer at ACCIONA is to help implement demolition and bridge construction and property adjustments for road widening under real traffic conditions.

“For me, Heal Country means a lot of collaboration, active listening and taking into account the concerns of Indigenous peoples.

As engineers we get involved a lot with the land, so we have to make sure that we don’t destroy anything that we shouldn’t be and give the local indigenous community the best opportunities to get involved through the employment or use of Aboriginal businesses.

At the industry level, one of the things that I would like to see is to involve the language in the projects.

Here we have found an innovative way to install stormwater drainage using slip formwork, instead of traditional formwork to install ACO drains, because slip forming is much faster and safer. We asked ourselves “what should we call this type of storm water system?” We approached the local indigenous community and, together with them, found “Badu Maru”, which means “water path” in the local Dharug language.

It’s rooted in the region and involves the local language and technical innovation, so it’s a good intertwining.

The invigorating language makes it a less foreign and more common subject to hear the native language on the spot. “

Jemila Darr, Environmental Engineer, GHD

Jemila Darr is a proud Yuibera woman from Mackay in North Queensland.

As a member of GHD’s Contamination Assessment and Remediation Team, Darr monitors and assesses groundwater and soil for projects across Australia. One of his current projects is to assess whether a former wastewater treatment plant in New South Wales next to sensitive receptors can be rehabilitated into a park.

“As First Nations people, we have been here for over 40,000 years. We were the first engineers, the first scientists, the first astronomers. Our whole approach is to protect our land, water and wildlife. But Victoria’s Djab Wurrungs fought just to keep the tree of birth sacred. You have the Wangan and Jagalingou fighting against Adani.

The essence of Heal Country is to make it known that we are always fighting to protect cultural heritage, protect the land, protect the water, protect whatever makes us feel connected to this place, our country.

I would love to see more connection, communication and transparency with the engineers who connect with First Nations people, talk to traditional owners, talk to land boards and get their opinion on how things could be done in the best way. more efficient or effective.

It should not be technical knowledge; it is about finding a solution to a problem that incorporates different opinions and ideas that are not common. We need to make sure we do it in the most respectful way possible. “

Grant Maher FIEAust CPEng, Director at Jabin Group Pty Ltd

Grant Maher is a descendant of the Gumbaynggirr and Biripi peoples of northern New South Wales.

Maher is a facade engineer and directs Engineers Australia Indigenous Engineering Group.

“When I think of Heal Country, it has to come from both sides: an understanding that we all live together as a community and that we respect each other. We all agree that terrible things have happened in the past, but we must heal together to move forward and achieve proper reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. “

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