23 February 2024

Shellharbour's Aboriginal interpretive play space, Yirran muru, recognised for excellence

| Zoe Cartwright
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Kids love the design of Yirran muru playspace

Aboriginal community liaison officer for Shellhabour City Council Maquilla Brown said kids loved the design of the play space Yirran muru. Photo: Shellharbour City Council.

Yirran muru, the Aboriginal interpretive play space located behind the Shellharbour Civic Centre, has won silver at the 2023 Landscape Excellence Awards.

From the escarpment to the sea, Yirran muru, meaning “many pathways”, takes people of all ages on a cultural journey following in the footsteps of local Aboriginal people.

Shellharbour City Council Aboriginal community liaison officer Maquilla Brown said Aboriginal knowledge was at the forefront of the design process every step of the way.

“Our goal for this project was to have an authentic Aboriginal interpretive space,” she said.

“It’s easy to whack some signs in the ground and call them Aboriginal interpretive signs, but to be authentic you need the local community to share their knowledge.

“To begin, we went to four local public schools and spoke to Aboriginal children from Kindergarten to Year 6 and asked them what it should look like and feel like, how they wanted to play and share their culture.

READ ALSO Innovative Aboriginal play space leads kids along a pathway to learning

“We collected drawings and stories from children and used them to inform what elements that would go into the playground.

“Elders gave us guidance around what stories they wanted told, what the signs should look like and what the artworks should look like.

“We also incorporated different styles of Aboriginal learning, so that includes storytelling, kinetic learning, and geographic learning.

“The playground itself is a physical map of the Illawarra, so as kids play they walk around a map of the traditional travel routes Dharrawal people used, from the escarpment to Merrigong and down to the ocean.

“They can climb on the escarpment, cross Lake Illawarra and learn about the geography of our region – we’ve codesigned with Aboriginal culture at the forefront.”

There are multiple interactive elements within the play space, including Burri Burri – a hand carved timber whale, a canoe across Jubborsay (Lake Illawarra), a gunya (dwelling), a treehouse lookout, sandpit, climbing equipment, bush tucker plants and more.

The play space also includes an interactive language wheel, where visitors can listen to and learn words from the Dharawal language and learn more about local Aboriginal culture.

READ ALSO Shellharbour’s Good Neighbour Awards to celebrate simple acts of community kindness

The play space has also been designed to be accessible to children with different needs, from wheelchair users to kids with autism.

“It meets all the guidelines of inclusivity in terms of accessibility, so wheelchair users have room to get around, and different models of learning are built in so people with different learning needs can access the cultural information and education it holds,” Maquilla said.

“It’s a really special space, and it’s really cool to see that recognised.”

The awards celebrate the highest standards and achievement in landscape construction, design and maintenance in NSW and the ACT, showcasing outstanding levels of complexity, quality of workmanship, management expertise, innovation and creativity.

The prize was awarded to Simpson Landscapes and Consulting in the Commercial & Civil Construction $750,000 to $1.5 Million category.

The design aimed to enhance biodiversity of the site by using natural materials and the additional planting of native plants as well as seating, paths and landscaping which improve connectivity to and around the Shellharbour Civic Centre grounds.

Shellharbour City Mayor Chris Homer said he was thrilled with the award, though not surprised it had received industry recognition.

“The Aboriginal interpretive play space is an incredible addition to our city,” Mayor Homer said.

“If you haven’t visited this beautiful play space yet, it is something you really need to see.”

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