Did The Living Pavilion foster understanding of Indigenous knowledge systems (past and present)?

This research project forms part of a series of subprojects associated with The Living Pavilion, a temporary festival that aims to illuminate Indigenous and ecological knowledge of past and present, foster collaboration across disciplines, and share and celebrate the uniqueness and potential of ‘place’.

Research team

Zena Cumpston
Kirsten Parris

Project Objective

Colonisation and construction of the university campus changed the nature of The Living Pavilion site from a nurturing space to a transitory one. This project aims to evaluate the transfer of Indigenous knowledge and knowledge systems to students and the broader community associated with the pavilion.

Key research questions

Did the re-established endemic species on the site improve participants’ understandings of Melbourne’s Aboriginal history?
Did participation in The Living Pavilion help build a sense of place and connection for non-Indigenous peoples which could serve to promote more sustainable practices?
What can we regain and re-awaken by incorporating Indigenous knowledge systems not only into our understandings of place but also into our systems of planning and sustainability?


The Living Pavilion site existed as part of the ecosystem of the Birrarung and was home to the Wurundjeri-Willam for over 60,000 years, providing food, shelter and culture. Colonisation and development has seen the site evolve from a nurtured and nurturing place to a transitory place that is part of an institution.

The history of cities as Aboriginal places is often hidden. Much like the buried creek that still runs through The Living Pavilion site, much of Melbourne’s rich Indigenous history has been covered over, erased and denied. The Traditional Owners of Melbourne continue to care for Country and practice their culture. We aim to highlight the continuation of this culture by re-activating the landscape to reflect its Aboriginal history and belonging.

This project aims to explore how people’s understanding and use of this place has changed over time. By re-establishing endemic species on the site we are asking people to imagine what the city of Melbourne looked like before disruption. We are activating the space up to retell the site’s Indigenous history which stretches back over 60,000 years. Much of our city’s Indigenous history has been hidden by development and The Living Pavilion will work to reveal it. We are also aiming to bring attention to the silencing of Indigenous ecological knowledge and asking people to question why endemic species are not more well-known and present in urban ecology, especially as they serve to open rich narratives about Indigenous culture and are the most sustainable plants which can be grown.

Why is this research important?

It is important to not only assert the city as an Aboriginal place, but also to think about and celebrate the Indigenous knowledge systems which ensured the health and continuation of the biodiversity of this place for thousands of generations. This project aims to highlight the importance of Indigenous knowledge systems with a view to creating a sense of stewardship through knowing these ecologies more intimately.
We hope to foster a sense of belonging through a wider understanding of this place as a cultural space over deep time. We aim for this heightened sense of belonging to enact a more sustainable and respectful interaction with the landscape of the city. We want to highlight Indigenous ecological knowledge as very much living and continuing and to bring more attention and respect to this voracity of this knowledge and the importance of its incorporation into the sustainable management of urban areas.