Australian Indigenous culture and heritage in engineering project planning and the implications for engineering education
BACKGROUND Consideration of Aboriginal Culture and Heritage in the planning of construction, infrastructure development and mining projects is becoming increasingly critical to the financial viability of these projects. Examples exist of long and costly delays caused by community opposition as a result of poorly managed indigenous community consultation and engagement. Government legislation surrounding protocols for managing and preserving culturally significant sites continues to be clarified and strengthened (NSW Government, 2013). It is now essential that engineering students graduating from Australian universities have some appreciation of the history, politics and sensitivities surrounding Australian Indigenous Culture and Heritage.
PURPOSE This paper considers how risks associated with Aboriginal Culture and Heritage is currently being considered in industry in the context of government, private and mining sector engineering project planning and implementation, and the implications for engineering education.
DESIGN/METHOD A group of five final year undergraduate engineering students undertook research into current and past approaches to considering Aboriginal Culture and Heritage in engineering project planning. The students used publicly available documentation including project reports and news articles and reported on various approaches taken and evidence of their success.
RESULTS The research highlighted numerous examples of progressive industry practices in the identification and protection of significant cultural sites through Aboriginal community partnerships and positive collaboration, particularly within the mining sector. Also identified were several unsuccessful interactions between government and private sector developers and Aboriginal communities. It was apparent that successful outcomes largely involved the outsourcing of Aboriginal Culture and Heritage considerations to specialist contractors who develop detailed site studies and protocols for managing sites and engaging with Community.
CONCLUSIONS The mix of successful and unsuccessful interactions between engineering projects and Australian Aboriginal Community groups, together with the emerging practice of outsourcing community engagement suggests that there is a lack of capacity within the engineering profession to effectively consider Aboriginal Culture and Heritage. This research supports the recommendation that opportunities for engineering students to engage with local Aboriginal Community groups and members should be facilitated through Universities to help students develop some connection with Aboriginal Culture and Heritage. Further research involving industry and Aboriginal community groups is also needed to better understand the preparation graduates may need to engage with Community in future.