Old Ways, New: How the world’s oldest living culture can help shape sustainability

Old Ways, New

How the world’s oldest living culture can help shape sustainability
Angie Abdilla, Old Ways, New founder and CEO

When the world’s oldest living culture informs the heart of the design, development and delivery of places, authentic outcomes that nurture both people and planet are possible.

Old Ways, New empowers projects and organisations to draw on the knowledge, strengths and insights of Traditional Owners and Indigenous communities, reshaping the whole notion of consultation and putting Indigenous perspectives and the wellbeing of Country at the heart of decision-making.

Differences between cultures

Chief executive Angie Abdilla explains that what is often missing in discussions about the built environment and the land it occupies is an appreciation of the differences between Western ideas about culture and Indigenous ideas of culture.

The Western paradigm is more transactional, seeing culture as something that is purchased as an object or experience. In contrast, Australian Indigenous culture embeds process and protocols in everything Indigenous people do. And, at the core, lies belonging to Country, caring for Country and caring for kin.

“We all have traditional practices that relate to place, it is at the heart of identity,” Angie says.

“Our practice enables people to design processes that support the cultural integrity of Indigenous traditional knowledges and familial relationships with Country, to come through in design, engineering and building for genuine placemaking.”

Old Ways New is both a consultancy for developing the policies, practices and processes that will create genuine relationships between organisations and communities, and a provider of the digitally-driven strategies, platforms and products that connect place and peoples.

Community engagement

Angie says it is also important to have deeper conversations to discover the “problem behind the problem” to better address community needs and concerns. “This always starts with working with Traditional Owners and then developing the engagement strategies relevant to the problem we are solving for our clients. For example, working with an Indigenous water scientist on a water management strategy applying traditional knowledges to the engineering and technologies to harness flooding within the built environment.

She sees many benefits from taking this community approach.

It leads to “genuine placemaking …. who better to have involved than the original people who can build those bridges?”

Assisting to reveal how Indigenous knowledges and understanding of Country is a foundational prerequisite of development also enables non-Indigenous people to “relate to place in a powerful and deep way.” Furthermore, this creates opportunities for non-Indigenous people to share in a uniquely Australian culture that has been relating to a place “since the beginning of time”.

The approach is far beyond box-ticking exercises, like gaining consent to a development from Traditional Owners. It is also about achieving genuine sustainability for both people and planet.

Long history of sustainability

“Sustainability” is a relative newcomer in Western development discourse, but it is “at the heart of our old ways”, Angie says.

Fundamental perspectives integral to Indigenous culture and Lore, such as caring for Country and caring for kin, are not just guiding principles. Rather, they are practices embedded in everything Indigenous people do.

Indigenous-led design doesn’t just look at standard metrics around environmental impacts. It considers the needs of the environment and community in every decision made from design through to delivery.

“In the Eurocentric perspective, humans sit at the top and hold a dominant position [over nature]. From the Indigenous perspective, it is a symbiotic and reciprocal relationship,” she  says.

“We are the oldest living people and continuum of culture, belonging to the driest continent on earth. Our people are world-class examples of successful natural resource, land management and sustainability.

“In terms of how to live equitably and sustainably – our people do it best.”

The health of Country also affects the wellbeing of people who dwell there. “If it is not healthy Country, often the community is not healthy either,” Angie says.

Indigenous-led processes are not the same thing as human centred-design, she explains.

“Human-centred design puts reductive user groups at the centre of all decision-making resulting in often individualistic and economic outcomes. Our process, Country-centred design looks at the needs of Country first and incorporates a holistic and integrated decision making process.”

Old Ways, New takes a community focused approach

Finding the most appropriate technology

The use of digital technologies and approaches to deliver its services puts Old Ways New at the nexus of Indigenous-led progress.

“Technology is ubiquitous, it is now part of every aspect of our lives,” Angie says.

“It is shaping the way that we see and operate in the world.”

Her practice recognises the deep history and sophisticated knowledges at the basis of technology design and development, such as the boomerang, as the first example of asymmetrical lift.

“The legacy of Indigenous Traditional Knowledges behind the design, engineering and technology development such as the boomerang is enabling Old Ways, New to offer new emerging technologies that are developed through the principles and practices of caring for Country, caring for Kin,” Angie says.

“When we develop technology it is from the basis of service and or, experience and then we investigate what the most appropriate digital platform and product is.

“Our products typically are socially responsive, and always embraces Aboriginal relational placemaking through our highly nuanced and delicately balanced environment.”

Old Ways, New

Consultants | Australia | Sydney