First Nations perspectives at Victorian vertical high school a rare example of Indigenous storytelling embedded in design

First Nations knowledge, stories, history and culture are at the heart of Victorian vertical school, Wurun Senior Campus, designed by GHD Design and Grimshaw for the Victorian School Building Authority (VSBA) and built by BESIX Watpac.

Located on the traditional land of the Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung people, Wurun Senior Campus is part of the historic Fitzroy Gasworks urban renewal site in Fitzroy North, in inner Melbourne.

The First Nations designs featured throughout the campus are a rare example of interpretive storytelling about contested and difficult histories in a Victorian public space that is not a museum.

Through an inclusive design process with the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung Cultural Heritage Aboriginal Corporation, the design team has embedded a First Nations narrative throughout the campus fabric by providing meaningful interpretive elements for students, teachers and the community. The engagement process was facilitated by SHP (Sue Hodges Productions Pty Ltd) and included representatives from the VSBA along with Collingwood College and Fitzroy High School, the two schools which the new senior secondary campus serves.

The Wominjeka ‘Welcome’ sign outside the campus entry features illustrations of the Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung people’s Creator Spirits, Bunjil the Wedge-tailed Eagle and Waa the Crow, by First Nations artist Ash Firebrace.

Native planting at the courtyard entry and on the landscaped outdoor terraces contain species important to Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung people. Interpretive labels help observers understand each plant’s cultural significance and its traditional and current uses.

A compelling 25-metre long mural on the internal glass wall of the ground level concourse depicts stories from Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung, selected by the Elders, while a series of panels on level 1 feature the stories of significant First Nations Elders.

Colour tones of Manna Gum tree bark, leaves and buds inspired the campus interior colour scheme and further reinforce the connection to Country. The campus name, Wurun, is the Woi-wurrung word for the Manna Gum tree, a key feature of the area’s natural landscape and an important resource for the local Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung people.

Having an Indigenous name for the campus and these design elements as part of the campus fabric will build on the First Nations perspectives within the school’s curriculum and help ensure continuation of the Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung peoples’ stories, history and culture well into the future.

Wurun Senior Campus opened in Term 1, 2022 to students from Collingwood College and Fitzroy High School, as part of a joint program that aims to expand the choice of subjects available in Years 11 and 12 and equip them with 21st century skills.

First Nations consultation with Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung Cultural Heritage Aboriginal Corporation, historical content, interpretive design: SHP in association with the VSBA, GHD Design and Grimshaw. First Nations artworks: SHP in association with Ash Firebrace, artist and First Nations artists.