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National Reconciliation Week: In conversation with Tom Day

Date: May 27, 2022
Category: Insights
Tom Day Mural
To celebrate National Reconciliation Week, we sat down with Tom Day to talk about the amazing work he does for First Nations communities and his commitment to Country centred design in Australian landscapes.
What does Country and designing for Country mean to you?

Country is everything to me. It’s all I am. My entire identity is contained within the Country I come from.

My name is Tom Day and I’m a Gunditjmara, Yorta Yorta and Wemba Wemba man.

I’m a designer, an artist, and a collaborator and have been working with ASPECT Studios on a number of different projects over the past three years.

My role has evolved over time and I’m very fortunate to design for country. From developing narrative content, putting cultural overlays across a site, trying to draw out stories of place, and ultimately designing with the design team to bring all of that into specific design elements.

I rely on my own identity, my own upbringing, and what it means to me to be those three groups that make who I am and really be an advocate and a voice for Traditional Owners across the urban landscape.

I grew up in a regional, semi remote community four hours west of Melbourne, and I know what it feels like when I walk across my own Country. There is a sense of being that I get. What I try to do is in the design process is to draw out that feeling across projects that I work on whilst educating others about the importance and the way that all my fellow Country men and women see Country when they walk across their own patch of it.

Its exciting because you are challenging norms, where a lot of people usually look at what’s in front of them and they cannot believe that culture exists across a landscape anymore. I am always challenging that thought process and really hammering down on the spirit of place.

I approach a lot of the conversations based on layering of country, understanding the context of that – from the parts you can’t see all the way up to the sky and beyond and everything in between.

There is an element that touches people from a physical point of view, but also a spiritual one. I really try and emphasize that thought for people.

I tend not to get people to think so much about it about it, instead I really try to get them to feel what it means to be us when we walk on Country and really try to put that in the forefront of people’s minds.

I’m a lucky man to be able to work in this field, I’ve met many great people some that I pass as really good friends and family, and I’m really excited for what the future might hold in this space.

Every single project, every conversation, every design meeting, Country is always at the forefront. It depends on the way that we look at it, but it always comes back to that because of the statement I said at the start – my whole identity and others like me, our whole identity is contained with Country.

How do you work with ASPECT?

I suppose the way I work with ASPECT is pretty organic, free flowing and natural. I am usually brought in at the very beginning of projects to look at the identification of the places where the project will take place and really try and draw out story narratives and cultural overlays across the site. From that, looking at ways of how to engage with Traditional Owners across that area which my background is well versed in native and cultural heritage so understanding the process and understanding the pressures on Traditional Owners as well, and just providing the right process when engagement occurs.

In terms of my experience, thus far over the past 3 years it has been exceptional, I am excited every time a new project comes up, I am excited to be in conversations really pushing parameters, looking at changing norms in the design field and really looking to provide input from an Aboriginal cultural perspective and a design perspective.

My time at ASPECT has allowed me to learn a lot and share a lot. I think after three years I feel really really comfortable to sit in a room with designers and provide input into projects.

What are some of the projects you have worked on with ASPECT?

Some of the projects that I’m working on together with ASPECT include the level crossing removal project for Mount Albert Road and Union Station – that’s the biggest project that I have worked on to date. I have been part of that from the beginning developing cultural narratives, developing sense of place ideas from cultural layering to seasonal change and how we work closely together to create a story across the precinct. I am also part of the design team that is looking at transferring some of that theory into actual design elements and what it can represent.

Another project we are currently working on together is the North Richmond Housing Development Program. Again, I came in to provide a cultural overlay across the project for its master plan, my role has evolved now into design as well which is really exciting, and I am looking forward to seeing where that goes.

I also helped drive ASPECT’s cultural awareness program, not just as one of the people that deliver the program, but also developed the content as part of a team within ASPECT.

My journey thus far has been very exciting, and I am constantly in communication particularly with Anne-Marie and Kirsten, talking about potential opportunities where I might be able to get involved in something. It’s been really exciting learning a hell of a lot and just looking to provide more and more content.

Tom Day Layers of Country 688x1024
‘Layers of Country’ by Tom Day
Are there any stories you would like to share?

I suppose a story I would like to share is just my own personal journey over the three years from coming in not knowing what to expect, to delivering cultural awareness programs across ASPECT Studios nationally, to sitting in design team meetings, and now developing narrative content, delivering storytelling content, and really identifying not just from the conversational aspects but the actual design process itself. As much as I’d like to think that I am sharing valuable knowledge, I am certainly gaining that as well.

The opportunity to meet more of the team the longer I’ve been there is always exciting, and it just opens up more potential for dialogue and a collaborative approach through a true engagement process. I am really proud of that, and I am really looking forward to seeing what the future holds for myself and my partnership with ASPECT Studios.

I’d like to close by just really thanking Kirsten and Anne-Marie for giving me the opportunity three years ago. They reached out really organically about the potential to come in and talk about a particular project. Me not knowing what to expect at all, I did have aspirations as a younger man to work in this field but community came calling and my responsibilities fell there, but it’s really come full circle.

Anne-Marie and I work really closely on all projects, we’re basically a team. Some of the conversations that we have really set the framework for how we approach projects. So from three years ago to now, expanding my knowledge and being involved in projects at a much broader capacity is really a dream that has come true for me. Being a consultant or an advisor or a design team member, whatever name you want to put on it, I’m still just that kid that grew up in Southwest Victoria on that swamp, thinking how our philosophies and principals could change the world.

I’m proud to be part of a team at ASPECT that is really pushing the norm and becoming the change makers in this field. We have a natural affinity as landscape architects and Aboriginal people because everything is revolved around Country and landscape forms. Every now and again you don’t have to change much because in some ways Country is already perfect.