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Profile: The Sustainable Warburton Project

Jon Shinkfield
November 21, 2011

The Shire of Ngaanyatjarraku gave its approval for the Sustainable Warburton Project to continue in 2011, and all academic and industry participants committed to further involvement in the program.

In 2010, the Shire of Ngaanyatjarraku provided $40,000 funding for the project; in 2011, the Shire of Ngaanyatjarraku has allocated $30,000, AECOM is providing $90,000 in time pro bono and UWA students and academics are also providing their time pro bono.

Indigenous settlement

The Sustainable Warburton Project will not only affect the future of the Warburton community but potentially inform the broader agenda of Indigenous settlement in Australia and around the world by moving beyond a rudimentary and dated approach to planning and amenity.

Historically, Aboriginal communities have not been considered in terms of their physical and social structure. Because of their hunter-gatherer ancestry and the history of occupation of their land, urban settlement has been a foreign and unfamiliar state of existence. Aboriginal people have experienced a relatively recent history of colonial, mission and homelands settlement, and therefore have a very limited frame of reference about structural planning in an urbanised framework and the impact this has on their wellbeing.

There is pressure on the community to physically expand their settlement, yet there is little understanding of the requirements or implications of planning decisions.

Community engagement

AECOM and UWA are working with the community to provide the most current industry thinking and opportunities for physical planning, community amenity and structure, social engagement, urban climate control, water management,
energy management, environmental health and long-term sustainability.

Natural resource management in Warburton is virtually non-existent, and there is little understanding of the environmental factors, or the mitigation of these factors, that affect planned action or management. Traditional strategies have been constrained by a lack of understanding of eco-social-health relationships and how these are linked.

As issues of sustainability become more apparent, so too has the recognition that environmental conditions have a significant impact on the social and physical health of the community.

A diverse range of AECOM professionals are involved in the project, including climatologists, water specialists and ecologists, ensuring consideration of:

  • physical planning, community amenity and structure
  • social engagement
  • urban climate control
  • water management
  • energy management
  • dust mitigation
  • long-term sustainability
  • health and health management.

The emphasis is on planning approaches that adopt a bottom-up method, such as collaborative environmental planning, co-management of natural resources and
community-based environmental planning.

Changing attitudes and community engagement are part of a long-term charter for the Sustainable Warburton Project to create a direct and meaningful dialogue about the community’s development.

The on-site nature of the project means community members can ask questions and provide input. This engagement involves various community stakeholders, including the Shire of Ngaanyatjarraku, Land Management Group, Warburton Community Office and Warburton Youth Arts. It is hoped that by creating awareness and engagement, a set of shared values and a shared vision will be held by all stakeholders.

Corporate social responsibility

AECOM and UWA share a desire to contribute to the broader agenda of social and environmental sustainability in a genuine outreach initiative.

Aboriginal communities are the subject of much attention and intention, and there are numerous examples of one-off projects. The Sustainable Warburton Project is intended to be repeated for several years. It is building the foundation
of knowledge and learning in the community and academia, creating enhancing projects and building a strategy for the future planning of Warburton.


Academic and practitioner participation is on a pro-bono basis and involves:

  • AECOM (Jon Shinkfield, Megan Salom and Dr Peter Breen)
  • The University of Western Australia’s Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Visual Arts (Associate Professor Grant Revell and masters and honours students)
  • Monash University’s School of Geography and Environmental Science (Professor Nigel Tapper and Professor Tony Wong)
  • RMIT University’s Dr Jo Russell-Clarke, who is writing an independent critique of the project structure, outcomes and relevance.

Photo courtesy Shire of Ngaanyatjarraku

Jon Shinkfield
Jon Shinkfield is a principal and director of design and planning at AECOM Australia. He took on the role of project director for the Sustainable Warburton Project.
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