Designing a partnership – the University of Melbourne’s creative connection with Ceduna


Since the beginning of their partnership with Jawun in 2016, the University of Melbourne has forged a creative and strategic partnership which draws on their strengths in order to maximise connections with Indigenous partner organisations, regions and initiatives. The success of the partnership so far has arisen from the broad range of skillsets offered by The University of Melbourne, maintaining strong engagement post-secondments, and forging lasting connections between past and future secondees and Executive Visit participants.  

As a result of these connections, The University of Melbourne has formed a strong relationship with the Ceduna community in the Far West Coast (FWC) region, where they were a founding partner. This relationship has seen investment from the university across a wide range of projects, as well as an exciting and thoughtful design partnership between the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning and two partner organisations, Ceduna Aboriginal Corporation (CAC) and Ceduna Koonibba Aboriginal Health Service Aboriginal Corporation (CKAHSAC).

To date, University of Melbourne have seconded 20 of their employees to Indigenous organisations in Goulburn Murray, Central Australia, Lower River Murray, and Far West Coast. They have also supported other key areas of Jawun, including sending 19 executives on Jawun Executive Visits to 5 regions, sponsoring 1 Indigenous leader to complete the 2019 Jawun Emerging Leaders Program, as well as having 13 staff members engaged in Jawun’s Stories of Female Leadership network.


The first University of Melbourne secondee was placed in the Far West Coast region in Round 1 2019, and in one short year, secondees have achieved project outcomes across diverse project briefs. These have included the design and implementation of a new Remote School Attendance Strategy, design of a joint venture proposal for the operation of the Community Development Program, successful implementation of data dashboards in both Ceduna Aboriginal Corporation (CAC) and Ceduna Koonibba Aboriginal Health Service Aboriginal Corporation (CKAHSAC) and use of live data to track program indicators, KPIs and used for funding and program applications, the development and implementation of super user workflows and process development for CKAHSAC and project governance documentation for a five year population health needs analysis for the Far West Coast region.

In 2018, Professor Julie Willis (Professor of Architecture and Dean of the Faculty of Architecture, Building & Planning) attended a Jawun Executive Visit to FWC and connected well with Zell Dodd, CEO of CKAHSAC. At the time, CKAHSAC had suffered damage to part of its roof in a recent rainstorm, and was housed in a small building like a rabbit warren. The damage to the roof has since meant that part of the building which was used for office space has been condemned, and space previously used for meetings needed to be used for offices. The entry to the clinical space was cramped and open, offering little privacy or anonymity, meaning clients don’t always feel comfortable coming in for appointments as they had to walk through the waiting room which is public and vulnerable.

Across the road, another partner organisation, Ceduna Aboriginal Corporation, was working on a new concept for an arts, language and cultural centre. The existing language centre is tiny, with nowhere for archiving (boxes of documents are stored in a shed at the back), a small room for 6 staff, nowhere for language recording, and nowhere for local or non-local visitors to take language classes. Meanwhile, the current Ceduna visitors centre has done little to connect visitors to local Aboriginal cultural and language initiatives, leaving the community keen to see a change in this area. They had looked at examples like Yawuru’s Mabu Liyan centre in the West Kimberley, but knew they needed to start with a firm concept that met both community and visitor needs, and then to use the concepts and plans to help secure funding for development.

After hearing this, Julie introduced a design challenge to Master Students at the Faculty of Architecture: devise a plan to house both the health centre and the cultural centre in a way that responds to the local Indigenous community’s needs and aspirations. The project entailed helping the community define what the space is for, and the key objectives, which ultimately were to include dynamic spaces for connecting and showcasing the Aboriginal culture of the whole region to community as well as visitors.

To facilitate this challenge, in the second half of 2019, Master’s Degree architecture students from The University of Melbourne undertook a studio that focussed on designing a health centre for the Ceduna Koonibba Aboriginal Health Service Aboriginal Corporation (CKAHSAC) and new arts, language and cultural centre facilities for the Ceduna Aboriginal Corporation (CAC).

In August 2019, the studio students travelled to Ceduna to consult the community and begin thinking about design ideas. With Deputy Dean A/Prof Andrew Hutson, students spent a week looking at both briefs, holding community consultations to engage with the community about what they wanted to see achieved. On returning to Melbourne, they developed concept designs for end of semester presentations in November. 

The challenge also successfully intersected with a secondment project taking place in 2019. Nicola Allen, a secondee from the South Australia Government worked on a project included developing a project plan for the development of the Arts Language and Culture Centre, and assisted with the commencement of the community consultation process which the University of Melbourne students would continue during their studio visit to Ceduna in August. The project plan provided a guide for students and Ceduna Aboriginal Corporation to help guide the project forward, maintaining momentum. In Round 3, Debbie Foo, a Bendigo & Adelaide Bank secondee continued to drive the momentum forward for community consultation, working one on one with artists to gain insights and perspectives into their needs for studio space. Debbie, along with a fellow secondee Karen Hollamby assisted with the tender process for a project consultant to be appointed in a short-term position with CAC to determine potential operational models and develop a business case.


The partnership has produced some fantastic results that not only will benefit CAC and CKAHSAC, but has also facilitated two-way learning for the University of Melbourne, created a unique learning experience for University of Melbourne students, and built stronger connections for the future.

Wayne Miller, CEO of CAC, has seen how the value of University of Melbourne secondee skills has benefitted the broader aspirations of their organisation:

“The partnership has enabled us to broaden our vision as to what could be possible for our arts, language and cultural centre. In a regional area, having expertise of that high calibre come in to our community for a period of time has meant we could spend real time thinking through ideas and talking about potential and aspirations. The students have been really receptive and open to listening, and have captured our requirements and met our needs in their designs, with a real consideration and respect to culture and community.”

Andrew Hutson, Deputy Dean Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning, spoke of the University of Melbourne’s increased momentum for working with the Far West Coast region that has arisen from the design challenge:

“All who participated in the studio [students, user groups and community] provided energy and enthusiasm to the projects, the process has only just begun and we hope that the interaction between the students and the health centre and CAC will contribute to the project outcomes.”

Jenny Heden Malm, a Ceduna Studio Student, has gained learnings that will influence her own practice:

“I realised the power of weaving narratives into the landscape and how it evokes compassion and respect for nature and place.”

For Graham Sadler, a UoM secondee from Round 3 2019, his experience in the Far West Coast has fostered a greater understanding of Indigenous Australians:

Through deep conversation I now have a greater understanding of the way Indigenous people have been treated in the past and how they have overcome these challenges to be positive in moving forward with well-defined goals and determination to reach these goals.”

Leesa Middleton, University of Melbourne’s Jawun coordinator, has seen the significant impact a Jawun secondment has on secondees returning to their organisation:

“The personal and professional development opportunities provided to University staff through a Jawun secondment are unparalleled.”

Next steps

The overall process of the studio challenged student preconceptions and opened up the horizons of the students into aspects of Aboriginal culture. The students’ design outcomes were presented to the user groups via video link at the preliminary phase and valuable feedback was provided. The final student schemes have been provided to both CKASAC and CAC and a follow up visit by the Studio took  place in mid-January 2020 where students presented their designs back to the community, enabling opportunity for further discussion and feedback. 

The University of Melbourne’s Jawun coordinator Leesa Middleton continues to drive strong engagement and high Executive Visit and secondee numbers, with the 2020 target set to 12 secondees. Sally Eastoe, Executive Director, Human Resources & OH&S continues to engage in the Stories of Female Leadership network, and the university continue to play an instrumental role in the co-design of Jawun’s next ten year strategy which will see more agile forms of support delivered to Indigenous partners.