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For over 30,000 years the Gunditjmara people have lived and farmed the stony country that follows the path of the lava flow from Budj Bim down to Tyrendarra (near Portland). Their settlements were permanent, comprising sprawling villages of stone huts and elaborate aquaculture systems that pre-date Egypt's pyramids. The Budj Bim Cultural Landscape has been recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site with outstanding universal value that “bears an exceptional testimony to the cultural traditions, knowledge, practices and ingenuity of the Gunditjmara”1.


CSA were engaged by Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation over several years to develop tourism infrastructure to reveal these unique sites to the world. The project takes visitors into a privileged cultural experience of the Budj Bim landscape, led by the Gunditjmara people. It is intended to provide an environmentally, socially and economically sustainable means of caring for country and to ensure the continuation of Gunditjmara culture for future generations. The project spans five separate sites: Tyrendarra Recreation Reserve, Tyrendarra IPA, Kurtonitj, Tae Rak (Lake Condah) and Budj Bim National Park


Acting as an interpretive device, the architecture helps to make the cultural landscape legible to non-indigenous eyes, to evoke imagination about traditional ways of life and spark a desire to learn more. Views of important cultural features are framed at each site as the infrastructure leads the visitor through a curated experience of the landscape.


The restrained material palette is designed to recede, allowing the natural and cultural landscape to come to the fore. The use of consistent materials at each of the five sites reinforces the message that the Budj Bim Cultural Landscape is continuous and that despite being physically fragmented by colonialisation, the sites remain connected.

Raised boardwalks minimize disturbance of the soil, plants and the cultural artefacts at each site, allowing views of the ground below, while withstanding cultural burns and seasonal flooding. The path of the boardwalk loop is carefully designed to skirt the site of an ancient village of domed houses. Viewing platforms are strategically located along the boardwalk and are shaped to act as apertures for observing fragile remnants of stone hut circles. A circle of bluestone paving forms a threshold at each point where a boardwalk meets the ground plane.


The bridge at the Tyrendarra IPA acts as an entrance threshold to the site, allowing visitors to view Killara (Darlot Creek). This spring fed creek runs through several Budj Bim sites and was a critical source of food and water all year round for Traditional Owners (Killara means ‘always there’). The sinuous curves of the steel mesh walls draw the visitor in, tapering towards the centre to encourage the visitor to slow down and pause as they enter.


In his book, Gunyah Goondie and Wurley: The Aboriginal Architecture of Australia, the anthropologist and architect Paul Memmott describes the traditional permanent houses that were built by the Gunditjmara. Records indicate they were built from a base of basalt stones arranged in a circular form, with a domed roof made from a timber frame covered in earth sods and a low arched opening generally facing east or northeast.


The design of information and picnic shelters makes reference to these traditional forms of occupation and dwelling, without attempting a literal reconstruction. Geometry is deliberately kept elemental, evoking the notion of huts with silhouette-like forms and creating an experience of enclosure within the landscape that still leaves room for the visitor to imagine their traditional form. The use of charred timber battens acts like a veil to frame views of key elements at the sites, such as Killara. The battens are also used as a screen, to mask views of contemporary infrastructure that distracts from the subtle features of the cultural landscape, enabling the visitor to focus on the Budj Bim story.

  1. UNESCO, 2022, Budj Bim Cultural Landscape,

Project Team:

Architects: Daniel Cooper, Bianca Scaife, Tijana Dabic & Cait Phillips.
Structural & Civil Engineer: Tonkin.

Services Engineers: Integral Group.

Interpretive Designer / Graphic Designer: Lookear / Mono.

Landscape Architect: Site Office.

Quantity Surveyor: WT Partnership.

Building Surveyor: Beaton Building Consultancy.

Land Surveyor: Brayley & Hayes.

Archaeologist: Ecology & Heritage Partners.

Project Manager: Accuraco.
Builder: AW Nicholson.
Photographer: Tess Kelly.

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