“Where Indigenous ways of knowing, building and architecture meet”

“Where Indigenous ways of knowing, building and architecture meet”

Meet proud Gamilaraay man and RMIT researcher, Beau de Belle as we celebrate NAIDOC Week.

Beau shares his passion for Indigenous architectural design and practice, and his journey to becoming a Vice-Chancellor’s Indigenous Pre-doctoral Fellow at RMIT.

Where is your mob from?

I am a proud descendant of the Gamilaraay People, whose Country stretches from north-west NSW and up to the Queensland border.

What drew you to architectural design?

After completing a carpentry apprentice and getting my building licence, I wasn’t satisfied with the designs I was seeing back then. So I completed a Bachelor Degree and Masters in Architecture in NSW, and worked as an architect for a few years.

There are very few builders who then become architects in Australia and very few Indigenous people who are registered architects.

I’m sitting at that rare intersection where Indigenous ways of knowing, building and architecture meet.

Can you tell us about your current PhD in RMIT’s Architecture and Urban Design School?

My PhD is practise-based and focuses on the Gamilaraay Murri (Gamilaraay men’s) ways of knowing, using message sticks as a case study. Hopefully this can be applied to the architectural design process, and hopefully develop our understanding of architecture within an Indigenous landscape.

How have you incorporated traditional practises into your research?

Part of my PhD focuses on the message stick that was traditionally used as a ‘passport’ that had a very specific meaning / message. You would sit with your Elders and they would talk you through the message that had to be relayed to someone else. And then you could use the message stick to travel across other County and language groups.

The message stick provides a way of knowing through the marks that are put onto it. Our mob used to travel from our small wave rock in the east of Australia to the large Wave Rock in Western Australia. They would take the message stick with them and use it to remember the message exactly.

The way in which that story is told, remembered and shared is part of the Indigenous way of knowing. Part of my research is about highlighting that ‘knowing’ not just in artefacts but in buildings and how that might work.

VC Indigenous Pre-doctoral Fellow, Beau de Belle. VC Indigenous Pre-doctoral Fellow, Beau de Belle.

The message stick is a simple way of sharing and showing the process of design, which I’d like to develop into bigger projects like a building design.

How would you like to see Traditional Owners celebrated and acknowledged in architectural spheres?

I believe we need to acknowledge and respect that every single mark, every hole you dig, building or intervention in a natural landscape happens on Aboriginal land.

We, as Aboriginal people, are of the land and part of it. We are here to care for it and try and leave country in a better position than we inherited it.

One of my key decisions to choose RMIT for further study was that the University’s Acknowledgement of Country mentions “unceded lands”. This acknowledges the land was never surrendered and is sovereign land that has not been given up or handed over.

I felt this was an earnest and genuine acknowledgement that says something significant, especially given RMIT sits on around six per cent of Melbourne’s CBD.

In the not-so-distant future, I’d love to see crown land such and national parks returned to the traditional owners so that we could continue to practise our culture, and picking some bush tucker wouldn’t hurt either.

What do you enjoy about tutoring other students?

I was born in a very low-social economic area and struggled through school. It’s taken me a life’s worth of reflection and purpose and drive to get to where I am now, and I want to help shortcut that for other young Indigenous people and help bring them through.

I’d really like to give back by mentoring more Indigenous students through architecture and the design process and through community capacity building of the mob.

The NAIDOC 2021 theme – Heal Country! – calls for all of us to continue to seek greater protections for our lands, our waters, our sacred sites and our cultural heritage from exploitation, desecration, and destruction.


Story: Kate Milkins


  • Design
  • Architecture
  • Indigenous
  • Indigenous Australia

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Acknowledgement of Country

RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business - Artwork 'Luwaytini' by Mark Cleaver, Palawa.