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The Planning with Country Knowledge Circle was convened in 2021. The Knowledge Circle is an Indigenous-led group of Indigenous and non-Indigenous built and natural environment leaders who are guiding PIA through a whole of organisation response to action on reconciliation.


Carol Vale | Managing Director, Murawin Consulting

Who are you? What Country are you from and what Country do you work with?

Marrung barrang, I am galbaan Dunghutti and my wutu are from mid-north coast and northern areas of NSW. I grew up on the Aboriginal Mission at Armidale NSW with my extended family and continue to have strong connections to Country and Place. Both my mother and father are from Kempsey NSW. Our bagarr is the Praying Mantis, our bitha is the might Macleay River and our banduung is the ever present mountain Barralbalayi. When I think of my traditional Country it is the my mother’s and father’s Country which extends from the saltwater at Kempsey to the high Country to the New England ranges.

What brought you to the world of planning?

As a sociologist, the work I do is critical to planning because I believe that planning is all about understanding the interconnectedness and relationships between people and place and how and why society ticks the way it does. Over the past few years, my company Murawin has been working extensively with a variety of organisations linked to the infrastructure and development space. We are determined to ensure that our clients work from a Country-centric place privileging relationships and intentions that lead to sustainable and improved outcomes for Indigenous Australians and others who might benefit from understanding Country.

Where do you want to see planning go?

I think it is critical for the world of planning to deconstruct western-ways of thinking and construction of the current planning system. It is a system that it not suited to caring for Country nationally. Current planning systems fail to privilege Indigenous knowledge systems, traditional custodianship and Indigenous caring for Country planning and management processes that have sustained the balance of Australia for 60,000 years or more. For me I would like to see planning regimes become more Country-centric which by default then has to position Indigenous knowledge systems into practice and there needs to be consistence across Australia.


Elle Davidson | Director, Zion Engagement and Planning | Aboriginal Planning Lecturer, University of Sydney

Who are you? What Country are you from and what Country do you work with?

I am a Balanggarra woman from the East Kimberley, born on Gadigal Country and call Bundjalung Country home. I am a qualified town planner and love empowering the voice of mob to inform planning projects. I have a training and consulting business that helps clients work with Country, community and culture. We work on projects to help inform strategic planning decisions and deliver training to professionals in the built environment to increase their capacity and use their influence for change.

What brought you to the world of planning?

Driven by a passion for social justice, I really started thinking about planning in high school. My step-dad was a Councillor for Byron Shire and we had big yarns about our future and the importance of well-informed planning. As I have progressed through my career I have realised that through planning I can really use my influence to bring positive change for mob and contribute to a better future.

Where do you want to see planning go?

I feel that we have so much to learn from our First Nations communities. We have the most amazing wisdom and knowledge relating to Country, community and culture that is available to tap in to with the right intentions. My hope for the future is that planners commit to a posture of humility to work with communities and practice deep listening. An approach of listening to understand and not to respond with an intent to empower Aboriginal voices to be part of how we make decisions for the built environment. I look forward to the day that more Aboriginal people can make a career out of providing a platform for two-way knowledge sharing and working on our projects to develop better solutions and outcomes for mob and the broader community.


Jesse Marnock PIA (Assoc.) | Planner, Planz Town Planning

Who are you? What Country are you from and what Country do you work with?

My name is Jesse Marnock and like many Indigenous peoples today, my family come from many different Countries (Taribelang Bunda, Djiru, Gimuy Walubara Yidinji), however I grew up and work from Gimuy Walubara Yidinji country.

What brought you to the world of planning?

I pay homage to my older sister. As a kid, I always compared myself to my older sister. Long story short, I’ve always had an intrinsic motivation to gain a tertiary education built on my internal competition to be better than my sister (I am way smarter than her). In choosing a Bachelor Degree, I linked the subjects that I thought were interesting and engaging to a degree. Hence a Bachelor of Planning through James Cook University - Cairns. So the world of planning was brought on by coincidence.

Where do you want to see planning go?

There is a lack of Indigenous peoples working in this space. I for one had no idea Planning was a career until I stumbled across it in choosing my degree. Planning is fundamental land use, so what better way to facilitating the use of land, than having more Indigenous peoples working on their traditional lands. And if not their own traditional lands, helping other Indigenous peoples facilitate their aspirations. If one Indigenous person achieves, we all achieve. So I would like to see more Indigenous peoples to take up careers in Planning space.


Michelle Howard (Fellow) | Managing Director, Collaborations Pty Ltd

Who are you? What Country are you from and what Country do you work with?

I was born on Palawa Country (Tasmania) and now live and work on Wadawurrung Country near Geelong. Like most non-Indigenous Australians of my generation, I grew up with limited knowledge of, or exposure to Indigenous Australia. In my adult my working life and personal relationships I’ve sought to change this. It’s a challenging and rewarding journey. My background in community and cultural development has led to a strong interest in the relationship between people, culture and place. My love of nature and natural environments leads me to look for a better way to care for Country.

In 1993, I established Collaborations as a boutique strategic and social planning consultancy. As a strategic planner and facilitator I have worked on large scale urban projects and with local communities managing change for the past 30 years.

What brought you to the world of planning?

A curiosity as to how the environments we create and plan influence social, cultural, environmental outcomes. And a desire to reflect a greater diversity of voices and experience in the planning process.

Where do you want to see planning go?

Over the past 30 years I have worked with Indigenous colleagues and established significant friendships which have challenged my own values and assumptions about country and place. How do we listen deeply, share skills and knowledge to facilitate a new approach to planning and design which heals the past and is truly of this Country? Rethinking our education, professional development, policy, legislation, relationships and ways of working might be the start.


Dr Ed Wensing (Life Fellow) FPIA FHEA | Honorary Research Fellow, Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, ANU | Special Adviser and Associate, SGS Economics and Planning

Who are you? What Country are you from and what Country do you work with?

I am a cartographer, geographer, planner and a political scientist. I was born in Australia within a day of my parents arriving to settle here from the Netherlands as post-war migrants. I was about 3-4 months old when my parents moved from the migrant hostel in Richmond NSW to Canberra. We lived on Russell Hill, now Campbell, for about four years before moving to Torrens Street in Braddon. I live in the ACT on the lands of the Ngunnawal/Ngambri peoples. Over the past 25 years I have had the privilege of working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples all over Australia on a wide range of matters, but with a special focus on the ‘intercultural contact zone’ between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ rights and interests (however defined by them) and the state’s interests in land and waters (however defined by the Crown). It is a privilege to work with Australia’s first nations peoples and especially in understanding their innate connections to and responsibilities for their ancestral lands and waters, all over Australia.

What brought you to the world of planning?

I started out as a cartographer and by the time I had been in the workforce for three years, I had seen the whole of Australia from the air. My first job was making sure that the aerial photography that was to be used to compile topographic maps of Australia had sufficient overlaps and were free of cloud or fog. I was very involved with the Youth Council of the ACT and in the early 1970s the Council received an invitation for 25 young people to spend a week at Guthega in the Snowy Mountains planning Canberra’s fourth new town of Gungahlin. I was one of the 25 people selected to participate. After 6 days intensive work, thinking and discussing what a town of 90,000 people could or should look like, we produced our own report: How to Build a Utopia… and not bomb out by much!’. It wet my appetite for town planning. So I sought a transfer from the Division of National Mapping in the then Department of National Development to the National Capital Development Commission (NCDC), which Sir Robert Menzies established in the late 1950s to plan, develop and construct the nation’s capital. I started in the drawing office and over 13 years, worked my away up the ladder to be a senior planner. The rest is history as the saying goes.

Where do you want to see planning go?

In 1992 the High Court of Australia found the notion of ‘terra nullius’ (land belonging to no-one) to be a convenient myth that enabled settlement of Australia by the British to ignore the fact that this land was owned and occupied by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples for centuries. The High Court determined in Mabo v State of Queensland (No. 2) that the common law of Australia is capable of recognising their prior ownership and occupation and termed it native title. In 1995 I was PIA’s inaugural National Policy Director, and PIA’s National Executive directed me to prepare a policy on Native Title. We didn’t prepare a policy, but we did work collaboratively with the property valuation profession (the Australian Property Institute) to develop guidance notes for its members on their obligations under the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth). I then went on to co-author the only lay-person’s working guide to the Native Title Act after it was substantially amended in 1998. My experience working with Justice Robert French, Professor Mick Dodson and Lowitja O’Donaghue and their staff in the National Native Title Tribunal, the Australian Human Rights Commission and the then Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission made me realise that planning theory, policy, practice and education had to change to better recognise the rights and interests of Australia’s First Nations peoples if we are to be a better nation. It is a matter of public record that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of Australia had their land stolen from them without their free, prior and informed consent, without a treaty and without compensation. They never ceded their sovereignty. The truth is that we as a nation are failing the First nations peoples of Australia. We cannot erase the past, but we can, and should, do better for their future. We should also heed the call of the Uluru Statement from the Heart. A gift to the nation about how we can heal the hurt of the past. PIA’s establishment of the Planning with Country Knowledge Circle is a huge step in the right direction, and I am honoured to be working with my colleagues in the circle.


Libby Porter |

Who are you? What Country are you from and what Country do you work with?

I’m from settler descent and live as an uninvited guest on Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung land and Ngurai-illam-wurrung land in Naarm/Birrarung-ga/Melbourne and central Victoria. As a planner and urban geographer, I feel honoured to have worked with First Peoples in many places including Wurundjeri, Bunurong and Boonwurrung, Gunditjmara, and Noongar people as well as with people on Turtle Island and Aotearoa-New Zealand.

What brought you to the world of planning?

I loved geography at school – the relationship between people and place has always fascinated me. And a strong sense of social justice purpose made me search for a career that would help make the world a better place. Just as I was starting my planning degree I had one of those ‘aha’ moments in life that made me question everything I had learned (or not learned) about who I was and the place I lived. How did I come to be here? Since then, my work in research and education has focused on the role planning has played and continues to play in the dispossession of First Peoples from their Country and how that might change.

Where do you want to see planning go?

Planning has always offered a big promise about making a better world – more inclusive, more ecologically sustainable and just. I’m less convinced than ever that this promise is being delivered, but more determined than ever to help alongside other great people to hold planning to that promise. I would like to see fundamental change in the way we in planning understand our place on the planet. At the heart of doing so is learning with, and being led by, First Peoples.


Sam Johnson | Managing Director, Impact Policy

Who are you? What Country are you from and what Country do you work with?

My name is Sam Johnson, Im a proud Yuin Djaara man. My community ties are too Glebe and Redfern on Gadigal Country in Sydney where I was raised. I am the Managing Director at Impact Policy where we work across the state of NSW. Impact Policy is a 100% Aboriginal owned consultancy firm that provide social policy services, specialising in Aboriginal Affairs and delivering outcomes for clients through strategic advice and guidance, codesign, communication and engagement and research and evaluation.

What brought you to the world of planning?

I came into planning through the coordination of a Secretary led statewide response to building community resilience in a remote/regional Aboriginal community. This was at the recommendation of a NSW Parliamentary Inquiry and I was sought out to lead the coordination of the response on behalf of then Secretary of Planning NSW. After that project was closed, I was asked to work across significant planning and infrastructure projects such as the establishment of Roads to Home which at the time was the only reelection commitment for NSW. From there I have stayed engaged across senior levels working closely with leaders and executives around strategy, partnerships and Cultural Capability.

Where do you want to see planning go?

That is a massive question, whilst I have seen so much progress made since I first joined the planning world in 2016, reflecting on the future though for NSW specifically there is a significant reform agenda ahead with real opportunity for us to confront the impact of failed past policy and through truth telling progress an agenda with shared benefits and inclusion for all. If I had to highlight some significant priorities though, I would start with relationships and connection with Aboriginal communities. These could include;

  • Engagement standards for Aboriginal communities need to be introduced by the department and made applicable to local councils and all departmental staff.
  • Planning needs to shift from a transactional to relational practice of engagement to increase the participation and trust of Aboriginal communities.
  • These standards must include processes involving co-design. They have the potential to build on the Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property Protocol as a guiding standard for engagement and relationships with Aboriginal communities.