In the modern palawa kani dialect that consolidates several Tasmanian Aboriginal languages, “krakani lumi” has two meanings: both “resting place” and “place of rest”.
Af Elliott Webb
It is the name for a standing camp, sited deep in the wukulina / Mt William National Park in northeastern Tasmania. It endures as a series of scattered pavilions, permanent yet lightly touching the earth. On the northern edges of the Bay of Fires, it serves as a two-night stop over for a four-day guided walk through the cultural landscape, from wukulina to larapuna — or Eddystone Point — an area of ecological and cultural significance to the Aboriginal people of Tasmania. Taylor and Hinds Architects have designed this standing camp over a number of years in close consultation with the Land Council and the broader Tasmanian Aboriginal community. The brief required accommodation and communal facilities for two guides and ten walkers. Importantly, it is the first walk of its kind in Tasmania that is entirely owned and operated by the first people of the land.
To begin, one should see Tasmania for what it is, as a “gothic” place — alongside its raw beauty, it carries an atmosphere of exile, remoteness and foreboding. The island has sustained the cultural life of its aboriginal people for more than 40,000 years. This period of occupation was severely ruptured with colonization by the Imperial British in the early 19th century; with it, wide-scale dispossession was brought upon the lives of the first Tasmanians, who call themselves “palawa”.
Northeastern Tasmania was the final frontier of colonial dispossession of the palawa. This land is a cultural landscape for the Aboriginal community; steeped in meaning and evidence of millennia of occupation, the ecology of this particular region is dependent upon regular cycles of burning — a pattern entrenched by the cultural practice of fire farming over hundreds of generations. The area is ecologically diverse, the water azure, and the climate temperate; it is a gently undulating and open scene of low heath and peppermint gum forests, unremarkable in its topographical silhouette. In 1830, Mannarlegenna — the last remaining tribal chieftain of this area — struck an agreement for a temporary relocation of his people from their traditional lands to the Furneaux Islands. The treaty was ultimately invalidated by the British, and Mannarlegenna was denied an opportunity to fully practice his culture; he was buried heartbroken and homesick, with 300 others, in unmarked graves. It was the generations that followed — against the odds — that have now created a flourishing and strong community. These descendants, the current Tasmanian Aboriginal community, have fought long and hard for the return of their land, and for the right of recognition of their culture.
This story of the dispossession of the palawa land is at the center of this project. Krakani lumi acts primarily as a place for the telling of the stories of Tasmania’s Aboriginal people, but also as a means of returning these lands to the stewardship of the Aboriginal community.
Arriving from the coast, single-file pathways zigzag their way through the coastal heath, directing one away from the beach. Invisible to the eye until arrival, krakani lumi is enveloped deep in a grove of banksia marginata. The individual structures clad in charred Tasmanian timber appear as a series of discrete shadows, without an object to form them. They merge themselves in the darkness of the surrounding dense banksia, camouflaging the camp when it is not in use. As one nears the site, the exterior appears robust and tautly detailed, the materiality showing resilience to the corrosive sea air and general tampering. The six individual pavilions and one communal structure are sited and detailed to minimize impact on native flora and fauna. Individual buildings were constructed as modules off-site and carefully airlifted into place. Reconciling the borrowed space on the land, small hollows have been made within the wall cavities to allow occupation by endemic birdlife and hollow-dependent marsupials. The site is off-grid and powered by a solar array and a diesel generator as backup. Aboriginal rangers selected its location and eastern orientation, picking up the morning sun and the lee of the sea breeze.
The zigzagging pilgrimage terminates at the campsite’s central pavilion (for eating and bathing), which is mirrored by an external fireplace. A sliding door reveals an excavated mouth lined in glowing blackwood shingles. The proportions and materiality of this vaulted space mimic the siting, form, and qualities of the traditional seasonal shelters of Tasmania’s first peoples… except that it appears as a negative, a contemporary ‘boolean’ interior. Ingeniously, the space between the inner dome and the blackwood outer lining conceals space for solar batteries, utilities, and pulley mechanisms. This form is then mimicked in the other six two-person sleeping huts, which contain pulley mechanisms to open up the domes to the coastal sky.
Leading from the central excavated space of the communal pavilion, a hallway leads one to the dining and bathing spaces that have neatly packed all the necessities for the two-day stopover on the site. Inside from floor to wall to ceiling, the interior is entirely lined in locally sourced Tasmanian oak. Silvered bulbs light up the timber interior at night; during the day, instead of glass, solid panels and screens are used for extra protection, tempering the light and emitting a soft glow.
The hero of this project exists within the open spatiality of the traditional half-dome form that amplifies the experience of dwelling within a larger landscaped room. To the first peoples of Tasmania, the telling of creation is a speaking-into-being of a country — an initiation into the cultural and spiritual interior of the landscape. This contextual response and coordination with the desires of the Aboriginal Land Council of Tasmania exemplify the notion of the story-telling interior. In the pocket-universe of the interior, a story of concealment and reveal is told, one which belongs to a unique cultural experience. The protective mode created by the exterior charred ‘skin’ of the pavilions ensures agency to the Aboriginal community in the telling of their story.
Where traditional shelters of Tasmania’s Aboriginal communities rarely had a lifespan exceeding a season and consequently were not attached or embellished with symbolism and decoration, it is the plain, raw and economical form that creates a powerful symbolic space for Krakani lumi. Through a permanent and contemporary form, the architecture of Taylor and Hinds Architects navigates the symbolic space of the traditional and temporary bark shingled shelters of the first peoples of the land. In stasis, the architecture lightly touches the earth; concealed in the banksias it nods to the cultural importance of care for country. In use, the pavilions open up to reinterpret the presence of the past — and through a story-telling interior, rouse memories into the present.