Optimism was the theme for the day when local, national and international speakers gathered at Shape Mandurah's Placemaking conference to discuss the cultural, social and economic future of Mandurah.
Dutch landscape architect and urban designer Hans Oerlemans began the conference by using examples of European architecture, discussing the ability of a growing metropolitan area like Mandurah to take notice and involve contemporary building practices into the future.
Mr Oerlemans said a strong existing cultural identity could work hand-in-hand with urban planning.
“If you have that identity, that strong cultural identity, already in place, people will come to you,” he said.
“And not necessarily to just do their daily shopping, but to be entertained, to have fun, to socialise, to get together, to have a different experience. That starts with your cultural identity, and utilising that cultural identity. If that’s not true, if it’s just a gimmick, it will not last.”
Mr Oerlemans said involving all members of the community into the development of Mandurah and its surrounding region was integral to making sure what Mandurah becomes accurately represents the people who live there.
“You can include businesses, councillors, the people who make the decisions, but you also need to include the people on the street,” he said.
“Space and architecture is important, but it’s the people who breathe life into a city.”
Nidjalla Wangaan Mia organiser and manager George Walley and RDA Peel Chair and former Mandurah mayor Paddi Creevey discussed the steps the city had taken to ensure inclusion, as well as how important it was to bridge between the traditional and contemporary when shaping Mandurah.
Mr Walley said what could be learned from the Aboriginal history of Mandurah would work to improve social involvement in the city.
“We are the river, estuary, lakes and coast people, and the images that we see today are the same pictures our ancestors have seen for a long, long, long time,” Mr Walley said.
“So something we’ve been thinking about is how we bring that history and culture into a Western perspective, while remaining respectful and saying, ‘This is who we are, this is where we come from and this is what we can do’.”
Mr Walley discussed how several ongoing city projects, including the Yarburgurt project – which will see an art installation paying tribute to Yarburgurt “George” Winjan, one of the original Aboriginal icons of the city – start as community-based ideas before becoming significantly powerful examples of cultural communication.
“That idea started with a bunch of ladies talking about Yarburgurt, and through reaching out to various people, it’s now a $190,000 project that’s supported by the community as a whole,” he said.
“To see that happen, it’s just incredible.”
Ms Creevey urged attendees to not underestimate the power of Mandurah’s natural environment, and it’s ability to draw in international tourism.
“I’ve been out in boats with international delegates, who have almost tipped the boat over trying to get a picture of dolphins,” she said.
“People come from all over the world to see these things. They stop on the side of the road when they see kangaroos. These are the things we have to remember when we talk about how Mandurah will look in ten years time.”
As well as environmental policy, Ms Creevey said social inclusion had been integral to developing Mandurah’s future plans.
“One of the best things to come out of [Mandurah City Council], I still believe, was the Reconciliation Action Plan,” Ms Creevey said.
“Mandurah has been at the forefront of this, and has been one of the biggest proponents of reconciliation.
“It’s based on relationships, and actually getting down and having discussions with the public. It’s a very powerful document, and a good example of the steps being taken to ensure the community is actively participating in the development of Mandurah.
“Mandurah is not the sleepy fishing village and retirement centre it used to be,” Ms Creevey said.
“We’re a community of 85,000 people, and each of those people has a story to tell. The challenge we face now is how to harness that.”