Revitalising Murrin Bridge
People often speak about moments that defined or changed the course of their life, and for Allan Teale, former property developer, now UTS PhD candidate, that moment came on his 40th birthday when he discovered his Aboriginal heritage.
“In each part of my growing experience I always tended to gravitate towards Aboriginal people,” he told SBS Australia.
“When I was in school there was only one Aboriginal kid in the class and he was my best mate and I used to believe we got along only because we were the naughtiest in the class,” he said.
Inspired by this discovery, Allan traced his heritage back to the Euabalong area, which spurred him on a journey to Murrin Bridge to discover his past.
After countless trips to the two rural New South Wales towns of Murrin Bridge and Lake Cargelligo, Allan knew he wanted to do something to help the next generation there. And so the Revitalising Murrin Bridge Project was born.
Using the connections he’d made in the two communities, in 2015 Allan facilitated the introduction of the Murrin Bridge Local Aboriginal Land Council (MBLALC) to the UTS Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building, in the hope of forming a capacity building partnership.
In response and under Allan’s mentorship, the Faculty’s School of Design developed a series of design studios (workshops) in which second year students were given the opportunity to work on speculative upgrades in Murrin Bridge with members of the community.
After planning with local authorities, a group of 35 UTS students spent five days in both Murrin Bridge and Lake Cargelligo, interviewing residents, visiting sites and poring over historical documents to help develop new spaces for youth.
The students identified that there was a lack of activities for young people in the area – run down sports oval with no equipment, no cinemas – and designed accordingly.
“We made sure to include designs for an outdoor gym, bike and skate park, with the intentions of having the community help build these facilities – these activities will hopefully provide some much needed inspiration and motivation,” Allan told SBS Australia.
They also suggested turning the old men’s shed into a working garage for collaboration and upskilling, as well as reusing the former medical centre in Murrin Bridge as a cultural hub.
UTS staff and students also completed an events design strategy and lighting design installation in partnership with the MBLALC for the NAIDOC ball in Lake Cargelligo.
While the revitalisation of existing buildings and facilities in these two rural towns has been pivotal in improving the livelihood of these communities, Allan says that the psychological effect has been far more profound.
“The physical work makes life better, but often from the community, I am told how good it is to have someone care about our community, different to the past common two-year research commitment, and then gone. We did excellent planning work for the community, but more importantly we gave them hope.”
The project has also played a large role in building aspiration for local youths to pursue higher education.
The visits from UTS staff and students to Murrin Bridge and Lake Cargelligo have continued every year since the project began in 2015.
It has now also grown to include UTS lighting students, who lend their skills to support to the annual NAIDOC function, further strengthening connections with the greater community, as well as the Indigenous community.
It’s safe to say that this project has not only had a profound impact on these communities, but on Allan as a person.
“This project has given me a purpose in life that was missing, and I may have been seeking subconsciously,” he said.
“On the first trip to the area with UTS students, I had purchased goods in the local supermarket and was at the register when asked if I was from UTS. My thoughts were had the students not paid for something accidentally or been a bit loud, but to my surprise on my answer of yes, the checkout lady said, ‘thank you for caring’. To me that says it all.”