The Fish River Aboriginal ranger accommodation upgrade on the remote Fish River Station, Northern Territory, Australia, is a design/build project undertaken by staff and students from the Design Construct program at the University of South Australia that aims to improve both climatic and cultural responses that the former accommodation did not address. Prior to the upgrade, rangers were accommodated in fabric-roof tent structures that did not protect against intense sun, tropical downpours, and insects nor provide visual privacy, particularly for different gender groups. Reflective steel roofing, floor-to-ceiling insect screening, and individual raised-bed spaces with personal storage and ceiling fans improved thermal insulation, ventilation, and insect protection, which significantly enhanced the personal comfort, amenity, and privacy of the rangers. The project exemplifies a viable, cost-effective alternative for remote tropical accommodations compared to air-conditioned transportables that depend on costly stand-alone power systems.
There has been a considerable lack of understanding of and empathy with the living conditions of remote Aboriginal communities driven by colonial traditions and economic expediency where community housing and planning are modeled on standardized Western patterns. Community houses are, as a consequence, culturally inappropriate in terms of overcrowding and privacy and poorly designed to respond to particular climatic conditions. The Fish River project aimed to give Aboriginal people an opportunity to live on Country, to rehabilitate and reinvigorate both the culture and the environment, and to propose an alternative model of tropical housing.
The project methodology was based on a number of clear procedures: immersive, broad consultation with clients and stakeholders; previous design/build experience working with remote indigenous communities; and encouragement of students to think beyond familiar references and explore innovative design and construction solutions.
On the basis of research undertaken by the Design Construct program investigating best-practice models for effective consultation toward improving built environment outcomes for remote indigenous communities, the project invested considerable time visiting, living and working with, and talking to the Aboriginal rangers on site to understand and address the needs for the accommodation. The program also consulted with the Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation (ILSC) to achieve a culturally, climatically, and environmentally appropriate outcome.
The Fish River project has been an exemplary design/build project engaging numerous satisfied students, completed on time and budget, and receiving positive responses from end users and the architectural profession. The true success of this project relies on a continuing, comprehensive postoccupancy evaluation, which has not progressed sufficiently to verify overall success. Project accountability is maintained relative to results through reporting by the ILSC as the main financial stakeholder and proponent of benefits for indigenous peoples.