The Yarpa Indigenous Business and Employment Hub (Yarpa Hub) is a one-stop-shop dedicated to improving the employment prospects of Indigenous jobseekers and providing support for Indigenous businesses.

Located at Liverpool in Sydney’s southwest, the Yarpa Hub went through a recent refurbishment across its 400m² workspace, designed by Sydney-based architectural firm BVN and overseen by principal Kevin O’Brien. Aware that the Hub was all about facilitating connections and fostering a sense of community, the architects sought to introduce a welcoming atmosphere into the space. Also, recognising the potential difficulties associated with responding to ever-evolving community needs, they sought to deliver a space that prioritised choice and autonomy.

Now refurbished, the Yarpa Hub is a place in which all visitors – whether they are seeking work, attending a business meeting, or looking for networking opportunities – can feel comfortable and connected. It is a flexible place that can transform, at short notice, from typical working mode to formal training mode, then into a space suitable for an event.

Connection to Country

Conscious of the Hub’s connection to the NSW Aboriginal Land Council architects, the architects were fixed upon Connection to Country as a theme. Thus, the finished Hub includes earth-coloured wall renderings that bring warmth to its existing concrete shell; cave-like retreat spaces that reference significant local rock art; and a ‘rainforest edge’ that surrounds its flexible inner workings and invites visitors to celebrate views to the Blue Mountains and Sydney city.

The theme of Connection to Country even extends to the joinery. Subverting its traditional function, it becomes a key element. At the entrance, for example, a family of multi-legged tables softly references nearby native blackwood forests, while a hot desk/locker piece, featuring native timber and a transparent polycarbonate skin, provides workers with privacy and views to country beyond.

Milliken-Ontera’s Water Yuludarla collection

Milliken-Ontera’s Water Yuludarla collection was a natural choice for the Hub’s flooring. Milliken-Ontera collaborated with the Saltwater Freshwater Arts Alliance and the National Aboriginal Design Agency to create the bespoke collection based on the original work of Gumbaynggirr artist, Brentyn Lugnan.

The Gumbaynggirr people, known as saltwater freshwater people occupy the NSW Mid-North Coast from Nambucca to Clarence River and west to the Great Dividing Range. According to Lugnan, his work is inspired by Urunga and the Bellinger Valley region as this is his home country and where his family is from. His work is about people and place; it’s about relationship to the water and connection to country.

In Lugnan’s work of Water Yuludarla (Water Dreaming), representations of the river, the people it sustains, the culture it fosters, and references to families, past and present, are all embodied and spread out, yet maintaining connections to place.

As Lugnan explains, circles and dots have special significance for his people. They have long used them in the contexts of body ornamentation, corroboree and initiation. Taking a cue from this tradition, he uses them liberally throughout his own work, specifically to signify sacred connection to land.

The architects chose to use two of the six Water Yuludarla designs, namely Jagun (Birthplace) and Yildan (Dreaming Track) at the Yarpa Hub. (The other four designs in the collection are Guunu, Bindarray, Guluuna, and Mayala).

Jagun – a layered pattern that incorporates the dot elements from Lugnan’s artwork – is positioned in the foreground and elements of the Mayala (Moving) design form its background in the Hub’s insert zoning areas.

Their choice of Yildaan – a more contemporary design, and the reverse of Guunu (Life) design, is inspired by aerial photography of the Northern Regions of NSW and references the textures of land and water – imparts a soft ambience and a sense of movement to the space with a traditional take on ‘dot paintings’.

Water Yuludarla has proven an inspired choice for the Yarpa Hub. Specified in the earthy colourways of blush and bark, the carpet complements its broader aesthetics and furnishings perfectly. It has also helped create a welcoming workplace that fosters connection and champions individual success and collective strength.

Reconciliation Through Design

The Water Yuludarla collection was created as part of Milliken-Ontera’s ‘Reconciliation Through Design’ initiative. Marking the flooring design and manufacturer’s commitment to reconciliation as one of its core values, this is focussed on providing a platform for collaboration between Australia’s Indigenous artists and designers and the commercial interiors industry.  In doing so, the rich heritage of Indigenous art and their artists are magnified on the largest canvas possible – the floor.

The creation of the Water Yuludarla collection, as used successfully at the Yarpa Hub and elsewhere, is just one of many such ventures that the Milliken-Ontera intends to become involved with. Its hope for ‘Reconciliation Through Design’ is that it helps shift the conversation and leads to the inclusion of Indigenous design into the mainstream of commercial interior design.