Reconciliation & design

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representation within communication design in Australia is often marginalised, especially in relation to who represents and leads the industry. The visible participation of more Indigenous designers would contribute important strengths to communication design in Australia, extending its creative, cultural and social range.

This project was framed around visualising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and culture within Oxfam Australia’s Reconciliation Action Plan. These plans provide a framework for organisations to realise their vision for reconciliation and the design of these plans offers a fantastic opportunity to consider Indigenous representation within contemporary communication design in Australia.

You can view Oxfam Australia’s full Reconciliation Action Plan here.


Within my role working in the design studio at Oxfam Australia I was often presented with briefs asking me to graphically represent our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander programs. We have global brand guidelines to adhere to as designers, but there are no frameworks in place for working with Indigenous Australians or consultation on how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People want to be represented. Oxfam Australia currently has protocols for the use of images featuring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, but nothing related to the use of Indigenous design or iconography.

helen_quote_2From an organisational and operational perspective, the use of Indigenous knowledge within Oxfam Australia’s communication materials, has lacked a defined ethical process and real commitment to representing Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander People in an authentic way that visually speaks to Indigenous communities.

As a member of Oxfam Australia’s Reconciliation working group, I proposed that the design of our Reconciliation Action Plan, which details our organisational commitment to reconciliation should be designed in conjunction with an Indigenous artist or designer – supporting strategic objectives to ‘support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to achieve self-determination by participating in and having leading roles in decision-making that affects their lives’ (Oxfam Australia Strategic Plan 2013-2019).

There exists a fine line between ethical representation and ownership of cultural knowledge. The overaching question that came from this process is how do you represent Indigenous people and be aligned with Oxfam’s global branding without it being seen as tokenistic to show an ethical and respectful representation of Aboriginal peoples and the Australian community.

“Designers are obliged to consider how graphic design might be assigned to support strategic and operational business objectives, to confront social issues in an organisation’s macro and micro environments, and to identify conceptual frameworks that could guide desirable roles for design” (Sauthoff, 2004).


Artwork created by a local Indigenous artist, and Oxfam employee was used throughout the report. This collaboration was an ongoing process, based on verbal communication around the meaning of the work and the nature of creating indigenous artwork with Australia.

My role as an ‘outsider’ of this research, acted as a positive driver during my collaborations in facilitating the use of Indigenous artwork within Oxfam Australia’s communication materials – being able to learn about culture, country and Indigenous knowledge through collaborative creative processes.


About the artist: Ngarra Murray is a Wamba Wamba Yorta Yorta woman who grew up in Victoria. She has strong family links to her traditional country at Lake Boga and Cummeragunja. Ngarra is a passionate artist and is involved in many cultural heritage and arts projects in her community. Ngarra’s artwork and designs are influenced by her traditional country and the stories passed down from her elders.

Artwork description: My Yorta Yorta country along the Murray River is home to the largest stand of River Red Gums in the world and is of enormous significance to our people. The River Red Gum was an essential source of shelter, food, medicine, tools and bark for canoes. The Gum leaves from these trees are also an important part of our welcome to country and smoking ceremonies where we acknowledge our heritage, respect our past and recognise the thousands of generations of Aboriginal people that came before us.