Category Archives: Governance

Theory / and / Action

The experience of working with the Sandon Point community happened in 2013 – at the very beginning of this project. First year Engineering at Wollongong University included an opportunity for students to engage with the Engineering Without Borders (EWB)  mChallenge – a project-based approach to learning about design, teamwork and communication through real, inspiring, sustainable cross-cultural development projects (

It was decided to explore the possibility of applying that project approach to a local context, and Sandon Point was an obvious choice. However, in contrast with EWB it was possible for students to visit the actual site, which raised a number of issues about the propriety of doing so. In resolving how to address each of these issues the concept of the 5Rights© began to emerge as a coherent set of guiding principles. Their existence as a set of operating standards preceded the idea of the Sandon Point project, however applying them in this context highlighted how they simultaneously provide guidance and help to identify constraints operating in such contexts. Using them in this context set in train the evolution of this project, as well as the overall model which emerged from subsequent research, analysis and further applications of their way of guiding interactions and shaping connectedness.

The term ‘Abductive’ may not yet be as familiar as ‘inductive’ and ‘deductive’ in describing types of research but is the one most applicable to how this particular research has been evolving. In effect our work emerged from the theories embedded in the combined practice of those involved, rather than from application of theoretical concepts to those practices.

There is nothing so theoretical as good practice, nor so practical as a good theory, and these two inter-related concepts have been the guiding forces shaping the progress of our work.

As we move into the next phase there is opportunity for  co – creating theory and practice through engaging students and staff in the journey of re-discovering Aboriginal Engineering achievements, in the manner of the recent posting at

Which explores some of the science of Aboriginal civilisation, in much the same way we are re-discovering the engineering.

‘5 Rights’ – applied to Sandon Point

Values and beliefs influence every aspect of how we suggest managing relationships among the factors in the intersection. In this regard we developed a set of principles we call the ‘5 Rights’ to guide interactions among the three worldviews.

These ‘5 Rights’ are not about entitlements. They are about appropriateness and suitability of behaviours, and are intended to guide thinking and actions in those complex situations where the Worldviews are interacting. The ‘5 Rights’ are

right People

right Place

right Language

right Time

right Way

The following story illustrates their successful application to a specific teaching context.

Sandon Point

Sandon Point is a water front site on the south coast of NSW. In 2000, severe storms revealed it was also the burial site of an Aboriginal man interred around 7,000 years ago. As it was tagged for residential development there ensued a tense tug-of-war between the local Aboriginal community and developers, culminating in the establishment of Sandon Point Aboriginal Tent Embassy (SPATE) – which has now occupied the site for 15 years. From an Aboriginal Worldview the site is sacred. From a Western Worldview it is ‘prime real estate’ and from an Engineering Worldview it is a location where various technical problems exist. The Tent Embassy is a collection of structures sitting on flood prone land that lacks many of the facilities usually associated with residential occupation.

The need to develop Engineering solutions for some of these problems, became the focus of work as part of this project and that has been fertile ground for other aspects of our work. It was not hard to see that looking at this one space from three such different Worldviews leads to very different perspectives about what is significant within, and about, the space. In 2013 Sandon Point was chosen as the context for an assessment task within a first year Engineering subject. The process was aligned with that used for Engineering Without Borders projects – with a major variation. The students were introduced to the site, given detailed information about an Aboriginal perspective on life, society and the importance of the site, and then asked to develop engineering solutions appropriate to the site and culturally acceptable to the residents. Their solutions were shared with the local government authority, which also benefited from the care with which the students attended to the cultural sensitivities of the site while developing 21st century solutions for such problems as water supply, power generation and waste disposal.

With regard to the ‘5 Rights’ here is how they were applied to this context.

Right People

In this project the people involved were SPATE members, local government staff, academic staff and university students. The most vital ‘right people’ were the SPATE members involved, a fact which was highlighted 12 months later, when the absence of those same people meant the project could not be developed further. (see the note on Right Time)

Right Place

Sandon Point is near the university campus and readily accessible. There is quite a lot of readily accessible information about SPATE and the history of its activities. There was a strong need to address the various engineering related topics for the students to exercise their creativity. The students met SPATE representatives on site, enabling them to get a deeply personal sense of what is involved in establishing and maintaining such a place.

Right Language

The situation at SPATE was discussed with the people on site, using their own words to identify their priorities and needs. Similarly discussions with the local government staff were conducted in terms of their perceptions and priorities. While the academic staff involved were the one most directly involved, the students were kept well advised.

Right Time

2013 was a moment in time when everything was aligned for such a project, as noted in ‘Right People’. And this fact emphasises the interconnectedness of all five Rights. By 2014 the series of changes that had occurred meant that Sandon Point could not be revisited in the same way.

Right Way

This is perhaps the most complex factor and is both first and last in terms of sequencing. As with so much else in life there is a ‘right way’ and a ‘wrong way’ to get things done. Approaching a project like this while using an entirely Western worldview would have failed, because that kind of framework seldom allows scope for attending to  philosophical and social beliefs  prior to taking action. Taking time to visit and sit with the Embassy people, providing detailed information about appropriate ways to treat the land. Setting technical criteria to replicate local traditions ensured that students experienced the ‘right way’ of approaching such a context, and their feedback reflected enhanced awareness of what it means to be Indigenous.