Taylor Burrell Barnett

Our story of TBB Dreaming


Joanne Tanzi
General Manager

11 Jul 2022

Kaya. This is our story of TBB Dreaming, exploring what community means in our different cultures. The result was a unique, eye catching canvas, that truly embraced what collaboration means to us.

During NAIDOC Week 2022 we were privileged to be led by Aboriginal Artists Troy Bennell and Aurora Abraham to create our Reconciliation Action Plan artwork piece "TBB Dreaming".

A mysterious Outlook calendar invite appeared a few weeks ago inviting our team of 30 to take part in a NAIDOC Week Artist Workshop. The anticipation and excitement grew as the 7th of July drew near. But, at this early stage in our reconciliation journey, the excitement was also accompanied by the all-too-common “I don’t know what I’m doing” apprehension.

Many of our team have already been involved in cultural awareness training, and throughout National Reconciliation Week 2022 we focused on truth telling and learning about shared history and culture. NAIDOC Week saw an opportunity for us to put pen to paper (or finger to canvas) to better appreciate storytelling in the Aboriginal culture and create our own artwork. We were fortunate to be led in our artistic pursuit by acclaimed Australian Noongar Artist, Troy Bennell and Aurora Abraham (who also happened to be Troy’s niece). Aurora also brought along her daughter so we could benefit from 3 generations of family being involved in our journey.

The 2022 NAIDOC theme “Get Up! Stand Up! Show Up!” is about real action. It’s easy to ignore something when you don’t understand it. What our journey (via our Reconciliation Action Plan) is helping us each do as individuals, and as a company, is get involved. This means pushing ourselves to really hear the truth, and understand the impact, so that we can feel equipped to actually speak up for systemic change, and healing. So, with this year’s theme front-of-mind, we gathered together for some delicious native inspired food from Gather Foods and to create our very first Reconciliation Action artwork.

When Troy swept his arms across the blank canvas and asked “so the theme is land meets water, so what do you want to do”, the room fell silent. I know why I held back, doubting whether I would say the right thing, and I’m guessing that many of my colleagues felt the same way. Such is the apprehension that many of us still hold. Lucky for us, Troy is a natural storyteller and kicked off our creative inspiration by telling us a story about the marron, the lobster, and the crab.

The marron, the lobster, and the crab

The marron belonged to the freshwater but wanted to journey to the salt water. The lobster belonged to the salt water but wanted to journey to the freshwater. On the way they met each other in the estuary, where the salt and fresh water mix, and the crab told them to go back, using his claws to send them back to where they belong. Naturally, Troy’s crab walk induced a big laugh.

And so that’s how we started, with a river meeting the estuary, and joining to the sea. The river curved through the canvas, reflecting the Waugals journey to the ocean.

Leaving your DNA behind

As Troy and Aurora got busy creating our river, estuary and ocean, Troy spoke to us about leaving our mark, our DNA, on the artwork piece. He spoke about what Country means to Aboriginal people and how it describes the connection to lands, waterways and seas. He encouraged each of us to leave our DNA on the canvas to show that we belong to the creation and that couldn’t be erased.

For some of the more creative amongst us, it didn’t take long for the brightly coloured fingertips to appear. Others got more comfortable with the brushes, starting to introduce our own individual marks to the canvas.

Which is when Troy challenged us to think about how we can weave in stories from Taylor Burrell Barnett’s history. Over its 50+ years in planning and urban design TBB has been involved in major marina projects, so this was the next element to be added to the canvas.

His fingers are the jetties

Being the creative person that he is, Mark Bancroft quickly took up the marina idea by painting his hand with blue fingers and a green palm, representing that a marina extends the land into the water. Soon the artwork had its very own Port Coogee, Ascot Waters and Ocean Reef marinas to forever show how TBB has brought these marinas to life.

Communities are more than dots

Troy shared the story of how dot paintings on canvas first emerged in the 1970s as a result of Aboriginal people working together with a white art school teacher, Geoffrey Bardon. As he told us this story he encouraged us to not limit ourselves to what we think Aboriginal artwork should look like. This is when the canvas began to take shape with the TBB interpretation of communities.

A connection back to “that fella on the wall”

“walk the site, talk to the locals, research landform and history” Russell Taylor

In our main boardroom is a portrait of Russell Taylor, one of the founders of Taylor Burrell Barnett. Russell, and fellow founder Bill Burrell, were well renowned for their roots in surveying, having an intimate understanding of land, studying, and appreciating the environment before designing.

Which is why, when Aurora prompted the team to connect back to “that fella on the wall” (Russell Taylor) another burst of inspiration came into play… site and context responsive design.

When considering where to create communities, and symbols relating to communities we also considered where blank space should be left. Communities should be created to work with nature, not fight against it. It’s why our finished artwork has blank areas of green land – it’s intentional.

We also thought carefully about the visual representation of communities and the elements that form part of them. From the square parklands added, to the vibrant colours and shapes to represent different precincts, we spoke at length about what communities mean to Aboriginal people and how we could use this to inform our own understand of creating places where people come together. We also considered how to connect the communities, adding bridges to cross the water and songlines.

Songlines to connect communities

To connect the communities, we added songlines instead of straight lines. Songlines in Aboriginal culture mark the routes followed by creator-beings in the Dreaming linking important sites and locations. This evoked team discussion about how we could gain a better understanding of where these invisible pathways exist so that we could incorporate them into future planning of transport routes.

TBB Dreaming

Dreaming is used to explain how life came to be; it is the stories and beliefs behind creation.

As we wound up the afternoon, Troy and Aurora put the finishing touches on the artwork before inviting us back in for the final reveal.

Troy asked us what’s your company initials again? TBB we chimed. Well, he tells us, TBB has been a part of this dreaming the whole time. It was then we realised that from the first stroke of the blue to create the river, Aurora had cleverly made the piece truly a TBB Dreaming artwork. With the initials T B B creating the curves of the river. Deadly, Aurora, just deadly.

When we all gathered to view the final outcome, we noticed that there were so many individual parts of the artwork piece, coming together to make it a whole, cohesive work of art. Kind of like us, I guess. And kind of reflective of how, by working together with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, we can collaborate in a positive way towards making Australia a better place for all of us to live.



Joanne Tanzi
General Manager