Woodside is working with its employees and the wider community to ensure that cultural recognition is embedded in the new Woodside headquarters (WHQ).
A significant first step came with a cleansing ceremony conducted by Noongar Whadjuk Traditional Custodians at WHQ in early June to ensure the site would be one where the entire community feels comfortable and connected. Such a ceremony is conducted to purify a specific area. It cleanses the spirit, body and soul of people while on Noongar country and helps ward off warra wirrin — bad spirits, bringing in the blessing of the kwop wirrin — good spirits. For although the location of the WHQ on the banks of the Swan River might be prime real estate, the site has a difficult history.
Once a resting and camping place atop a natural spring, the use of the site and surrounds were forced to be abandoned by Whadjuk people following European settlement. “As I’ve heard from Whadjuk people, the site is where Yellagonga, the Whadjuk leader, welcomed Captain James Stirling and his party when they landed in Perth,” explains Debbie Morrow, general manager global property and workplace. “Stirling and his party were welcomed on to the land, but they never moved on as expected according to the tradition of moving with the seasons.” Yellagonga and the Whadjuk people were forced away from the land and their spiritual connection was interrupted.
After lengthy discussions involving Woodside's Indigenous employees, external advisers and the Traditional Custodians, it was agreed that an initial cleansing ceremony would be held before the building fit-out to reconnect the site with the community. The ceremony began at 5am with the lighting of five separate fires, which were then tended by the Traditional Custodians until 7.30am when the ceremonial party moved to a central location. Many of Woodside’s Executive, including chief executive officer Peter Coleman, were in attendance and cleansed as part of the ceremony. “The stillness of the city before sunrise and the serenity of the fires brought home the potential that comes with maintaining a deep connection and respect for the land,” Debbie says.
Two Woodsiders were invited to participate in ceremonial business: Dwayn Bolton, a Whadjuk man who is part of the Front of House team; and John Litchfield, manager Indigenous engagement. “It was a real privilege and honour,” says Dwayn. The event was made even more special for Dwayn as he sat with his grandfather, Nigel Wilkes, who was tending one of the five fires.
Another cleansing ceremony will be held before officially opening WHQ. Whadjuk adviser Carol Innes, who was involved in the engagement with Woodside, notes that WHQ is on a very significant cultural site. "Woodside's engagement with the Whadjuk community is helping develop a strong cultural understanding of Noongar culture which Woodside and the Whadjuk Noongar community can celebrate together," Carol says. "It's a way to create a common way of working to incorporate cultural recognition into the future." Woodside’s desire to walk alongside Indigenous peoples prompts us to think about how we interact with host communities in all parts of the world.
Trunkline Q2 2017