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Museum of Healing

Kwan Yew Teoh, Ka Hui Lim & Meen Yee Ooi

We chose Cockatoo Island as our site due to its rich layered history. Before the colonization by Europeans, it was known by Sydney’s Indigenous People as “Warameah”. Set amongst the homelands of Wallumedegal, Wangal, Cammeraygal, and Gadigal Peoples. In the Dharug Language, “Warameah” means “Women’s Place” (2022) 1 and the island can be seen as a heart of the river ways between the homelands. In 1839 it was established as a prison island and dockyard by the Governor of New South Wales, and the First Nation’s sacred connection to the island was slowly eroded. (2022)2
Living environments for the convicts were deplorable, and the transformation and disruption of the natural balance of Cockatoo Island from “Warameah” to an industrialized dockyard and prison island was forged through the abuse and deaths of the island convicts, of which a small but notable population were also Aboriginals (2022). 3
“Country relates to the land that we belong to, yearn from, find healing from and will return to. However country means much more than land, it is our place of origin in cultural, spiritual, and literal terms. It includes not only land but skies and waters. Country incorporates both the tangible and intangible…” (2022) 4
Instead of being a static receptacle of artefacts, we looked to the Indigenous People’s definition “Country” to inform our design for a Sensory Museum for the trauma-filled history of Cockatoo Island. For Australia’s First Nation Peoples, “Country” is dynamic, spiritual, and rooted in both our physical and metaphysical senses. The Museum of Healing aims to pay tribute to the lost souls arising from the Island’s troubled past as a prison island, as well as provide a place of contemplation and reconnection. Each program is moulded from a space that aims to connect with a specific element of the physical Country, whereas live performances, rituals, cultural or artistic works provide the reconnection with the metaphysical aspect of Country.

Hence we designed a living and breathing museum amidst a Forest of Memorial Poles. The forest serves as a tribute to the lost souls of Cockatoo Island’s dark past. Reminiscent of the traditional memorial poles with ornate Aboriginal patterns, the memorial poles are made of mirror steel which also reflects the ever-changing sky and surroundings, stimulating the visual and experiential senses of visitors.
The form and circulation ramps throughout the Museum of Healing are based on the circle. Based on Native traditional beliefs, the circle is sacred as a symbol of healing, family, gathering, and dance (2022) 5.
As the visitor disembarks from the wharf at Cockatoo Island, they walk through the Forest of Memorial Poles to the entrance of the museum. Here, they walk along a curved ramp to enter the Smoking Circle, where native vegetation is burned in a ritual of cleansing and welcome, an experience that stimulates the visual and olfactory senses in a spiritual experience.
Next, they enter “Warameah”, a circle dedicated to gathering and learning. Here a curved screen and plinths aids in exhibition and adds to the space as a learning centre. Connected to “Warameah” is the Sun Circle, a semi-underground exhibition space. The journey of the visitor enters a physically enclosed space. Here the shadows embrace the darkness and pain associated with the island’s past, but a ring of light from the Sun, heightened with coloured glass elevates the senses of the visitors, a symbol of hope.
After exiting the enclosed space, the visitor enters into the open-air of the Sensory Eora Garden. Native plants reminiscent of the island’s tree-covered days help to “re-wild” the island in accordance to the island’s pre-colonization natural edge line, which we adopted from an 1822 site survey. Here, the garden aids in stimulating all physical senses, and provides a respite from the Sun Circle. The visitors experience a space for healing and contemplation, and are reconnected to the physical land of Country.
Finally, a celebration awaits. Visitors enter the performance space. Sitting atop the modified edge of the island, visitors spectate performance art or Native celebratory dances. Connected to the Tidal Terrace, where land is returned to the sea through the tides, visitors are able to celebrate the cycle of life and the hopes of the future with the backdrop of the Sydney city skyline. As they reconnect with Country and enter the last program of the Museum of Healing, the senses are stimulated with dance and song and the heart with hope, celebration, and healing.

1 2022. Sydney Harbour Federation Trust Sites - Cockatoo. [online] Available at:
< too.html> [Accessed 2 January 2022].
2 2022. [online] Available at: < story/convict- era/#:~:text=The%20conditions%20endured%20by%20convicts,often%20left%20standing%20for%2 0hours> [Accessed 2 January 2022].
3 2022. [online] Available at: < story/convict- era/#:~:text=The%20conditions%20endured%20by%20convicts,often%20left%20standing%20for%2 0hours> [Accessed 2 January 2022].
4 2022. [online] Available at:
< 2021.pdf> [Accessed 2 January 2022].
5 Stevenson, J., 2022. [online] Available at: <https://iaac-> [Accessed 2 January 2022].

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