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Microsoft collaborates with Indigital and traditional owners on artwork and landscape design for its new Western Sydney data centre

Unique project will incorporate local Indigenous culture and connection to Country at Microsoft’s Kemps Creek site

Microsoft’s new data centre site at Kemps Creek in Western Sydney hosted  a Land Acknowledgement, one of many activities connecting local Indigenous culture with the data centre build – in an Australian first among hyperscale cloud providers.

Building for the future, while respecting history and past and present practices, requires profound collaboration. Indigital is an Indigenous owned profit-for-purpose organisation connecting critical infrastructure with First Nations Country and Culture. They have worked closely with the Dharug people – the Traditional Custodians of the land hosting the data centre – to shape the site’s exterior artwork and landscape design in a way that supports cultural connection and inclusion.

Cabrogal woman Mikaela Jade, Founder and CEO of Indigital, led the project bringing together members of the Dharug Nation to be involved in the ‘Connecting with Country’ process. This process was aligned with the Government Architect NSW’s Connecting with Country draft framework, created to help develop connections with Country to inform the planning, design and delivery of built environment projects in the state.

Indigital facilitated weekly constructive and collaborative meetings, which incorporated traditional Indigenous practices and their role in future development, over an eight-month period. The project marked the first time that the Cabrogal Clan and wider Dharug Nation had met on Country in more than 100 years.

“The methods we used to connect our culture to Microsoft’s planned data centre site were as old as time,” said Jade.

We came together on Country, spoke to ancestral beings, imagined what Country was like before colonisation, and imagined colour schemes, stories and relationships. We brought that forward to the present and explored how traditional owners and custodians interpret Country now, and imagined what this site will be like in 40 years’ time.

Indigital trained a machine learning algorithm using traditional imagery to understand interpretations of the Dharug Nation’s resilience. The algorithm created culturally recognised patterns and imagery that will be reflected in the site’s exterior artwork and landscape design.

Dharug woman, Traditional Custodian and Knowledge Holder Julie Bukari Webb said the project ensured Indigenous ways, traditions and perspectives don’t get lost in new builds of critical infrastructure.

“I’m really proud of how we’ve come together in love and unity to create a lot of joy and understanding,” Webb said.

The artwork we created captures all of that in a bundle that will be represented at the Microsoft Kemps Creek Data Centre.

Creating jobs and digital skills opportunities for the local community

Microsoft’s new data centre represents a major capital investment and long-term commitment to the local community, with the Kemps Creek site expected to fuel jobs growth in Western Sydney.

The company estimates it will require 4,575 construction roles and 18.6 million work hours to build new data centres in Australia, and it intends to fill 25 to 30 per cent of positions with local contractors. Once fully operational, Microsoft anticipates 300 full-time employees will work at its new data centres in NSW and Victoria.

As part of the data centre build and its support for the Dharug Nation, Microsoft has extended its partnership with Indigital in Western Sydney this year via the Indigital Schools program. This connects Elders with primary and secondary school students to share cultural knowledge, history and traditions. The program is running in 20 schools across Western Sydney and reaching more than 500 students.

The program encourages students to leverage the latest technology and upskill for the digital economy. Through the eight curriculum-linked workshops, Elders, local educators and Microsoft are merging cultural knowledge and digital tools for today’s youth. By using creative apps like Paint 3D, Minecraft and Maya, students are thinking conceptually about cultural questions and creating visual representations of the characters and environments from the stories of Elders. With a goal to mobilise First Nations communities, Microsoft and the Kemps Creek site development partners have learned what it means to build a data centre on Country while respecting one of the world’s oldest continuing cultures.

Recognising Indigenous land rights, ensuring cultural sensitivity and respect, and providing economic opportunity for Indigenous people have been key considerations for Microsoft during the project.

Steven Worrall, Managing Director at Microsoft Australia and New Zealand, said: “We have a strong commitment to deep learning in Indigenous ways of being, knowing and doing. In the spirit of collaborating and listening, Microsoft is proud to work with Indigital and Dharug Nation Traditional Custodians to reflect Indigenous connection to Country at our Kemps Creek Data Centre.”

We’re excited by the demand we’re seeing from customers for Azure in Australia, including unprecedented interest in our cutting-edge AI workloads. We are continuing to invest to meet the capacity requirements, but in a way that meets our ambitious sustainability goals and investments in the communities in which we operate.