PROJECT ARCHIVES: Landscaping for Health on APY Lands

The mound building program on the APY lands began in the 1980’s as a health project by Nganampa Health.

The programs were an attempt to improve the living conditions within the local environment by creating micro-climates around houses and public buildings.

Image – Example images from resource document ‘Mounds Improve Environments’ (below)

The moundings targeted people usage and tree plantings, where later in the 2000’s, they were used as a tool to target the negative health effects of air borne dust.  The mounding furthermore provided opportunities for storm water collection and plants to grow, resulting in improved cooling. Such a program shifts thinking about stormwater, often seen as a problem in cities, to a free resource.


The Concept of Mound Building 

During the 1990’s, the concept of mound building was seen as an opportunity to create outside living areas around houses, thus providing a better lifestyle and relieving crowding problems within the house.

The concept of mound building involves changing the shape and elevation of land. The land in communities is usually open and flat, rather than a collection of microenvironments, which can provide a range of venues for people to use. In the past, tree planting programs have been used to provide these microenvironments, however they are slow to establish. The construction of mound systems is a relatively quick operation, resulting in a range of microenvironments across a community for people use as well as to grow trees and shrubs


A New Mound Building Program in 2000

In the early 1990’s, the “Housing for Health” program began at Pipalyatjara on the APY Lands. The program included the importance of the house yard as an integral part of the living area for Anangu. An essential part of the work was the gathering of climatic and airborne dust data as well as house use data.

In 2000, Nganpampa Health in collaboration with Paul Pholeros and Mike Last from the Pitjantjatjara Council Land Management section began developing ideas for mound systems, which could be used to control traffic movement on median strips within the community. The road system had been sealed with bitumen earlier in the same year and although the sealed road system was now well defined, the angled concrete gutters allowed vehicles easy access to the median strips. The new road system had greatly reduced the local dust problem, but the new pattern of vehicle movement on open median strips produced dust, which freely flowed over people sitting around houses.

The construction of mounds along the median strips was seen as an easy solution to this dust issue, which would also control the movement of traffic and protect pedestrians.


Mound Construction & Shape

The soil chosen for the construction of mounds was often clay loam, which would compact well and produce little or no dust problem within the community.

In principle, each mound system contained a crescent shaped primary mound, which sloped to the road on the outside. The inside was shaped into one or a number of smaller internal crescents, each of which encircled a floor area that gently sloped away toward the front fence of each house. These areas varied in size and acted as sleeping, sitting, cooking and eating areas.

The process started with a crescent shaped line drawn on the ground as the centre line of mound. The dirt loads were tipped very close together so the cross section of the primary mound would spread across a base of about five meters. The mounds were built about a meter high, so when they settled, they would still be about 800 to 900 mm high.  This soil was shaped with the bobcat and raked out to provide a lower floor level inside the mound where groups of people could sit, talk and eat food. The top of each mound was flattened off to provide a higher sitting area which had a view around the community.

Read more detailed information in the documents below.

Image – Step 4. Mound combinations, extract from ‘Mounds improve environments -2’ (below)


Learnings about the broader applications for mounds in the Community Environment
  • Mounds for Outside Living Areas
    • In the early 1990’s, a single crescent shaped mound was built adjacent to the front veranda in a house yard at Umuwa. It was used for entertaining during the evening as well as for sleeping on overnight.
    • The mound development work at Umuwa, helped provide the stimulus required to build mounds in house yards at Pipalyatjara, which included building mound systems in the front yard of a house, connected to the front verandah. The inside of this primary mound gently sloped into a number of smaller secondary mounds which were formed to create separate areas in which people could cook food or sit and talk.  A circular fence was erected around the new system providing some security for those camping within the mounds.
    • The mound systems provided a venue for women to sit together during the day while doing their craft work, where low mounds allowed women to see children playing at some distance away.
  • Mounds for meetings and communication
    • Mounds were also found to stimulate and enhance non-verbal communication. Hand signs are used extensively in communities and it’s necessary for Anangu to see each other before communication can take place. Mounds provided an elevated location on which Anangu could sit or stand and communicate with each other while some distance apart.
    • Communication also became more effective between those sitting on mounds and those travelling in motor vehicles.
    • When people are visiting, it is often confronting to both parties when the visitors and the occupants of a house meet at the front door. If people are sitting outside in their mounds cooking food etc., it is much easier for those passing by to exchange greetings and news. It’s also easier and less offensive for those sitting on mounds to tell others to visit later.
    • Larger amphitheatre style mounds in community spaces provided a venue for community scale meetings.
  • Mounds to relieve Crowding
    • Community living often involves intergenerational and extended family systems in a house.  As house programs advanced, verandas were added thus increasing the living area available to the family. Some houses became very crowded and the facilities were over taxed. Crowding also resulted in the rapid spread of sickness throughout the family.
    • Mounds added more venues to the house by providing outside living areas, reducing the number of people in the house for varying periods during the day and night. This relieved the pressure on the facilities provided in the house.
    • Mounds encouraged people to socialise in an outside environment as an alternative to meeting in the house.
  • Mounds for median strips
    • Certain styles of mounds were built on median strips in other parts of the community and provided places for people to sit and talk.
    • The mounds successfully filled the spaces on the median strips that were once used by vehicles. Drivers are then restricted to the road system and the allocated off-road areas.
  • Mounds to collect and use storm water
    • As the mound building program progressed it became obvious that mounds could be used for other purposes, such as collecting and controlling storm water
    • In March 2001, the storm water program was constructed and the mound building program initiated. This included building a mound system around three sides of a community office. The roof area of the office was quite large and shed large volumes of storm water which flowed across the open compacted area into the road system. There were no gutters on the roof to collect the water and store in rainwater tanks. The mound system which encircled the lower side of the office block, absorbed all the storm water collected by the roof during a six month period. Storm water no longer escaped into the road system causing local flooding, erosion and road damage.
    • Road surfaces and roofs of buildings and houses are very efficient at shedding storm water, hence ponding banks were constructed at regular intervals along the roads to drain storm water from them
  • Mounds for revegetation
    • Often there are extensive open areas around communities which produce little or no vegetation after rain. These areas are usually compacted and provide little opportunity for windblown seed to collect on the surface. Natural revegetation of these areas becomes viable when the nature of the soil surface is changed allowing seed to collect and germinate. Machinery was used to make staggered furrows or ponding banks on the open areas, thus providing niches for seed collection.
    • Many residents over the programs commented about the excellent growth of established trees after mounds have been built around them. Mulberry trees planted many years ago in house yards were receiving sufficient storm water to produce growth and fruit each year. Their root systems being extensive, were able to use the ground moisture from stored storm water under from the mounding.


Further readings and reference documents


We would like to thank Stephan Rainow from Healthabitat & Nganampa Health for recently reminding us of the value of these great projects as we continue to think about micro and macro ways to alleviate the impacts of increasing temperatures as a part of climate change. The lessons and documents from these projects should be considered at a house and community town planning level not only for dust control to improve health, but for the broader opportunities mounding provides for safety, vegetation growth and use of stormwater and hence cooling at a community level.