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Microsoft unites with traditional owners on new data centre
Fri, 30th Jun 2023

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

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 the significance of historical 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 to support cultural connection and inclusion. 

Mikaela Jade, Cabrogal woman, 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. 

Over eight months, Indigital facilitated weekly constructive and collaborative meetings, incorporating traditional Indigenous practices and their role in future development. 

The project marked the first time the Cabrogal Clan and the broader Dharug Nation met on the Country in more than 100 years.

Jade says: "The methods we used to connect our culture to Microsoft's planned data centre site were as old as time." 

"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," says Jade.

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.

Julie Bukari Webb, Dharug woman, Traditional Custodian and Knowledge Holder, says that 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. The artwork we created captures all of that in a bundle that will be represented at the Microsoft Kemps Creek Data Centre," says Webb.

Microsoft's new data centre represents a significant capital investment and long-term commitment to the local community, with the Kemps Creek site expected to fuel job 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% 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 runs in 20 schools across Western Sydney and reaches over 500 students, encouraging students to leverage the latest technology and upskill for the digital economy. 

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. 

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. 

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

Steven Worrall, Managing Director at Microsoft Australia and New Zealand, says: "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," says Worrall.