Our Vanuatu journey began 5 years ago with a Community of 2 villages whose stories wrap around an amazing ancestral landscape on the north-west coast of Efate (Vanuatu’s capital island) – in fact, through the landscape ‘hooks’ of those stories, it is a designated World Heritage Area.  Our Community’s ambition was to build strength through sharing their culture with visitors in small-scale eco-tourism projects.  Through Australian volunteer (and former Troppo) architect, Wendy Christie, working to develop project detail and funding, we have continued this association. 

Recently, nearby, Troppo has helped create a ‘house-as-resort’ for Australian clients, who have also engaged with the villages and their craftspeople, and a broader network of island knowledge and resources – Vanuatu is an extraordinary (and literal) commonwealth.  The house-as-resort has been built commercially, but using traditional materials, exquisitely worked with unstinting and fine skill.  The house-as-resort has now become a local base and touch-point for disparate post-cyclone recovery tasks.  That’s some good news.

Travelling northward the small offshore islands and their communities are, well, razed.  Much worse.

Our good mate, Architect David Morris has led a UniSA project on Tanna for 4 years, the island next south of Efate; and this is also seriously devastated.  David’s work, too, was for a project for village-based economic development through eco-tourism. 

Jointly, we are in awe of the Ni-Vanuatu (of-Vanuatu) traditional way of building.  Jointly we are engaged in programs to learn about cultural ways of life, to wisely develop community infrastructure, and to promote economic development that will strengthen community and educational opportunity.

There has been no architectural and planning fraternity in Vanuatu, and, as a result, little architectural and planning debate and consideration in town or community shaping, and around building design.  (There were/ are a lot of Real Estate agents though!)  We anticipate, the cyclone will be followed by a maelstrom of western ‘rebuilding’ advice.  In the face of that mix, with remembrance of Darwin, we imagine ‘our’ Vanuatu communities and Government authorities, may need support in seeing their way to shape things in a really Ni-Van way, with an eye to a long future horizon. 

Our vision for rebuilding, through agreement with each community, is to act as ‘enablers’ for Community to go about reconstruction in Ni-Van ways, to do it ‘straight, right, true’, and with technical and moral support to do it as well as possible.  We see rebuilding not as an end-game, but as a socially and culturally reinforcing process with potential ongoing Community benefit – and employment and education opportunities.   ...Bildimap I Stret!

We are not seeking to offer emergency aid or emergency shelter – we’ll leave that immediate and necessary action to the specialists in that area.

Rather, we propose to support, in the beginning, the communities we know, and, if appropriate, their near neighbours, to define and establish processes for local expression and cultural enhancement in the rebuild, to obviate un-informed acceptance of imposed western-engineered, imported answers.

Through the success of working locally with a known social terrain, perhaps our approach can cascade wider.  Either way, we imagine this is a task that will span years.

We are now in contact with our respective communities, but we will need Vanuatu Government endorsement to proceed – and, fellow Australian architects, we need to work with your support, for our actions will represent us all over there.  

We are aware of Australian Architect Paul Pholeros’ Healthabitat’s great and acknowledged work in Indigenous Australia and internationally (from New York to Nepal)  in analysing public health issues in poorly serviced communities, and in devising responsive site development principles down  to durable ‘health hardware’ to fit local demands to improve those communities health.  Paul will always be our mentor.

Led by a surviving network of already community-focussed residents in Port Vila, we expect to be supported by fellow academics and students, through existing programs at UniSA and the University of Adelaide (at the least). 

Following initial reconnaissance in coming weeks, we imagine our program of support might involve:

  • Contextual mapping of topography and patterns of village development
  • Researching the performance of traditional, hybrid and ‘contemporary’ structures, and sheltering, and food and water resource protection practices through the cyclone
  • Sharing this research with others, and learning from others’ research
  • Listening , to seek to understand community ambitions for rebuilding, and to assist communities articulate those ambitions to Government and agencies
  • Supporting and training (and learning ourselves from) village ‘architects’
  • Sharing wider (international) knowledge of construction in cyclonic and earthquake areas
  • Sharing knowledge of appropriate servicing technologies with communities and authorities
  • Reviewing contemporary Vanuatu and regional Pacific development standards
  • Assisting reconstruction and furtherance of traditional and new skills and crafts
  • Building a local economy based in ‘making’ (rather than ‘consuming’)
  • Easing the passage of skills toward commercial activity in the wider Vanuatu economy

...But we’ll wait for the conversations under the Big Mango Tree to unfold before priorities and strategies are set.

Enough of words:  this pic is of the folly that is the ‘crown’ over our house’s site bore, in construction – it made it through!...



...And also, we’re just now told, so did this traditional cyclone shelter on the tiny, otherwise devastated island of Nguna.


If you are able to morally support us in this work, or can offer services to assist us, we would be pleased to hear from you.

+61 408 030669

And if you wish to support us financially, we have established a Foundation, as follows:

Revive Vanuatu

Bentleys (SA) Pty Ltd Trust Account

BSB:  035 010   Account No:  143 099

Trustees: Miranda Hodge, Luella Brooke's-Ingliss, Phil Harris

Administrator: Bentleys

We shall advise the progress of our work in this space (on the Troppo website), at least initially.  

Chief Roi Mata’s Domain Eco Tourism Proposal, Efate 2009- 

Chief Roi Mata’s Domain on Efate, Vanuatu is the Pacific Islands’ first cultural World Heritage site.  There Troppo are working with the people of the Domain to deliver a low-key community-managed tourism venture that will develop local employment during construction and operation.

The project has adopted the notion of a ‘dispersed resort’, along the coral strewn coast of the domain.  Access will be by canoe!  Structures are devised to use locally won materials, assembled in traditional ways to accommodate visitors in ‘simple luxury’, working the characters of each site - a beach, a rock, a tree.  All servicing will be simple, durable and autonomous - and with spin-offs for the local village

Link to Website - Chief Roi Mata's Domain