Indigenous Australia has some of the world’s earliest scientists and inventors, who have witnessed major astronomical and catastrophic events like tsunamis, meteorite, floods, and entire ice ages, and fortunately have survived to tell the story.
Long before the Greeks were studying the stars Indigenous Australians were developing highly sophisticated sciences. However, when the British invaded and oppressive government policy was placed on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the ongoing practices of Indigenous sciences suffered significantly.
This year Sydney’s National Science Week event will feature an Indigenous Science Symposium, aiming to finally dispel the notion that Indigenous sciences are 'primitive' or 'less than'. Presented by the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences Indigenous Programming, the Symposium is also in partnership with INDIGILAB, an Indigenous STEM advocacy network.
Marcus Hughes, MAAS Indigenous program manager says that this gathering brings together Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander academics, theorists, researchers, designers, engineers, educators and students from across the community.
“It provides an important opportunity to shape future research and investigations that are focused on exploring and sharing the sophistication, richness and leadership of Australia’s First Peoples within the scientific domain.”
Among the keynote speakers are Indigenous science educator and author of ‘Beyond the Dark Emu’, Bruce Pascoe. Pascoe is a Bunurong, Tasmanian and Yuin man and one of Australia’s leading Aboriginal writers, thought leaders and cultural theorists. Rather than the myths that Indigenous people were simply ‘hunters and gatherers’, Pascoe uncovered and educated Australia that there is far more to Indigenous history – including the awe-inspiring fact that we may have been the first people in the world to make bread.
“When I went to school I was taught that Aboriginal people have been in Australia for only 10,000 years and then I learnt the truth that Aboriginal people were living in Australia for more than 80,000 years when I got older,” Pascoe told NITV.
Pascoe aims to share his vision for a future where Indigenous sciences are truly valued and the conversations and research are led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait voices and intelligences.
“The ‘Out of Africa’ theory is a useful theory for European people as it fits in well, but the recent discoveries of stool tools in north Australia which date back to over 100,000 years tells us that Aboriginal people have been living in this country for a minimum of 80,000 years.”
“The ‘Out of Africa’ theory is a useful theory for European people as it fits in well, but the recent discoveries of stool tools in north Australia which date back to over 100,000 years tells us that Aboriginal people have been living in this country for a minimum of 80,000 years.” Pascoe says.
As Indigenous Australians have been innovating for thousands of years, they have been greatly adaptive and creative with new media technologies, using them to suit their own ways of life and maintain cultural boundaries rather than simply assimilating into the dominant social order. Communities that survived the cataclysmic forces of colonisation are now telling their stories and constructing new forms of cultural power in the digital age.
This is an area of specialty to Palawa woman and Indigenous science educator, Angie Abdilla, who will be presenting her analysis of the First Indigenous Robotics Prototype Workshop at the Symposium event.
“We have thousands of years of experience in designing and creating new technologies - the digital age is no different, the only barrier is access to the technologies,” Abdilla told NITV.
“My connection to Western science has been through a personal curiosity for all new technologies, driven by divergent formats and forms of storytelling. My connection to Indigenous sciences, as an Indigenous woman, is innate.
“Within an Indigenous paradigm, Indigenous Sciences are not segregated but part of all aspects of our culture and lore,” says Angie.
We now see communications and Technologies transforming society, improving our mutual understanding, eliminating power differentials and realising a truly free and democratic world society.
Indigenous Digital Excellence (IDE) is an initiative by Telstra and the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence (NCIE), with the aim to help Indigenous communities get access to technology. The partnership has just launched the IDX Road Map which is a national industry strategy.
“Born from the world’s oldest living cultures, it is fitting that we lead in this new era of innovation. With our cultures at the core of all that we do, we will envision, map and celebrate a future of Indigenous Digital Excellence,” says Kirstie Parker, CEO of NCIE.
Jackie Coates, Head of the Telstra Foundation says, “In a world underpinned by connection, there has never been a better time for Indigenous communities to create their own digital excellence strategy. Telstra is proud to be a partner and supporter in this journey.”
Only in recent years have mainstream scientists acknowledged the role Indigenous science plays in sustaining Australia's ecosystem and the positive impact it has on the economy. So, how can Indigenous and western science work together and why is it important?
“I think Western and Indigenous sciences can come together, one focus should be in the field of archaeology. I think it’s about time Australia revises its history and I feel that they are willing but we need to work together to make this happen."
“I think Western and Indigenous sciences can come together, one focus should be in the field of archaeology. I think it’s about time Australia revises its history and I feel that they are willing but we need to work together to make this happen." Pascoe told NITV.
Angie Abdilla says, “It is of critical importance for the Commonwealth Education System and Australian Academia to create opportunities for future work that incorporates both Western and Indigenous Sciences. The benefits of such partnerships have the potential to unearth divergent insights into various research areas, all the while increasing community capacity through active and genuine engagement.”
As Australia progresses into a ‘Knowledge Economy’ symposiums like this help Australia to consider what role Indigenous communities will play and whether Indigenous sciences and the communities who own that knowledge be a core part of this landscape.