The Australian Government has awarded an ARC grant totalling $358,313 to a Senior Charles Darwin University researcher whose project focuses on aspects of the Yolngu people in North-east Arnhem Land of the Northern Territory.
The Minister for Education, Senator the Hon. Simon Birmingham, on Wednesday announced the outcomes of the Australian Research Council’s ‘Discovery Early Career Researcher Award, Discovery Indigenous and Discovery Projects’ schemes for funding in 2017.
Dr Linda Ford’s project will examine the nature of Aboriginal or Yolngu cosmology and its meaning for and effect on public policy for women and gender.
“The main thing is that is about making sure that Aboriginal women in remote communities’ voices are heard,” she said.
“It creates a faith in higher education through the research, so Aboriginal women will be able to articulate the principals that govern their lives and well-being.”
In the North-east Arnhem region of Elcho Island at Gawa, the project would identify the Djurrwirr Yalu guiding principles used to enhance the levels of governance and other systems applied to their community, culture, traditional ecological environmental knowledge and skill sets.
“As an aboriginal researcher this project is important because it’s one of the first ones that really embraces Aboriginal knowledge and it recognizes aboriginal knowledge in a way that it hasn’t in the past – and that’s what’s really exciting.”
What is Aboriginal cosmology?
Aboriginal cosmology is about the holistic spiritual view of Aboriginal people. It looks at the cosmos and it’s about reading different star alignments over different periods of the year and understanding how that impacts on Aboriginal women’s knowledge and experience.
The Rak Makmakmarranunggu woman from southwest of Darwin grew up with her mother, father, uncles, aunties and elders, all of which, taught her to be a ‘true mukmuk person,’ and a main part of that is about understanding stars.
Dr Ford says one of the myths about this is that it demystifies what research is about in the community.
“In the past, Aboriginal people have been the most researched groups in the world, but in this instance, we are now the leaders of the research project... So we get to lead the show.”
Vice-Chancellor of CDU, Professor Simon Maddocks says funding for Dr Ford’s ground-breaking research will benefit future generations.
“One of the goals in CDU’s strategic plan is to be a leader in Indigenous tertiary education in Australia,” he said.
“Research of the nature that Dr Ford is undertaking will help us to achieve this and also deliver benefits to Indigenous communities.”
The anticipated benefits included supporting and retaining established Yolngu Australian researchers in traditional ecological environmental knowledge, and improving Yolngu wellbeing and quality of life.
Dr Ford along with Indigenous elder Cathy Gudhadjaka will lead the project, with the help of two other PHD students who will work between Gawa and Charles Darwin University campus.
Without Gudhadjaka’s help, Dr Ford said this wouldn’t be possible, she says their personal and professional relationship is what enabled them to earn this grant.
“When I met Cathy Gudhadjaka, she was working at CDU so our paths overlapped and when my mother passed, she was there for me to help my grieving period and from then on we developed an ongoing relationship and started working on our kinship links through our totem it was then that we agreed I call her mother.”
Dr Ford said Gudhadjaka could hardly contain her excitement when she was informed about the good news.
“I got the biggest fright of my life, one minute I’m talking to her and the next I hear this loud scream…
‘YAKI, YAKI, YAKI’ = (yes yes yes)
“She was excited, happy and sorry at the same time. She couldn’t believe that we finally got accepted and could begin working on our project together.
Both women are thrilled to begin their new journey and Dr Ford says the main aim is to cater for the remote Aboriginal women and make sure they have a voice.
“Part of the project now will be to get in touch with the office of women who are part of the NT Government … and put them in touch with women in the remote Aboriginal communities - and I mean ‘remote’ ‘remote’ - to have a voice and make sure they're able to engage.”