A unique collaboration between scientists and Aboriginal Elders has been honoured at the “Oscars” of Australian science.
The National Indigenous Science Education Program was presented the first “STEM Inclusion” award at the Australian Museum Eureka Prizes in Sydney on Wednesday night.
The program began nearly 20 years ago when chemist Joanne Jamie and her colleagues at Macquarie University started working with Yaegl Country Aboriginal Elders.
During a project to record their bush medicine knowledge, the Elders asked the scientists to help empower their children.
Together they developed a program which delivers science workshops and customary knowledge to Aboriginal high school students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Will Frazer, a student who started the program in Year 7 at Casino High School, is now studying science and law at Macquarie University.
"The NISEP program I think was really good for helping me build my confidence," he said.
"It's taught me skills and given countless opportunities over the last years and it has led me to where I currently am."
Young leaders from the program engage 2000 people each year.
Dr Jamie said the program showed there were great opportunities to be found if academics and Indigenous communities collaborated with one another.
“Just speak to each other and you may be able to achieve amazing things," she said.
Uncle Ronald Heron, a Yaegl Elder who has academic background as well as bush medicine expertise, said he'd like to see more Indigenous people involved in science.
"It doesn't come easy," he said, "but going to high school and finishing high school is the first start."
Other winners at the awards have researched wetland carbon storage, helped restore mobility to people with paralysis and created disappearing bone repair material.