Monash node part of $46M national research centre to explore Australia’s deep history for our future

Excavation. Photo by Professor Ian McNiven

The world’s oldest living culture and Australia’s unique environmental history are the focus of a new national research centre, with Monash University taking a leading role in Victoria.

The ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage (CABAH) has launched a seven year $45.7 million interdisciplinary research program to track the natural and human history of Australia – our epic story and how our ancient past may help us with some of today’s leading issues – such as climate change.

As one of seven Universities on the team, Monash is playing a major role in CABAH and is the only Victorian institution involved in this pioneering project.

Directed by Professor Lynette Russell, with Associate Professor Bruno David and Professor Ian McNiven, the project is based in Monash’s Faculty of Arts Indigenous Studies Centre.

“When people have lived on a continent for possibly 60,000 years, and they’ve gone through the previous ice age, and sea level rises, then we can learn a great deal about how they responded to these challenges,” Professor Russell said.

“We are looking across research areas including historical, archaeological, anthropological, and environmental and faunal evidence from ancient times to now.

“It’s hard to imagine, but we know the Aboriginal people had engagement and management of the land for tens of thousands of years – so it’s exciting stuff,” Professor Russell said.

The Centre will provide a unique opportunity for researchers across the Faculty, and the University, to become involved in its programs. 

In helping future-proof Australia’s unique biodiversity and culture using an improved understanding of its legacy, some of the questions of this research project will include:

  • What was a warm Australia like before humans?
  • How did the first humans adapt to their new environment?
  • What were the consequences of initial human expansion?
  • How did Australia’s biota survive in an Ice Age landscape?
  • What was the context to Australia’s demographic explosion?

CABAH will bring the extraordinary environmental and human history of Australia to the public through a comprehensive program of education, outreach and science communication events for schools, museums, science festivals and a range of documentaries and multimedia platforms.

“We still do not have answers to some of the most fundamental questions about this continent or its people, such as the timing and routes of their dispersal around the continent, the timing and extent of major changes in climate and fire regimes, or how landscapes, plants and animals responded to the altered conditions,” Professor Russell said.

CABAH will contribute to Australia’s future through a training program to foster young researchers, with an emphasis on Indigenous participation and support for female researchers.

The funding will support around 40 new research positions and more than 50 new research students over the seven-year life of the Centre.