Science through the eyes of Australia’s first peoples

Shore near ocean at daytime. Credit: Michael Lämmli.

Australian explorers Burke and Wills might have survived had they paid more attention to Indigenous people and taken on board their wisdom and knowledge.

The likely cause of the death of the pair is believed to be beriberi a vitamin deficiency disease they could have succumbed to through eating ngardu sporocarps or ‘seedcakes’ not prepared in line with Indigenous food preparation methods. The food was a common staple for the local Aboriginal people who understood how to prepare it in a way that neutralises the enzyme it contains known to deplete the body of vitamin B1.

Now a new subject ‘Indigenous science: Science through the eyes of Australia’s first peoples’ introduced by Monash University’s Faculty of Science is hoping to bring Indigenous wisdom and knowledge to the forefront of science.

“This unit introduces students to the presence of science in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander practices and shows them the amazing traditions and technology that Australia’s first people developed over millennia,” says unit coordinator Dr Angela Ziebell, from the Faculty of Science.

“We want to instil in our students an understanding of how traditions (and the science that was part of them) can easily be lost when a culture or opinion is allowed to dominate at the cost of others.

“After completing this unit they will have a much deeper appreciation of different traditions and knowledge and will better prepared to take on knew knowledge, and appreciate different views and approaches towards science.”

The unit is already proving so popular that a waiting list has been established for those wanting to enrol - the first 50 places available already snapped up.

The popularity of the subject is a reflection of today’s cohort of students. They are a cohort attuned to the increasing movement on reconciliation and Indigenous issues. And they are interested Indigenous knowledge being used in conservation and sustainable land use.

The new unit is supported by Monash University’s William Cooper Institute -  a hub for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research, learning and engagement and promoting Indigenous leadership and advancement across the University.

The unit will have an Indigenous voice in the classroom to support every session. Monash students have been recruited for this purpose, including, Ngarrindjeri man Andrew Giles who is about to finish his PhD in Geology and Kamilaroi woman and astrophysicist Krystal De Napoli who says that many early discoveries in Australian Indigenous astronomy preceded modern science by thousands of years.

“It is time to recognize the wealth and depth of knowledge of Australia’s Indigenous peoples,” said Dr Ziebell.

Media enquiries:
Silvia Dropulich
Marketing, Media & Communications Manager, Monash Science
T: +61 3 9902 4513 M: +61 435 138 743