The First Australians had millennia to study the way that land, plants and animals interacted and were interlinked. Their ability to observe and collect information about these natural systems allowed 60,000+ years of continuous culture. This makes Australia’s first people the earliest observational scientists who’s society is still with us. This encyclopedia-like knowledge and an understanding that nature was different across place and time, and was vital to successfully inhabit every part of Australia. The perspectives that developed over those millennia are still here for us to learn from. We have chosen the large overarching topic of Ecosystems to match the complexity the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders see the world. Plants do not exist without the birds that feed on their fruit, the microbes that keep their roots healthy, and the nutrient in the soil in which they grow. Systems are complex and Indigenous knowldeges and perspectives embrace that complexity at their core.

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[Photo by Curioso photography on Unsplash]

Caring for Country

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures have always deep connections with the landscape and the plants and animals that live alongside them. Watch below as Albert Wiggins talks about Indigenous knowledge as Science in the context of environmental change and ecosystems (May 2019, Sydney).

 As highlighted in the quote below and discussed in a current context in The Conversation (2020) Zena Cumpston (The University of Melbourne) discusses the importance of working alongside traditional owners and giving traditional owners real power and leadership opportunities in order to address ecological crisis in Australia. Zena is a Barkandji woman who workds as a fellow for the Clean Air Urban Landscapes Hub. You can see Zena along with Associate Professor Michael-Shawn Fletcher, a Wiradjuri man from the University of Melbourne and Associate Professor Bradley Moggridge, a Murri from the Kamilaroi Nation and from the University of Canberra discuss caring for Country in the video below (NAIDOC 2020).

“First Peoples have a relationship with Country that is loving, reciprocal and engaged. This “kincentric” relationship includes custodianship obligations – often lacking within non-Indigenous views of Country. Instead of being seen as kin – something to be cared for, listened to, deeply respected and nurtured – Country is seen by many non-Indigneous people as a resource to be exploited and controlled.

Our custodianship of Country, our Law and our vast ecological knowledges are all attached to a place. For each area in Australia, the mob belonging to that place must be engaged, and empowered to speak for that Country.”

– Zena Cumpston, Research Fellow

Firestick farming or cultural burning

Firestick, farming, cultural burning, or cool burning is something that more Australians than ever have started to hear about after the historically destructive 2019/20 fires on the east coast of Australia.

Victor Steffensen is an indigenous filmmaker, musician, and consultant reapplying traditional knowledge into the changing world and today’s society and is well known for his work in this space. (Please note that there are important nuances to how people may use these three terms differently including whether non-Indigenous people are being included in fire management processes.)

There are a very large number of resources in this space. You can find a range of resources below that cover the use of fire in caring for Country which non-Indigenous Australian’s are probably more likely to identify as looking after the environment or our ecosystems. You can start by hearing from Bill Gammage author of The Biggest Estate on Earth in this piece. Bill Gammage’s work is incredibly important in putting forward evidence that Australia’s first peoples were managing the land not just surviving. The book is widely available. is a great resource of 7 podcasts.   

Sustainable harvesting

Aquaculture and agriculture were very important to different Nations across Australia. Two well-known aquaculture sites are Budj Bim in Western Victoria which recently received World Heritage listing for its cultural value and the Brewarrina fish traps in New South Wales. You can also see Bruce Pascoe talk about rope and nets, vital in some sorts of fishing. The Odessey traveller also has some interesting articles, including Aboriginal aquaculture which talks about multiple sites.