Indigenous Science Network Bulletin

August 2002 (Volume 5, Number 4)

Editor: Michael Michie








John Broomhead and Thelma Singleton
Southern Cross University


Chromosome:  A threadlike linear strand of DNA and associated proteins in the nucleus of animal and plant cells that carries the genes and functions in the transmission of hereditary information. Also a circular strand of DNA in bacteria and cyanobacteria that contains the hereditary information necessary for cell life.

DNA:  deoxyribonucleic acid

DNA  heterologous: Derived from a different species: a heterologous graft.

Mutant  A mutant organism in which the mutational event did not involve the introduction of any foreign nucleic acid (that is, non-homologous DNA, usually from another species).

Recombinant DNA: A new technique known as recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), or gene splicing, allows scientists to alter an organism's genes directly by joining its DNA to the DNA of a second organism.


Herbs, concoction and potions have been part of life in Australia for thousands of years, and knowledge and ownership of medicinal cures from plants and plant extracts are common knowledge to aboriginal people and within their culture, but who owns this information?

This paper looks at bio-piracy of a section of the DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) and how scientists are setting up conjointly with universities and major companies to collect data in what is being called genetic plant banks, and how they are exploiting known plants because they now know the very bases of plants genetics.   The basis of life’s variety and common theme is the genetic information “the sequence of nucleotides in the DNA”, referred to in short as the blue print of every specific species. Science has learned to identify the nucleotide sequence of a segment of DNA of a species. They are now taking this to the next step of cloning and patenting this intellectual property.

Recommendations have been made for reform but little has been done to implement those recommendations. Intellectual property and the environment are becoming the major step in the Australian economy, with a nasty adverse  impact on the Indigenous communities, knowledge and assets. Southern Cross University for example is in conjoint with others and has set up a plant DNA bank (Anastasia Guise 2002). This type of joint venture leaves out what is believed to be one of the most important partners, the original intellectual property owners, the local Indigenous people[1]. How can joint venture arrangements leave out the property owners?

The issue for indigenous people is, who owns the intellectual property rights of plants and the knowledge of plants' properties. Does a scientist have the right because he has identified and or modified the nucleotide sequence of a segment of the DNA of a species? Does it belong to the original owners, people who developed medicinal properties over the centuries?

Genetic banks, are identifying the DNA sequence of Native Australian Plants and plant structures. These sequences are then compiled thus allowing the patenting and exploitation of native plants by the new possessor and not the customary proprietor, the Aboriginal people of the particular area.

The sinister practice developing is called bio-piracy bootlegging of plants genetics, and by identifying the particular type of plant chromosome, scientist can then synthetise amino acids and peptide bonds. The end result is a genetic substance that will act the same, the chemical copy of the original nucleotide sequence of a segment of the DNA of a species. This allows the possessor to gain profit but at the same time avoid paying the customary proprietors royalties for the genetic DNA sequence of the plant or pay for the use of the genetic DNA sequence.

An example one could use of synthetic genetic DNA sequencing in the market place would be Nylon11 and Nylon 12[2]. Nylon 11[3] is a polymer made from the castor oil tree and is used in gas pipes in and around Sydney; Nylon 12 is the petrochemical polymer equivalent[4] of nylon 11 or to use another term the bio-piracy bootlegging of the castor oil plants resin. While the castor oil tree is native to Africa, Australian Native plants are going the same way and more so with the development of DNA Plant Banks.

The impact as far as Indigenous people are concerned is pure exploitation, Anastasia Guise in her paper Indigenous Concern over Plant DNA Bank[5] said “the billion–dollar ti-tree industry, for example, does not benefit local Indigenous people who discovered and developed ti-tree’s medicinal properties over centuries.” She went on to say not only is there not a memorandum of understanding between Indigenous people and Southern Cross University, but there needs to be protection for Indigenous people’s intellectual property. This was also stated by Professor Judy Atkinson, the head of the school for Indigenous Australian Studies at Southern Cross University.

The Goongandji peoples of North Queensland used ti-tree as medicinal oil for healing, the Brinja-Yuin people of Southern New South Wales also used the ti-tree as a medicinal oil for healing including the rare Deua river ti-tree. From this it is not too hard to see as Professor Judy Atkinson put it, "We’ve been ripped off".

Indigenous people (the stakeholders) are the most exploited of all the communities in Australia, the problem is as this exploitation continues, the Australian people as a whole end up paying for the exploitation, monopolisation and greed of a few, as it is stopping Indigenous people developing from off the bottom of the ladder with viable partnerships.

In 1973 a National Seminar on Aboriginal Art held to coincide with establishment of the Aboriginal Arts Board, passed resolutions that sought procedures to enable Aboriginal groups to protect and control the use of their own particular works and designs. Also the strict control by non indigenous people of these Art works.

Issues during consultations covered a range of areas. People were concerned with the protection of their individual intellectual property rights as artists, authors and designers. They were also concerned about protecting what were seen as communal intellectual property rights. These might include such things as the images expressed in cave art, weaving techniques and forms of technology, traditional designs and motifs, forms of ceremonial practice and traditional knowledge of flora and fauna, conservation techniques of traditional medicine.

The general lack of recognition and protection under Australian law for the broad range of intellectual cultural property of Indigenous people has been a matter of concern for over twenty years. A number of studies have been conducted over the years mainly concentrating on the protection of artists and forms of cultural expression. Recommendations, such as the one mentioned below, have been made for reform, but little has been done to implement those recommendations.

In the pager Recognition Rights and Reform Protection of Intellectual Property[6], Recommendation 81 states that the Commonwealth Government should amend statutes relevant to Intellectual property rights to safeguard the Integrity and ownership of Indigenous cultural property in a manner which recognises the particular features of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ownership, including perpetual and communal rights

The Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation commends initiatives, such as the establishment of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Committee under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 to assist in the protection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ethno-biological knowledge in Australia[7].

ATSIC and the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) contains a series of recommendations that suggests legislative intervention to protect the unique aspects of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander intellectual and cultural property, which is also supported by the Council.

It is the fundamental right of every person to receive their hereditary possession this includes Indigenous peoples, they have a right under Australian law a right to share in the commercial gain arising from the exploitation of flora and fauna. This hereditary possession[8] is being played out in the courts under Native Title.

Whatever the outcome of this issue of Intellectual Property Rights of traditional knowledge of native plants, the indigenous people of Australia will have taken another step towards promoting increased understanding of their cultural heritage. Clearly defining that, not only material things but also immaterial things, make up a person or a group of people expressions of identity.

This is why it is very important to the Aboriginal people of Australia to increase awareness and recognition of their legal rights to Intellectual Property and to their basic human rights as a whole.

Bio-piracy bootlegging on the other hand is a pure form of exploitation in a way not seen before in this Country, Unless this issue is address quickly by today’s leaders, before bio-piracy bootlegging  gets out of hand, all it will take is an agreement with all Indigenous people where a plant originally grows to be partners.

[1] Native Title Act 1993




[5] Guise, Anastasia. (2002). Indigenous Concern over Plant DNA Bank.  term paper Southern Cross University

[6] Indigenous Law Resources: Recognition Rights and Reform - Protection of Intellectual Property

[7] Recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Rights, May 2000 – Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation

[8] Wills, Probate and Administration Act 1898



ASERA Conference, Townsville, 11-14 July 2002

From my perspective it was certainly another worthwhile conference and I want to share with you some of the research presented at the conference which I feel would be of interest to members of the network. 

  • Liz McKinley (Waikato) and Peter Ninnes (New England) held a symposium on new challenges on science education and presented a draft paper entitled Paying attention to diversity in science education
  • Marilyn Fleer (Monash University): Embedded and disembedded learning in socioculturally situated scientific activity

The conference was also attended by a group of Japanese participants who presented papers on the work they have been doing.

  • Ken Kawasaki (Kochi University) - Confusing in the conception "reality": Is it sensible or insensible in science education? Abstract: This paper presents science educators' strategy for teaching pupils to consider scientific reality in various cultural settings for science education. This strategy works on the basis of a distinction between "what exists" and "what ought to exist", namely appearance and reality. As a rule, "what exists" is explained in terms of "what ought to exist". Therefore, science teachers presuppose scientific explanation to be explained in terms of scientific reality. In the western culture, scientific reality is definitely regarded as insensible. In the Japanese culture, however, "what ought to exist" consists of sensible things. Therefore, Japanese students are inclined to explain scientific phenomena they have just observed in terms of sensible things. Drawing their attention to this pupils' attitude, science educators can promote Japanese linguistic-cultural setting for science education. This strategy is applicable to other non-Western nations with proper linguistic-cultural interpretation.
  • Hayashi Nakayama and Rumiko Kawano (Miyazaki University) - Japanese science teachers' notion of whether nature is explainable. Abstract: Clearly there is a difference between "to observe nature" and "to contemplate nature": what is obtained from nature in observing is not the same as is obtained in contemplating. Structural linguistics explains this difference by "syntagmatic relationship". Since each language establishes innate syntagmatic relations to the language concerned, it is highly probable that even in science lessons Japanese teachers differently obtain from "nature" through the Japanese equivalent of "to observe": "kansatsu". In order to reveal this, we conduct a questionnaire survey whether "nature" is explainable, and receive answers from 76 science teachers. Almost all of them do not agree that "nature" is explainable. Referring to the proverb "To see is to believe", some of them stress the importance of contemplating phenomena and having their images, and appreciate pupils' expression without words. In Japan science teachers must have different notions about "to observe" and "to describe" from those of science teachers in western countries.
  • Masakata Ogawa (Kobe University) - Nature of indigenous education: A stratified and amalgamated model of knowledge and cosmology. Abstract: Indigenous science, defined by Ogawa (1995) in the framework of his 'science education in multi-science perspective' is re-explored from a Japanese context. The findings are that (1) indigenous science should not be conceived as one system of knowledge and cosmology, as Western Modern Science is, but as a body of stratified and amalgamated knowledge and cosmology with several different kinds of precedent cultures or civilizations, and (2) indigenous science is vividly alive in contemporary ways of life. Also explored is how indigenous science has been and is taught in educational settings not just in school science (RIKA) programs in Japan. Some implications to other cultural contexts are made.
  • Manabu Sumida (Ehime University) - Can post-modern science teachers change modern children's images of science? Abstract: The 20th century is the century of progress in science and technology. Since science and science education have spread around the world, we are now able to compare our children's science achievement in the world. However, there are very few studies on children's hidden presuppositions to perceptions about science and scientists in non-western countries, especially in Asia. In this study, Asian children's images of science and scientists are investigated by using the Draw-a-Scientist-Test method. It includes areas of China, Indonesia, Korea, the Philippines, and Japan. Asian children's images reveal some kinds of amalgams of their indigenous science and western modern science. The results show that experiences of Asian countries in globalization of science education contain many issues about culture, language, and gender in education. It is the legacy of the 20th century of which post-modern science teachers should take care in their science classrooms.

ION Update

ION stands for Indigenous Online Network and it is operated by the Aboriginal Research Institute at the University of South Australia. It is sent out fortnightly by e-mail and I have been forwarding to the Indigenous Science Network members as I receive it. I have also included some information from it in this Bulletin.

* If you know of people who would like to receive these Updates please ask them to send a message to asking that they be included on the distribution lists.
* Anyone with information or resources they would like added to the site can email from the website, or to the address on this Update, or to the general ION email address in the previous bullet point.

Desert Knowledge Cooperative Research Centre Initiative

A proposal to develop a Desert Knowledge CRC is currently before the Federal Government. The centre aims to serve five client groups, Indigenous interests, state and national agencies, local and community governments, major corporations and small business sectors. The centre aims to capitalise on existing desert knowledge, economies currently sustaining Australia's inland environments for the following purposes:

  • to develop and disseminate an understanding of sustainable living in remote desert environments; 
  • to deliver enduring regional economies and livelihoods based on desert knowledge;
  • to create the networks to market this knowledge in other desert lands;
  • to increase the self reliance of the region;
  • to contribute to sustainable livelihoods of all desert inhabitants, but especially create such opportunities for Indigenous Australians.

There are nine core partners in the Desert Knowledge CRC. They are ATSIC (who will contribute $500,000 per year for seven years), Central Land Council, CSIRO, Curtin University of Technology, Desert People's Centre, Northern Territory Government, Northern Territory University, Western Australian Government and the Australian National University. There are also numerous supporting partners from industry, government and the tertiary education sector. (ION update)


Worldviews, students, science teachers, school science: Where to next? The following two books were recently reviewed by Glen Aikenhead (2001) in Studies in Science Education, vol. 36. You will need to check there for a copy of the review.

  • June George and Joyce Glasgow. (1999) The boundaries between Caribbean beliefs and practices and conventional science.  Kingston, Jamaica: UNESCO (ISBN: 976-95037-0-3).
  • William W. Cobern. (2000) Everyday thoughts about nature: a worldview investigation of important concepts students use to make sense of nature with specific attention of science. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers (ISBN 0-7923-6344-2, Hb).

Better Practice in School Attendance – Improving the School Attendance of Indigenous Students was undertaken by Professor Colin Bourke MBE, Monash University, Dr Ken Rigby and Ms Jenny Burden, University of South Australia, as a collaborative project involving the Centre for Indigenous Studies at Monash University.   Drawing from an analysis of schools data, a literature review and consultations, the report outlines the patterns and characteristics of schools attendance of Indigenous students.  It also discusses possible causes of non-attendance and strategies to improve attendance.
Full Report: PDF (372kb 66 pages), RTF (from Australian Department of Education, Science and Training website)

Ecotourism and Indigenous Peoples, By Heather Zeppel PhD, Research Fellow in Cultural Tourism, Charles Sturt University
This 1997 paper identifies the key issues in ecotourism for host communities, particularly Indigenous peoples. Methods of planning and managing the socio-cultural impacts of ecotourism are considered, especially Indigenous responses to achieving sustainable ecotourism. It is available at <> (ION update)

Indigenous Material on the Boondall Wetlands Web site <>
These web pages are part of the 'Brisbane Stories' web site, the Internet publications of community projects initiated and funded by the Brisbane City Council. Boondall Wetlands website explores the Indigenous and European history of the Wetlands. This link provides access to the Indigenous references at that site. (ION update)

Indigenous Self-Determination in the Age of Globalisation (Prof Larissa Behrendt)
This is one of the papers delivered at the Caston Centre for Human Rights' conference: "Human rights and global challenges" held in 2001. The papers are now online at the Caston Centre website. The author, Prof. Larissa Behrendt is Professor of Law and Indigenous Studies and the Director of the Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning at the University of Technology, Sydney. (ION update)

Ask First: A guide to respecting Indigenous heritage places and values
Produced by the Australian Heritage Commission, the publication, Ask First, is designed to help developers, planners, researchers and managers identify and address Indigenous heritage issues before planning for developments. Available in pdf format at (ION update)

Indigenous Hunter-Gatherers in the 21st Century: Beyond the Limits of Universalism in Australian Social Policy by Jon Altman (Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, ANU, (ION update)

Speaking out for an Indigenous Australian Languages Act: The case for legislative activism for the maintenance of Australia's Indigenous languages, by Dr Christine Nicholls
From 'Crossings', Vol 7, No 1. 2002, a journal-newsletter produced by InASA (International Australian Studies Association). In this paper, Christine Nicholls argues for an Australian Languages Act to give equal official and legal status to Indigenous Australian languages to that presently accorded to the English language in this country. (ION update)

Guiding Stars - Astronomy of the Ancestors
John Morieson has undertaken research in archaeoastronomy using knowledge from the Boorong Aboriginal people in western Victoria. He is currently working with some Koori students from Swan Hill TAFE who are linking their art to the astronomy of the ancestors. This link is to the SBS Whatever: Issues web pages. Click on the link to "Guiding Stars" on the right hand side. Information is presented as an audio feature.


Remaking Asia Pacific Studies: Knowledge, Power, and Pedagogy, an international conference hosted by School of Hawaiian, Asian and Pacific Studies, University of Hawai'i at Manoa, 2-5 December 2002. 

This four-day conference seeks to remake Asia Pacific studies around curriculum that better reflects movements of people and ideas across boundaries, as well as the complexities of global-local relations. It considers the changing relationship between knowledge and power in Asia Pacific scholarship, and explores exciting new interactive pedagogies that establish more equitable relations with studied communities. For more information on the themes and Calls for Papers please visit the website, at Inquiries to Terence Wesley-Smith, Conference Convener (ION update)

Internationalizing Education in the Asia-Pacific Region: Critical Reflections, Critical Times  - 6-8 December 2002, : University of New England, Armidale NSW

The primary aim of the conference is to critically reflect on the internationalization of education with particular reference to the Asia-Pacific region and a focus on meanings, purposes, ethics, practices, futures, tensions, contradictions, and consequences in these critical times of complex and shifting economic and social movements. Papers and panel discussions will be invited from scholars working in on-shore and off-shore programs, or researching such programs or issues related to the globalization/internationalization of education, postcoloniality, and global and regional education movements, shifts, and transitions. Paper and panel proposals are also invited on other topics outside the theme but relevant to comparative and international education. For more information on conference and Call for Papers dates please visit the website at

Program and Presentation Enquiries: Peter Ninnes, School of Education, Phone: +61 (0) 2 6773 3087, Fax: +61 (0) 2 6773 3350, E-mail:
Contact: Registration and Accommodation: UNE Conference Company, University of New England, Phone: +61 (0) 2 6773 2154, Fax: +61 (0) 2 6773 3766, E-mail:

ICASE 2003: World conference on science and technology education. "Increasing the relevance of science and technology education for all in the 21st century". 7-10 April 2003, Penang, Malaysia.

The conference aims to bring together science educators, industry representatives and national teams from over one hundred countries 

  • to share and discuss current developments and issues
  • to identify important policy and research directions
  • to strengthen international cooperation
  • to set an agenda for world science and technology education.

Contact: ICASE 2003, SEAMEO RECSAM, Jalan Sultan Azlan Shah, 11700 Gelugor, Penang, Malaysia. Tel: +60-4-658 3266/7, Fax: +60-4-657 2541, E-mail:


This is mostly a summary of upcoming conferences. More details may have been given above, in previous bulletins or circulated by e-mail. A web-based contact is usually included.

August 2002

4-10 August 2002: World Indigenous Peoples Conference on Education - Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

 6-11 August: 'The Boston TEE Party'. DRAFT details of North American Association for Environmental Education's 2002 conference, Boston Email:,

13-17 August 2002: Garma Festival Forum, Nhulunbuy NT; inquiries can be made to Wayne Willis at or by telephone on 08 8941 0202. 

September 2002

2-5 September 2002: Second International Forum on Education Reform: Key Factors in Effective Implementation will be held in Bangkok, Thailand.

24-26 September 2002: Curtin University of Technology, Sarawak Campus, Malaysia will host the International Conference on "Higher Education for the 21st Century", in Miri, Sarawak, Malaysia.

November 2002

18-21 November 2002: Globalization and Localization Enmeshed: Searching for a Balance in Education, Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand. For the detail of the Conference, please visit the Conference website at or contact the organizer of E-mail: <>

December 2002

1-5 December 2002:  Australian Association for Research in Education, 2002 Education Research Conference, Brisbane, Queensland  (

2-5 December 2002: Remaking Asia Pacific Studies: Knowledge, Power, and Pedagogy - School of Hawaiian, Asian and Pacific Studies, University of Hawai'i at Manoa  (, e-mail

6-8 December 2002 :  Internationalizing Education in the Asia-Pacific Region: Critical Reflections, Critical Times  - University of New England, Armidale NSW (,  E-mail:

January 2003

5-8 January 2003: International Congress for School Effectiveness and Improvement (ICSEI 2003) Sydney, Australia.

April 2003

7-10 April: ICASE 2003: World conference on science and technology education. "Increasing the relevance of science and technology education for all in the 21st century". Penang, Malaysia. (

July 2003

July 2003: CONASTA 52 - Australian Science Teacher's Association (ASTA) National Conference, Brisbane Qld

July 2002: Australasian Science Education Research Association (ASERA), 34th Annual Conference, University of Melbourne, Melbourne Vic

30 July - 3 August 2003: 7th  International History, Philosophy and Science Teaching Group Conference, Winnipeg, Manitoba.  The conference chair is Professor Art Stinner (, and the conference secretary and programme chair is Dr Stephen Klassen ( Further details are available from the secretary and from the IHPST web site (

July 2004

July 2004: CONASTA 53 - Australian Science Teacher's Association (ASTA) National Conference, Canberra ACT

July 2004: Australasian Science Education Research Association (ASERA), 35th Annual Conference, University of New England, Armidale NSW


A listing of conferences is also maintained by the University of South Australia's Indigenous Online Network, at From there you can also access proceedings from the first Forum on Indigenous Research (the Umulliko forum).

Last updated: 1 August 2002

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