February 2008
(Volume 11, Number 1)
ISSN  1449-2091

Michael Michie

Tiwi designs by Jennifer Coombs
Munupi Arts & Crafts Association,
Pirlangimpi, Melville Island, NT

Indigenous Science Links






Indigenous Knowledge and  Students Neglected by Science

Diana Day

Universities need to be more committed to attracting indigenous students to science and incorporating indigenous knowledge in curricula, according to Diana Day.

Time is up for Australian universities in their tentative attempts to increase the number of indigenous science students. Western science is shy of the richness of traditional indigenous knowledge. Why does tertiary science ignore 45,000 years of the longest cumulative knowledge base on Earth?

The dearth of indigenous science students starts at school. In NSW, 149 indigenous and 36,543 non-indigenous students completed HSC science and technology courses in 2003, a stark illustration of the shrinking pipeline of students who might get to university.

In 2004 only 25 indigenous students completed a natural or physical sciences degree in Australia (compared with 9004 non-indigenous students), with 13 in environment/agriculture (1843 non-indigenous). Of the 1146 research doctorates completed in physical sciences and the environment, one was by an indigenous student.

Career outreach to schools by universities often misses indigenous students. My research shows that indigenous high school students need culturally targeted materials and exposure to indigenous undergraduate science ambassadors. They need to become familiar with university science faculties and visit the campus indigenous teaching centre as a future home base. University science staff have to make personal visits to the campus indigenous units to co-create programs that encourage secondary school students to continue with science.

Indigenous students have preconceived notions that science at university is for bright white kids; that science is something that someone else would do; that right or wrong answers conflict with their world view; and that scientific knowledge will not help them to support their communities. All of the five successful science students and graduates whom we could locate and interview in our project identified family encouragement as a key.

While the University of South Australia recently stated its aim to have indigenous content across the curriculum by 2010, this is a tall order. We are tempted to turn indigenous knowledge into scientific data, but indigenous knowledge is highly integrated with many physical and social factors. One Australian Research Council project has listed traditional knowledge research for northern Australia.

Examples of knowledge out there include regional and site knowledge of freshwater ecology and animal behaviour. Then there is unique knowledge of surface and groundwater fluxes during changing weather and climate regimes. Indigenous people have great understanding of sustainable wildlife harvesting, landscape ecology and the seasonality of impacts on flora and fauna. The catalogue continues with sea resources, impacts of feral animals on wetlands, indigenous medicine and pharmacology. Complementing this treasure trove is seasonal fire management, ethnobiology and clay and toxic plant technology.

Traditional knowledge integrates millennia of observational evidence and management of resources for survival. Natural phenomena are considered a part of a living process of sharing and sustaining.

Customary sea rights and resource allocation rules form part of this knowledge base. However, much of this is fragmented and unprotected due to the disruptions of colonisation. Right now our terrestrial and marine environments and their genetic resources are being pored over by greedy corporate biopirates. More businesses are quietly entering lucrative water markets and expanding privatisation of the water commons, leaving no room for traditional owners. Even a bank wants to privatise the Botany Aquifer the traditional territory of the Eora nation!

Contemporary science and natural resources management systems are failing global ecological sustainability. Taking more note of indigenous knowledge might just help.

Young indigenous scientists can only be encouraged through collaborative linkages between university, secondary school and the indigenous community. These scientists may help defend and protect indigenous knowledge resources and form a basis for identifying and protecting indigenous property rights over land and water. An undergraduate science curriculum that is inclusive of these elements would support all of our science students.

A scientist and research mentor, Dr Diana Day is Associate Professor at the Koori Centre, University of Sydney [on leave until May 08], and a Director of the CRC for Irrigation Futures. Diana is also a speaker on environmental and work futures and member of the Australian Association of Career Counsellors.  Diana can be contacted at


Reproduced with permission by Australasian Science [].conSCIENCE is a column for Australians to express forthright views on national issues. Views expressed are those of the author.

Australasian Science  Published with permission  of the Editor.June 2007© Copyright  conSCIENCE 


Out in the desert - a science project

DESERT researchers have reached out to Australia's most remote inhabitants to get the dirt on dust storms whipped up by prolonged drought. This report is from The Australian newspaper online, at,25197,22909039-13881,00.html.

Indigenous Perspective in Primary Connections (Australia)

A 'pilot' unit (Plants in action) with the embedded Draft Indigenous Perspective has been developed and is currently being trialled in several West Australian schools.  Visit their December 2007 newletter at hope there will be more news about this in later issues of the ISNB this year.

UNU Centre of Traditional Knowledge Launched at Charles Darwin University

Charles Darwin University has advanced its role as a key location for working with Indigenous people and enhancing the broader understanding of and training in Indigenous Knowledge as a result of the recent United Nations University (UNU) Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS) Centre of Traditional Knowledge launch. 
The Centre, which has been supported and warmly welcomed by the Northern Territory Government, was launched by the Director of the UNU-IAS, Professor A.H. Zakri on Wednesday, 12 December. 
The schedule of the centre’s activities for 2008 is being finalised with a major Darwin-based workshop planned for March. This workshop, titled ‘Carbon markets and their impact on Indigenous people’, is an early activity to promote the exchange of ideas and the planning of subsequent research and training. 
Co-sponsors of the March 2008 workshop include the North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance (NAILSMA), the Australian Greenhouse Office and the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. 
The Deputy Chief Minister, Marion Scrymgour said the Government was pleased to have committed $2.5 million to the Centre to further develop the Northern Territory’s knowledge-based industries. 
“The new Centre will tap into the unique knowledge of Indigenous Territorians in fields such as science and the environment for use in modern and emerging industries, helping develop new economic and job opportunities in remote and rural areas,” Ms Scrymgour said. 
The UNU advised in July 2006 that it had chosen CDU to host the Centre of Traditional Knowledge and planning has been underway since that time. The move by the UNU recognised CDU’s capacity to play a central role in the international debate on Traditional Knowledge. In August 2007 the Northern Territory Government announced its commitment to the establishment of a UNU Centre of Traditional Knowledge at CDU with an investment of $2.5 million over five years. Other philanthropic funding has also been achieved. 
During 2007 the UNU-IAS has spent almost $1 million on a number of pilot programs designed to demonstrate the types of activities that could be undertaken through the centre which will now be developed at CDU. These pilot activities include the role of traditional knowledge in fields such as climate change, water, international policy making, biological resources and marine management. 
CDU Vice-Chancellor, Professor Helen Garnett said the UNU-IAS Centre of Traditional Knowledge with CDU as host provided a range of opportunities to promote the recognition of the value of Traditional Knowledge systems in Australia. 
“It will allow us to share the successes of the application of Indigenous knowledge from around the globe with Australia, achieve benefits for Indigenous Australians, support the development of CDU and leverage funding from new sources for Indigenous education and research,” she said. 
“An internationally focused traditional knowledge research and training institution provides unique opportunities to make the linkages necessary to developing innovative and effective approaches that fully recognise the value of Traditional Knowledge and foster the sustainability of communities for whom traditional knowledge is the cornerstone of culture and survival,” Professor Garnett said. 

Chales Darwin University, 17 December 2007

Astronomy and Indigenous students (Australia)

Dr Ragbir Bhathal (School of Engineering) and Terry Mason (School of Education) at the University of Western Sydney are running a special hands-on program of physics and astronomy activities for secondary school Indigenous students in the Western suburbs of Sydney to improve their scientific literacy levels as the participation rate of Indigenous students in science and engineering at the University is extremely low.  It is hoped that by participating in this program they will be motivated to take up careers in science and engineering.  The activities include hands-on physics and astronomy experiments, viewing the night sky through the University's telescopes, comparing and contrasting the world views of modern day scientists with that of traditional knowledge systems of the Indigenous peoples of Australia. The program funded by the University of Western Sydney is part of the University's engagement program with its community.  It has the support of the Indigenous community, the NSW Department of Education and the UWS Indigenous Education Centre.


Gunditjmara Country

Gunditjmara Country presents a comprehensive integrated unit covering a wide range of curriculum areas, including science, geography, history and cultural studies. Focusing on the country, knowledge, traditions and culture of the Gunditjmara, this text goes a long way in examining two distinct, distinctive but not incompatible world-views.

You may be able to get more information about this book from the Hawker Brownlow Education website,, however I have experienced difficulties each time I have tried. Hawker Brownlow Education also produced Meet the Eastern Kulin - the Aboriginal People of Central Victoria, which is available as both a book and CD.

About the authors. A maths and science teacher in a Victorian state secondary college, author Theo Read developed this text as a result of his 14-year association with the Gunditjmara of western Victoria, with whom he has worked closely on the Kormilda Science project. The cultural content in the book is covered with sensitivity and accuracy, and the text has been approved by key members of the Gunditjmara community, who also share authorship of this text, as belonging to Gunditjmara country. (Information from flier)


The Global Studies Conference
University of Illinois, Chicago, 16-18 May 2008

The Global Studies Conference on Global Studies Journal are devoted to mapping and interpreting new trends and patterns in globalization. This journal and the conference attempt to do this from many points of view, from many locations in the world, and in a wide-angle kaleidoscopic fashion.

As well as impressive line-up of international main speakers, the Conference will also include numerous paper, workshop and colloquium presentations by practitioners, teachers and researchers. We would particularly like to invite you to respond to the Conference Call-for-Papers. Presenters may choose to submit written papers for publication in the fully refereed Global Studies  Journal. If you are unable to attend the Conference in person, virtual registrations are also available which allow you to submit a paper for refereeing and possible publication in this fully refereed academic Journal, as well as access to the electronic version of the Conference proceedings.

The deadline for the next round in the call for papers (a title and short abstract) is 14 February 2008. Proposals are reviewed within four weeks of submission. Full details of the Conference, including an online proposal submission form, are to be found at the Conference website -

epiSTEME-3: Third international conference to review research on Science, TEchnology and Mathematics Education

Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education (TIFR), Mumbai, India.  5-9 January 2009

Conference epiSTEME-3 is the third in a series of biennial conferences meant to review research world-wide in science, technology and mathematics education. It is being organised by the Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education, a National Centre of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, India.

Science, technology and mathematics education have, in recent decades, emerged as lively new research areas.  This research, inspired by issues of learning and teaching, has clear uniting themes in the cognitive, pedagogical, historical, philosophical and socio-cultural aspects of the sciences.  The name epiSTEME connotes, at one level, a systematic study of knowledge, while as acronym it suggests a meta-view of science, technology and mathematics education.

The epiSTEME conferences aim to bring together researchers in the neighbouring disciplines of science, technology and mathematics education, and in the disciplines that inform this research such as history and philosophy of science, cognitive and socio-cultural studies.

For information on the previous epiSTEME conferences see  Conference epiSTEME-3 continues the tradition of interdisciplinary exchange.

Aim of the conference:

Conference epiSTEME-3 will focus on four broad strands of research that impact Science, Techology and Mathematics Education, which are listed below. Under each strand, one or more focus themes have been identified that reflect active research topics and areas of interest. Leading scholars in the field will be invited to give overviews of some of the themes within each strand. Paper and poster sessions will complement the review talks. Pre and post conference workshops are being planned, the details of which will be announced later. The conference will strive to nurture the research community in India while fostering linkages between theory and empirical research in STM education. The conference aims at strengthening academic interactions among research groups in this field across the world.

Strand 1: Historical, philosophical and socio-cultural studies of STM: Implications for education

       Focus theme 1: Perceptions of science, technology and mathematics

       Focus theme 2: Gender issues in STME

       Focus theme 3: Using history and philosophy of STM in teaching

Strand 2: Cognitive studies of STM learning

       Focus theme 1: Visual and spatial modes in STM learning

       Focus theme 2: STM learning in multilingual and multicultural contexts

       Focus theme 3: Interaction between cognitive development and STM learning

Strand 3: Pedagogical studies of STM education

       Focus theme 1: Curriculum and classroom studies of STM learning

       Focus theme 2: Integrating content across STM education

Strand 4: Learning resources and teacher support

       Focus theme 1: Role of new communication technologies in providing learning resources and teacher support

The conference will include about 12 review talks, and about 30 paper presentations and 30 poster presentations. Additionally, time will be allocated for discussion sessions on STME issues of current importance.

Approximately 120 participants are expected.

Invited Speakers (confirmed):

Abraham Arcavi, The Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel; John K. Gilbert, University of Reading, UK; Farida Khan, Jamia Millia Islamia, India; Helen Longino, Stanford University, USA; Vivek Monteiro, Navnirmiti, India; Eduardo Mortimer, Federal University of Minas Gerais, Brazil; Chitra Natarajan, Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education, India; Veena Poonacha, SNDT University, India; Anna Sfard, Michigan State University, USA; Shailesh Shirali, Rishi Valley School, India; Kay Stables, University of London, UK

Call for Submissions:

Papers on the strands and focus themes listed above are invited.

Submissions must be made online in the form of full papers of 6-8 pages (maximum of 8 pages including references) of A4 size in single space, 12pt, Times New Roman font with margins as follows: top - 3 cm, bottom -

3 cm, left - 3 cm and right - 2 cm. Submissions may be made in the following formats: Rich Text Format (.rtf), Open Document Text

(.odt) or Latex (.tex). A template for submission may be downloaded from the conference webpage.  To enable a blind review process, authors'

names and other details must be provided separately in the online form, and must not be included in the papers.

Papers will be peer-reviewed and acceptance will be notified to authors.

The deadlines for submission of the paper and of the final, fully revised version are given below. All the papers accepted for presentation and presented at the conference will be published in the Proceedings. Proceedings will be available to conference participants in print form and on CD.

There are two modes of paper presentation at the Conference: oral presentation and poster presentation. The academic committee will assign accepted papers to one of the two modes of presentation.

Authors may indicate their preference for mode of presentation at the time of submission.

Important dates:

Deadline for submission of paper:  April 30 2008 Notification of acceptance:  June 30 2008 Submission of revised papers:  August 15 2008 Registration with payment:  September 30 2008

Conference:  January 5-9 2009

Participation without paper submission:

Those who wish to participate in the Conference without submitting a paper may fill up a form on the epiSTEME-3 webpage before May 31, 2008.

Participation in the Conference will be confirmed by July 31, 2008.


Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education (TIFR) is located at the North-Eastern end of the island city of Mumbai. Until recently known as Bombay, Mumbai is India's most cosmopolitan city, finance and business capital and home of the entertainment industry, popularly known as Bollywood. Mumbai is a vibrant, pulsating metropolis, which affords diverse sightseeing opportunities.

We expect to accomodate most conference participants on the HBCSE Campus, which is also the venue for the conference.

University of Technology, Mauritius, 5-7 January 2009

This Conference aims to develop a holistic view of sustainability, in which environmental, cultural and economic issues are inseparably interlinked. It will work in a multidisciplinary way, across diverse fields and taking varied perspectives in order to address the fundamentals of sustainability.

As well as impressive line-up of international main speakers, the Conference will also include numerous paper, workshop and colloquium presentations by practitioners, teachers and researchers. We would particularly like to invite you to respond to the Conference Call-for-Papers. Papers submitted for the Conference proceedings will be peer-refereed and published in print and electronic formats in the International Journal of Environmental, Cultural, Economic and Social Sustainability - If you are unable to attend the Conference in person, virtual registrations are also available which allow you to submit a paper for refereeing and possible publication in this fully refereed academic Journal, as well as access to the electronic version of the Conference proceedings.

The deadline for the next round in the call for papers (a title and short abstract) is 14 February 2008. Proposals are reviewed within three weeks of submission.


This is mostly a summary of upcoming conferences. More details may have been given above or in previous bulletins as shown. A web-based contact is usually included. Inclusion of conferences in this list is not to be read as an endorsement of the conference.


February 2008

20-23 February: Conference of Asian Science Education. "Science education from an Asian perspective". Kaohsiung, Taiwan. (Aug07)

March 2008

29 March - 3 April: National Association for Research in Science Teaching (NARST) annual meeting, Baltimore, (

April 2008

20-25 April: 28th Annual Seminar of the International Society for Teacher Education (ISTE), University of New England, Armidale, NSW, Australia. (Dec07)

May 2008

16-18 May: The Global Studies Conference,   University of Illinois, Chicago, (Feb08)

June 2008

17-20 June: Eighth International Conference on Diversity in Organisations, Communities and  Nations, HEC (Ecole des Hautes Etudes Commerciales), University of Montreal, Quebec, Canada, (Dec07)

July 2008

2-5 July: Australasian Science Education Research Association, Brisbane Qld  (Aug07)

6-11 July: Australian Science Teachers Association, CONASTA57, Griffith University Gold Coast, Qld

9-12 July: Australian Association for Environmental Education, "Environmental education up the Track: Hot topics for our community", Darwin NT. (Aug07)

15-18 July: Sixth International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities, Fatih University, Istanbul, Turkey, (Dec07)

September 2008

19-22 September: TSCF 2008 International Social Capital Conference, "Perspectives on Social Capital and Social Inclusion", Buggiba, Malta. (Dec07)

December 2008

7-11 December: World Indigenous People's Conference on Education (WIPCE 2008), Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.


January 2009

5-9 January: epiSTEME-3: Third international conference to review research on Science, TEchnology and Mathematics Education. Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education (TIFR), Mumbai, India. (Feb08)

5-7 January: Fifth International Conference on Environmental, Cultural, Economic and Social Sustainability, University of Technology, Mauritius, (Feb08)

July 2009

ASERA, Deakin University, Victoria. Dates and venue to be decided.


July 2010

ASERA, University of Newcastle (NSW). Dates and venue to be decided.

I should apologise for some of the problems which may appear in this newsletter. I have just changed the software used for producing it and it's taking some 'trial and error' learning how to use the new software. MM

Last updated: 1 February 2008