Category Archives: Topic Areas

Photostory used in water management research

Using PhotoStory to capture irrigators’ emotions about water policy and sustainable development objectives: A case study in rural Australia Ganesh B Keremane, Jennifer McKay


Participatory research approaches have gained popularity within the natural resource management domain, particularly irrigation management since 1980s. Some of these methods allow the examination of values and emotions with regard to the management of natural resources and hence can supplement other ways of eliciting community responses to policy change. This article discusses the methodology and findings of an image-based participatory research project called PhotoStory. The project was conducted with members of stressed and conflicted irrigation communities in rural Australia. Participants were provided with cameras to record their views about different issues related to sustainable water management and conflicts and were also able to record their emotions and values on these topics. Findings of this project – PhotoStory – give a two-dimensional narration (visual and written) about complex issues related to water policy such as the creation of regional water allocation plans. This method answers how plans and a widespread drought have been experienced and interpreted by people living in two communities. The article concludes with some pros and cons of using this technique with an irrigation community and reflects on the use made of the work by the community and policy-makers.

Corresponding author: Ganesh B Keremane, Centre for ComparativeWater Policies and Laws and National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training, School of Commerce, University of South Australia, City West Campus, GPO Box 2471, Adelaide, SA 5001, Australia Email:


Vocal tract resonances and the sound of the Australian didjeridu (yidaki) I. Experiment available

Alex Z. Tarnopolsky Neville H. Fletcher Lloyd C. L. Hollenberg Benjamin D. Lange, John Smith, and Joe Wolfeb

The didjeridu, or yidaki, is a simple tube about 1.5 m long, played with the lips, as in a tuba, but mostly producing just a tonal, rhythmic drone sound. The acoustic impedance spectra of performers’ vocal tracts were measured while they played and compared with the radiated sound spectra. When the tongue is close to the hard palate, the vocal tract impedance has several maxima in the range 1–3 kHz. These maxima, if sufficiently large, produce minima in the spectral envelope of the sound because the corresponding frequency components of acoustic current in the flow entering the instrument are small. In the ranges between the impedance maxima, the lower impedance of the tract allows relatively large acoustic current components that correspond to strong formants in the radiated sound. Broad, weak formants can also be observed when groups of even or odd harmonics coincide with bore resonances. Schlieren photographs of the jet entering the instrument and high speed video images of the player’s lips show that the lips are closed for about half of each cycle, thus generating high levels of upper harmonics of the lip frequency. Examples of the spectra of “circular breathing” and combined playing and vocalization are shown. © 2006 Acoustical Society of America. DOI: 10.1121/1.2146089

For more on Acoustics word UNSW by Benjamin Lange


Extracts from a longer paper entitled


Graham, M 1999, ‘Some Thoughts about the Philosophical Underpinnings of Aboriginal Worldviews’, World views Environment, Culture, Religion 3:

Western: What’s the meaning of life?

Aboriginal: What is it that wants to know?

“The white man’s law is always changing, but Aboriginal Law never changes, and is valid for all people”

Mr. Bill Neidjie, “Kakadu Man


* The Land is the Law

*Your are not alone in the world

Aboriginal people’s culture is ancient, and certain observations have been made over many millennia about the nature of nature, spirit and being human. The most basic questions for any human group, despite advances in technology, have not changed much over time; they include:

*How do we live together (area/nation/globally), without killing each other off?

*How do we live without substantially damaging the environment?

*Why do we live? The need to find the answer to this question in a way that does not make people feel alienated, lonely or murderous.

Code Talk by Higgins

‘Code talk’ in soft work

Allen Higgins

University College Dublin, Ireland

A B S T R A C T The performance of writing software is an under-studied phenomenon in Information Systems (IS) studies. Key aspects of the process of software development – the practice of writing code, coding texts collectively, maintaining and extending source code – are too often glossed or treated unproblematically as technical ‘givens’ rather than social accomplishments. Although ethnographic methods are now considered a valid mode of study in the software industry, there is a relative scarcity of ethnographic studies of the performance of programming itself. Utilizing data drawn from an ethnographic study of an Irish software development company, this article presents an intensive study of what I term ‘code talk’, the verbal interactions which attend the performance of programming software. ‘Code talk’ is then situated as a crucial element of a broader social understanding of collaborative knowledge work.

Aboriginal Maths

Misconceptions about Aboriginal cultures and their access to an understanding – and use – of mathematical concepts have had a powerful and enduring impact on beliefs about their level of sophistication. One widely held belief is that Aboriginal cultures had very limited language references to numbers, being associated with a belief that ‘numbers’ are essential for measuring and assessing things (mathematics tasks) this combination has created a perception that these cultures are, therefore primitive and ignorant of facts known to ‘more sophisticated’ cultures.

Were this to be a fact rather than merely a belief, much that is known about the achievements of Aboriginal cultural principles and practices – in regard to living with, and managing, the diversity of environments across the Australian continent – could not have been possible.
In other words perceptions of the ways that Aboriginal cultures built shelters, harvested food stuffs and travelled extensively (to name a few achievements) are seriously hobbled by mistaken beliefs, cultural misperceptions and misunderstandings about what was being observed and recorded by early Europeans.
Two recent books on the history of the development of mathematical concepts provide good examples of how the issue of ‘Aboriginal maths’ is treated in general texts about the present understanding of mathematical knowledge. Both books focus almost entirely on the development of Western/European concepts, giving less attention to knowledge from other cultures and even less to the practical uses and applications of maths. While this is an entirely reasonable approach, given their stated intentions as authors. However each addresses, in quite different ways, the state of current awareness of maths in cultural and social contexts beyond those addressed in their books.

Flaws and Inaccuracies

In his book on ‘From O to Infinity in 26 Centuries – the extraordinary story of Maths‘, Chris Waring  (Michael O’Mara Books UK, 2012) displays a seriously flawed and limited understanding of the nature of Aboriginal occupation of this continent. He indicates no awareness of the complexity and diversity of cultures, differences among national identities as indicated by (for example) language differences, and dismisses their practical capabilities as evidenced a toss the landscape, when he writes that
Australian Aboriginal tribes were living in a hunter-gatherer society when they were first encountered during the eighteenth century. The tribes that possessed a concept of numbers generally had words for one, two and sometimes three. Any numbers larger than three they made by adding together a combination of the first three numbers. So a tribe with the numbers one, two, three would have been able to count to nine by saying one, two, three, three-one, three-two, three-three. The fact that these people had no word for numbers larger that three suggests that they very rarely, if ever, needed to use them.

So much is open to challenge in this bald assertion (no referencing is supplied) that two items will suffice to demonstrate its errors, and illustrate the damage to perceptions about Aboriginal culture, made by such an ill chosen set of words. First, there is no suggestion that the ‘tribes’ might differ greatly across the continent, implying that ‘these people’ were therefore all so similar that a single assertion about a ‘lack of need for numbers’ applied to all without differentiation. If this perspective were to be applied in reverse we can imagine that Dutch, Portuguese and English visitors to ‘Terra Australis’ from the 1600’s onwards were all regarded as members of ‘one tribe’ and whatever characteristics were ascribed to one set of visitors could accurately be ascribed to them all.  We can readily see what a nonsense statement this is.  Yet this is what Waring implies in his dismissive clumping of all ‘these people’ as members of a single undifferentiated entity.
The second challenge raises issues of even more concern. If, as Waring suggests, Aboriginal cultures ‘very rarely, if ever, needed to use’ numbers it indicates his ignorant acceptance of misleading information about those cultures and their achievements. For example an understanding of water flow, fish spawning cycles, weather patterns and food supply and distribution are all explicitly illustrated in the extensive fish trap arrays at Brewarrina, NSW. Similarly, knowledge about load-bearing limits of building materials, tensile strengths of materials and market locations and demands are on display at the Wilgie Mai ochre mine in Western Australia, where it is estimated around 40,000 tons of ochre were produced during approximately 8.000 years of mining. Finally (for now) an in-depth knowledge of numbers is displayed at the astrological site of Wurdi Youang in Victoria, where astrophysicists have demonstrated that the only viable explanation for a highly ordered patterning of stones demonstrates understanding  of the concept of the seasons as marked by the arrival of the solstice –

Waring’s  dismissal of Aboriginal maths exemplifies a ‘Western/Eurocentric’ perspective that seems  unable to see things that do not fit within its view of ‘how things are’, and, moreover, writes as though things could not any other way. We can only wonder how Waring imagined that Aboriginal people lived and thrived for all that time without numbers. Or whether such a thought occurred to him at all.

Appreciating the unknowns

On the other hand Ian Stewart in his book ‘Taming the Infinite – the story of mathematics from the first numbers to chaos theory‘ (Quercus, UK 2008) has a more speculative view on the relationships between culture and maths. While his work focuses on only the last four Millenia and is confined to the northern hemisphere, he does suggest that there is room to explore those relationships and that, perhaps, this need not be done through either a Western worldview or a conventional Mathematical one, when we writes that –
Whether you like maths or not, it is hard to deny the profound effects that numbers have had on the development of human civilisation. The evolution of culture, and that of mathematics , has gone hand in hand for the last four Millenia. It would be difficult to disentangle cause and effect – I would hesitate to argue that mathematical innovation drives cultural change, or that cultural needs determine the direction of mathematical progress. But both of those statements contain a grain of truth, because mathematics and culture co-evolve.

As this project is addressing issues of Aboriginal engineering, Sttewart’s perspective on the co-evolution of maths and culture opens up possibilities for exploring Aboriginal engineering without the need for a prior acceptance of maths as a prerequisite for engineering knowledge.

In the context of widespread evidence of Aboriginal engineering knowledge throughout the Australian landscape, it is important that anyone referring to Aboriginal knowledge and use of maths does not fall into the trap of perpetuating old myths. This is an important aspect of the wider work of this project.

Intersecting Worldviews with which to explore Aboriginal Engineering

Intersecting Worldviews with which to explore Aboriginal Engineering

Wherever there are competing worldviews, there are also competing motivations and agendas. Awareness of this shaped our exploration of how engage with Aboriginal students, and their communities, in regard to developing greater interest in engineering as a career.

In seeking to focus our work we identified three particular worldviews with which to explore aspects of the interactions among engineering activity and community needs and goals. These worldviews were chosen from among the many that are available, and we use them as tools for exploration, without suggesting they are the only ways of seeing the world.

They are, respectively ‘Engineering’, ‘Aboriginal’ and ‘European/Western’. Each shares some features with the other two, and some features with only one other. We use a Venn diagram to represent these worldviews and specifically to focus attention on the Intersection where all three connect and overlap. Exploration of this Intersection is helping conceptualise how to manage relationships among different ways of thinking and identify what needs to be understood in order to achieve mutually acceptable outcomes. The Venn diagram is way of representing all this – it is not a way of quantifying anything.

Engineering worldview

  • Engineers learn to deal with the world, and address human needs, through a uniquely ‘Engineering way of knowing’ that places primary focus on ‘problems’ to be solved. This is coupled with attention to the practicalities of ‘how to’ approach the problem, and develop and implement actual solutions for the problem as it is eventually defined. This mindset is not common to all Western thought nor all Aboriginal thought. It is developed in response to a complex mix of preferences, training, capabilities and interests. An engineer in Western traditions will be doing much the same as an engineer in Aboriginal traditions. They share an interest in solving problems. The principles informing how they do so, differentiates their work.
  • Aboriginal Worldview

Indigenous ways of knowing inform language usage, relationships and connections among the more than 200 Aboriginal (pre contact) Australian nations. However, while Aboriginal culture exhibits all the familiar aspects of human endeavor, its underpinning philosophy and beliefs have an entirely different base to either Western/European or Engineering. The peoples who had successfully inhabited Australian land for between 60,000 and 40,000 years all share core beliefs and traditions, which have, over time, been customized to fit local needs and conditions. The base does not change, but particular features are implemented, and communicated to the young and those from beyond its boundaries, in different ways that are shaped to match the living context of each group. For example relationship with ‘country’ has a very specific meaning and set of core principles for Aboriginal people, as described vividly by Mary Graham

The land is a sacred entity, not property or real estate; it is the great mother of all humanity. The Dreaming is a combination of meaning (about life and all reality), and an action guide to living. The two most important kinds of relationship in life are, firstly, those between land and people and, secondly, those amongst people themselves, the second being always contingent upon the first.

Western/European Worldview

  • Western thinking is frequently characterised as being built on deductive reasoning, the rule of law and monotheism. Logic, objectivity and reason are its touchstones. Also in the mix is what has been called the ‘work ethic’ and a belief that the land and its products are to be possessed. While ‘Western’ is an understood convention to describe the worldview of people whose origins are traceable to the western hemisphere of the world, the ways in which it is enacted are not uniform. Wile sub-groups in this extended geographic area have cultural roots in a Western tradition, details of language usage, social relationships and connection with the physical world, all differ according to political and national norms. Consider, for example, the similarities and differences among English, German and Romanian culture and traditions.

The Intersection

‘Intersection’ is the term commonly used to describe the space in a Venn diagram where related ‘sets’ overlap. In this work we are not implying that there is, or is ever likely to be, easy agreement about how to operate within that space. When a Venn diagram is used to indicate relationships among components in science or maths the intersection includes only those items that are in all subsets. In our use of a three circle Venn diagram the intersection is considered to refer to places, objects and stories about which all three Worldviews have an opinion or claim a stake in its management. We are not suggesting that all three worldviews will – or should – be expressed in the same way, only that they have an interest (of differing strength) in the place, story or object.

Comparing Engineering disciplines and practices

The table linked to this post, Engineering parallels is the beginning of a set of resources about how Aboriginal engineers addressed similar problems to those facing all other civilisations.

While all Engineers faced the same problems, there was a key difference in the way that their underlying social principles and beliefs created conditions that meant Aboriginal engineers responded to their needs in unique ways, generating very different outcomes and solutions.
The general paradigms of engineering appear settled and familiar. However current engineering concepts are comparatively modern although they may appear settled and long term. Quite inadvertently this project is unsettling many taken-for-granted assumptions and beliefs about how to think about engineering and Aboriginal culture.

For example one taken-for-granted widely held assumption is that Aboriginal people did not have ‘engineering’ or maths knowledge.  Visual features of engineering projects  installed and maintained by generations of Aboriginal nations were so utterly unfamiliar to newly arrived European observers and settlers, making them largely  unrecognisable and  invisible to untutored eyes. European perceptions of terms like ‘built’ and ‘manufactured’ and ‘installed’ simply did not encompass what they were observing. Therefore it was simple, and very easy, to dismiss from cognition any allowance for concepts of ‘Aboriginal engineering’. And as European practices gained dominance, Aboriginal knowledge and engineering achievements were gradually decimated, damaged or lost entirely.
Developing a set of resources providing evidence for Aboriginal engineering achievements gradually became an inevitable task, and an important component of the products of this project. The attached table combines a list of Engineers Australia’s recognised engineering disciplines (including short descriptors) with examples of equivalent Aboriginal practices that can be clearly equated with the descriptors – web links about each example are also included in the table.

The table is not yet complete, and will form the basis of further work on this project. There is more information to be gathered about  the elements listed in the Table; and many other exemplars of Aboriginal engineering are available on the Internet. The project team is now commissioning a ‘resources register’ for collecting and collating this information, and making it more easily accessible as engineering data as well as linking the information back to all the other disciplines that have been collecting it.

We can’t claim that any of this information is new or even surprising. We do believe that identifying as ‘Engineering principles, knowledges and practices’ the work involved in each of these examples is a new and ground breaking way of re-appraising Aboriginal achievements.

What do you mean ‘Indigenous Engineering’?


This Blog is a public access source for anyone who is interested in the work of the OLT project titled ‘Engineering Across Cultures‘. The project is focusing on  advising on ways to create inclusive learning environments for Indigenous students in Engineering Faculites. And – by extension – it aims to contribute to The field of Engineering knowledge a means of acquiring and consolidating information about the engineering expertise of Aboriginal peoples living in Australia for the more than 40,000 years prior to the arrival of Western concepts of engineering in the period after the 16th century.

The Question

The question of ‘What is Aboriginal Engineering?’ has been the most frequently asked  first question, when people hear the mention of ‘Aboriginal Engineering’ in regard to the work of this project. So it is a good place to begin.

What is Engineering?

Human beings have ‘engineered’ our environment for millennia, to create places, tools and means for safety and survival. Over time we have extended our engagement with the environment in many ways, some more destructive than others. At its most basic the term ‘engineering‘ refers to the means by which humans interact with the places where we live, in regard to altering, adjusting, building and adapting them to suit our needs.

Today, after about 250 years of formalised structuring of engineering knowledge, the generally accepted meaning of ‘engineering’ has largely come to be applied to visible, large scale alterations and adaptations of the environment. So those who feel the need to ask ‘what is Aboriginal Engineering!’ are revealing that they have no frame of reference with which to can engage with such a concept. Most, however, are quick to appreciate the explanation provided in the preceding paragraph, and then are delighted and often amazed to learn about the scope and nature of the examples of ‘Aboriginal engineering’ that we have been collating.

How is it ‘the same’?

Aboriginal engineers manipulated ‘country’ for human ends and purposes in exactly the same way as any other group of Engineers anywhere in the world  – most of the time! As tribes and nations, they cut into the earth, reshaped water flow, blended materials and manipulated them to produce new products.  What they did not share with other, more familiar forms of Engineering, were perceptions about the appropriateness of making visible the impact on the environment. Aboriginal Engineering was built on a very different set of philosophies and principles which are summarised neatly in the title of Karl-Erik Svieby and Tex Skuthorpe’s book – Treading Lightly (2006 Karl-Erik Sveiby and Tex Skuthorpe, Allen & Unwin, Sydney).

How is it ‘different’?

While there is still – too often – a public expression of the belief there is no evidence of ‘engineering’ for example, in Sydney Harbour before January 1788, there was in fact a great deal of engineering (see for example the work of Bill Zgammage in The Largest Rstate on Earth). The Difference between more ‘familiar’ examples of ‘Engineering’ and Aboriginal Engineering, is that the latter was conducted in close harmony with the land and with the guiding principle of ‘minimum impact’ – and was thus largely ‘invisible’ to those who could only see with eyes adjusted to seeing impactful constructions as signals of engineering activity. This absence of recognition could be considered as a kind of ‘perceptual blindness’.  New arrivals on the Australian continent pissessed no relevant perceptual or philosophical frame of reference for the engineering they were [not] seeing.

What was this project to be about?

The key outcomes and deliverables for this project, as stated in the original OLT application, are as follows:

  1. A set of guidelines detailing indigenous cultural values and their relationship to engineering education and engineering epistemology and design.
  2. Strategies for teaching STEM related content that will accommodate different ways of perceiving and valuing ideas, objects and contexts
  3. Strategies for restructuring highly technical subjects to incorporate deliverable 2, above.
  4. A model for the development and implementation of elective course content focusing on indigenous cultural appreciation that is applicable to other design oriented fields.
  5. An elective subject that links indigenous perspectives on country and connectedness to local engineering projects.

What is being added to the project outcomes?

As we worked we began to conclude that achieving these outcomes also, inevitably, involves developing resources to re-discover the nature of Aboriginal Engineering’ as a set of principles and practices – in their own right – and integrating these into the means by which we present the project deliverables.

Our Invitation

This Blog is a place where we will share the results of our work, and seek input from readers. We look forward to connecting with everyone who visits and/or who is interested in re-establishing a broad general knowledge of Indigenous Engineering, and perhaps re-writing some of oru nation’s history as we do so.

You are cordially invited to share the link to this site, contribute your ideas and questions, and challenge our assertions and concepts. It was through questions that we began this journey of exploration. We hope that more questions lead to new ideas, sites, concepts and a growing awareness of the amazing engineering that has influenced the Australian landscape in ways that were once well understood, and – we hope – can be again.