First Peoples’ methods of communication and knowledge sharing in Australia

Posted by : Cat Kutay May 29, 2022

Contact : cat.kutay at Maps

This chapter is about ways of communicating knowledge to users of our technology designs, in a way that utilises the knowledge sharing skills of Aboriginal people in Australia. We see this work as crucial to Enduring Engineering since to effectively teach aspects of Aboriginal approaches to engineering, we need to use the teaching methods used in Aboriginal culture. This relates to both way learning or garma[1] where the knowledge such as engineering knowledge is shared in a way that both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people can develop and understand a new combined knowledge in their own cultural terms.

We have seen the fruit of such knowledge sharing where uncertainty about the size of floods can be reduced by referring to these historically detailed accounts (Devlin, 2016). The collection, sharing and understanding of such stories from the knowledge repository of Aboriginal people is something we could learn from in Academia.

To support our students’ learning, we developed resources to help them understand some of the protocols and processes of engagement with Aboriginal people, such as yarning, deep listening (which some call dadirri) and narrative storytelling that act as instruction and guidance when sharing Indigenous knowledges.

There is always concern, even for Aboriginal academics, that we are teaching the right way, that what we are doing matches community aspirations. Therefore, we consulted with Elders and asked another Aboriginal academic to help us write and record videos on the main themes. These resources are available online (Youtube, 2019).

In 2019, the authors obtained funding from the First and Further Year Grant at UTS to conduct workshops with students to explore Aboriginal concepts and knowledges in engineering and design. This was a chance to understand how students respond to these concepts and for us to plan how to introduce them into subjects.

We had about 10 volunteers from Engineering and IT who were interested in learning more about Aboriginal ways of knowing. We invited them to walk through the learning that we had planned, with rapid feedback and discussion. Most importantly we had time to run yarning circles with weaving and discussion, so we were able to practice deep listening as we did the first run of the narrative stories about their learning journey, an exercise that has continued to evolve.

We developed partnerships with Aboriginal communities in NSW to engage with us in teaching our students about Aboriginal culture and values. The purpose was to encourage future engineers and designers to respectfully know how to engage with community in their work. For example, when artefacts are uncovered on excavations (Sydney CBD 2016); are involved in broad community consultation around construction (Kutay et al, 2018); or are planning actual projects in Aboriginal communities. In such situations heritage legislation specifies legal requirements in our work (Kutay et al., 2018).

The authors hope to continue to introduce other students to the cultural practices that Aboriginal people developed to be sustainable, respectful, and collaborative, and use these in the development of future technology, both for Aboriginal people and for others.

[1] Garma is a Yolngu word used by Mandawuy Yunupiŋu and Nalwarri Ngurruwutthun to signify the two-way knowledge sharing in Aboriginal classrooms

Extract from Chapter 15, Indigenous Engineering for an Enduring Culture, edited by Cat Kutay, Elyssebeth Leigh, Juliana Kaya Prpic and Lyndon Ormond-Parker. Published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing

Author: Cat Kutay, Danièle Hromek and Eva Cheng

Location: Dharawal (East Sydney)