Nyoongar knowledge & Western science – a YWP film and workshop event with Dr Noel Nannup - 31 May 2017

Published 14 June 2017
Written by Halinka Lamparski

WA National Reconciliation Week event
Dr Noel Nannup, Edith Cowan University’s distinguished Elder-in-Residence and Nyoongar heritage consultant, very generously donated his time to present at the National Reconciliation Week event organised by the Australian Water Association WA Young Water Professionals committee held on Wednesday 31 May at Jacobs in the Perth CBD. The purpose of the event was to allow attendees to learn about Nyoongar culture and knowledge of the local environment, and discuss how the water industry can apply this knowledge to strive towards sustainable water resource management for the entire community.

To start the evening Dr Nannup gave the ~35 event participants a warm introduction and Welcome (“wanju”) to Country in Nyoongar language, going on to explain the meaning of Aboriginal spiritual connection to place (“boodjar”) and the sacred connection to water in particular.

Dr Nannup then went on to present the 30 minute film “SYNERGIES: Walking Together – Belonging to Country” created by Glen Stasiuk (originally the idea of Dr Francesca Robertson from Kuronkurl Katitjin, the Centre for Indigenous Australian Education and Research at ECU), featuring himself and renowned UWA botanist Professor Stephen D. Hopper. The film celebrates the remarkable similarities between Nyoongar knowledge of the Swan River catchment and Western science, taking the audience through a 300 million year journey with Dr Nannup and Professor Hopper as they walk the Swan River from its source to the ocean.

The film is accessible on Youtube and free to share for those who were not able to attend this event.

Dr Nannup then went on to explain how Aboriginal people observed and adapted to the environmental changes in WA’s ancient landscape due to their connection and long-lasting presence on the land. In particular, Aboriginal knowledge of megafauna (giant kangaroos “yonga” and goannas “karda”), the last glacial period (approximately 22,000 years ago), and the associated exposure of coastal plains followed by the rise in sea levels associated with the melting of the glaciers (“the big flood”).

Many other concepts including Nyoongar seasons, songlines/ancient dreaming tracks, Aboriginal social order and governance, and deep connection with plants, animals and waterways were also explained. Potential questions not yet answered by Western science but understood in Nyoongar culture were also explored (one example included why whales beach themselves!). The need to protect the eldership to pass on knowledge to young people was also emphasised by Dr Nannup.

The evening ended with a brief breakout into groups to discuss opportunities to apply what we can learn from Aboriginal knowledge to deliver better outcomes in the water industry. One suggestion related to designing infrastructure without leaving a heavy footprint on landscape.
Information from the discussion will be used to prepare a position paper or similar for future reference. However, it was acknowledged that given the richness of Nyoongar knowledge that could potentially relate to the water industry, this is only the start of such a conversation.

Many thanks must go to Dr Nannup for his time and generosity in sharing his cultural knowledge, as well as the Water Corporation and Jacobs (venue host) for kindly sponsoring the event. Such events are a great opportunity for all Australians to get a better understanding of Aboriginal culture and knowledge of our lands and waters, and to bridge the gap created in our past to better preserve our future.
WA Reconciliation Week
WA Reconciliation Week
WA Reconciliation Week
WA Reconciliation Week
Thank you to our venue host: