Postgraduate Profiles

Michelle Walker

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Thesis: The importance of Indigenous peoples’ ecological knowledge and land management practices in detecting ecological change and protecting freshwater site values on the Dampier Peninsula, northern Western Australia.

This study will investigate the historical and current-day use of some freshwater sites on the Dampier Peninsula, with a focus on understanding Indigenous peoples’ ways of managing freshwater sources. Foci will include investigating how Indigenous peoples’ who have socio-cultural ties to the area understand freshwater sites and how these places have changed in their living memory. How practices for managing freshwater have changed, and if and how local communities would like to see the health of these places improved, will also be explored. Where possible, and in conjunction with Indigenous community groups and individuals, the study aims to identify strategies to rehabilitate and/or protect the values of some freshwater sites, using both Indigenous ecological knowledge and non-Indigenous knowledge. An assessment of ecosystem health before and after management action is undertaken will help to monitor changes in freshwater place attributes from an ecological and cultural perspective, and will also help to develop a rigorous process for assessing cultural and ecological site health using both environmental monitoring parameters and appropriate cultural indicators.

Why my research is important

For tens of thousands of years Aboriginal Australians managed the Australian landscape to ensure they could predictably access and maintain reproduction of an abundance of resources, in a way that was guided by, and satisfied, cultural laws and protocols. In recent years, the extent of this continental-scale land management has become increasingly publicly recognised. The significance of Indigenous peoples’ activity and knowledge in creating and supporting Australia’s ecosystems and biodiversity is less clear. Few studies have investigated in detail how Aboriginal people managed important sites in the past. Understanding, on a fine scale, how and why Aboriginal people managed and continue to manage important places may yield insights that can contribute to understanding in what conditions biodiversity flourished at these sites prior to European influence and how Indigenous cultural knowledge and practices are valuable in addressing contemporary environmental problems, like declining ecosystem health and biodiversity loss. Equally important will be a better understanding of how sites can be managed and monitored to protect the health of cultural values, at a time when climate and other anthropological changes are driving major ecosystem changes across Australia, also affecting the human-held values in those landscapes. The research will occur in collaboration with Indigenous community members and groups on the Dampier Peninsula. It offers an attempt to contribute to collaborative regional studies with Aboriginal people about their unique knowledge and skills in detecting environmental change, and in creating culturally appropriate monitoring and management practices for protecting local environs.

Funding

Apr 2013

Oct 2016