Teacher background information


Year 5 Science Content Description

Science as a Human Endeavour

Use and influence of science

Scientific knowledge is used to solve problems and inform personal and community decisions (ACSHE083 - Scootle )

  • investigating how Torres Strait Islander Peoples and Aboriginal Peoples of arid regions of Australia use scientific knowledge to manage precious water resources (OI.5)

Water is a vital life resource. Access to clean safe water in parts of arid Australia has become a contemporary issue that requires innovative scientific solutions. This elaboration provides students with the opportunity to investigate challenges in the provision of clean, safe water to remote communities in parts of arid Australia, and the scientific knowledges that are being implemented to solve these problems. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples have long understood how to obtain and purify water. However, changes in land usage in contemporary times, including changes in agricultural practices and land use affecting groundwater resources, have posed new challenges for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. This elaboration provides students with the opportunity to understand how scientific knowledge is being used to solve water supply issues that affect communities in remote and regional Australia.

Small regional Australian communities experience greater challenges in accessing and maintaining clean, safe water than communities in larger urban areas. In regional and remote communities in arid Australian environments much of the water supply is bore water that is drawn from underground water sources. Many of these bores were drilled and equipped for stock watering purposes and were not planned or designed to provide potable water for human consumption. Ground water in arid areas of Australia commonly contain high concentrations of minerals. Livestock and underground mineral resources, such as uranium, further contaminate the ground water with heavy metals and other harmful substances. These contaminants make the water unsafe for drinking and can result in a wide range of health complications, such as lead or nitrate poisoning that can cause kidney disease. The contaminants also hinder regular, safe sanitation practices, such as handwashing and bathing. In such communities this has resulted a higher prevalence of preventable diseases caused by pathogens such as E. coli and rotavirus. Higher temperatures in arid areas mean that people need to consume more water than people who reside in more temperate climates. Therefore, exposure rates are much higher with contaminants accumulating at a greater rate, culminating in rapid and more frequent cases of health issues or long-term complications. Water contamination issues mean that other types of drinks may be consumed to maintain hydration. Alternative options, such as soft drinks, can negatively impact health as they are associated with conditions including obesity and diabetes.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities challenged with water contamination and supply issues are seeking to resolve the problems through innovative scientific solutions and modern technologies, in partnership with scientific research and funding from government organisations. Arrernte Elders of Central Australia are investigating solar-powered water treatment plants as a solution to the water contamination problem, and they plan to monitor health outcomes in the surrounding communities. Solar-powered water purification plants can potentially remove up to 99.9 per cent of toxic heavy metals from the underground bore water currently consumed by remote communities. The water purification strategy is being driven by the local central Australian communities who framed a proposal to develop, trial and test the outcomes of the project, in their endeavour to meet the needs of the community.

Community engagement is actively driving the implementation of scientific solutions to address water contamination issues, in particular, identification of a suitable site for installation of the plant and identification of the technology that best meets the needs of the community. Local Aboriginal community members are being trained in the installation, maintenance and monitoring of the plants in their community. The training program ensures that the technological solution remains managed and sustained within the community rather than relying on external technicians, flown in at great expense, for repairs or routine servicing. The installation and successful operation of water treatment plants requires key actions: an initial evaluation of the existing infrastructure, calculation of the volume of water required for drinking, cooking and sanitation purposes, analysis of climate conditions and a chemical analysis of the existing bore water supply for evaluation of the treatment strategy. Development, delivery and implementation of these scientific solutions by local communities ensures that cultural values and self-sustainability remain at the forefront in resolving these problems.

The term arid refers to those environments where there is a severe lack of available water, and while tropical areas are not normally equated with arid climates, they can experience extreme seasonal aridity. Water is rationed in some remote communities in tropical Australia during the dry season in order to conserve the water supplies. For example, some communities in the Torres Strait Islands can access rationed drinking water for only nine hours per day. While water tanks offer a potential solution to collect and store fresh water, many parts of Australia, including the Torres Strait Islands, do not receive enough regular rainfall to maintain tank supplies. In the Torres Strait, a program to supply clean water has been implemented. Community consultation has produced a program specifically designed for the region and the requirements of its peoples. The program builds capacity and self-determination in the community by training local community members in the technologies and water monitoring systems used to ensure water is safe for consumption. The program also works with communities to identify their water requirements and to develop awareness and implementation of water conservation strategies.

While many communities rely on existing scientific knowledges and technologies to expedite water contamination solutions, new technologies may be more efficient. An Aboriginal school student from the Kimberley region in Western Australia, engineered a water filter motivated by his experience with water contamination. His school project prototype uses neodymium magnets (a permanent magnet), carbon-coated mussel shells, and charcoal to filter heavy metals from contaminated water to safe levels. This promising method may offer small communities an innovative solution that converts heavy metal-contaminated water to safe drinking water.

This elaboration provides students with the opportunity to investigate scientific knowledges regarding water contamination and fresh water supply in parts of arid Australia and remote areas with irregular rainfall. Community-specific projects led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities offer scientific solutions to provide good quality water, critical for good health and wellbeing. This elaboration provides students with the opportunity to learn how projects led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are providing those communities with scientific solutions that ensure enough water of good quality is available. Students can learn how trained local personnel are responsible for the installation of fresh water supply facilities and monitoring of the water supply, for the benefit of the community.

In the construction of this teacher background information, a list of consulted works has been generated. The consulted works are provided as evidence of the research undertaken to inform the development of the teacher background information. To access this information, please read and acknowledge the following important information:

Please note that some of the sources listed in the consulted works may contain material that is considered culturally offensive or inappropriate. The consulted works are not provided or recommended as classroom resources.

I have read and confirm my awareness that the consulted works may contain offensive material and are not provided or recommended by ACARA as classroom resources.

The following sources were consulted in the construction of this teacher background information. They are provided as evidence of the research undertaken to inform the development of the teacher background information. It is important that educators recognise that despite written records being incredibly useful, they can also be problematic as they are often based on non-Indigenous interpretations of observations and records of First Nations Peoples’ behaviours, actions, comments and traditions. Such interpretations privilege western paradigms of non-First Nations authors and include, at times, attitudes and language of the past. These sources often lack the viewpoints of the people they discuss and can contain ideas based on outdated scientific theories. Furthermore, although the sources are in the public domain, they may contain cultural breaches and cause offence to the Peoples concerned. With careful selection, evaluation and community consultation, the consulted works may provide teachers with further support and reference materials that could be culturally audited, refined and adapted to construct culturally appropriate teaching and learning materials. The ability to select and evaluate appropriate resources is an essential cultural capability skill for educators.

Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet. (n.d.). Water supply. Retrieved from https://healthinfonet.ecu.edu.au/learn/determinants-of-health/environmental-health/water-supply/

Australian Water Association. (2018, May 10). What needs to be done to close the gap in Indigenous water? Retrieved from http://www.ozwater.org/what-needs-be-done-close-gap-indigenous-water

Beal, C. (2017, November 10). Some remote Australian communities have drinking water for only nine hours a day. The Conversation. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/some-remote-australian-communities-have-drinking-water-for-only-nine-hours-a-day-86933

Brennan, B., Higgins, I., & Zillman, S. (2018, June 20). Filtering out heavy metals years away, despite high uranium detected in water. ABC News. Retrieved from https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-06-20/high-uranium-detected-in-central-australian-bore-water/9891522 

Grimwood, K. & Forbes, D.A. (2009). Acute and Persistent Diarrhea. The Pediatric Clinics of North America, 56(6), 1343-1361.

Government of Western Australia, Department of Water. (2009). Remote drinking water sources: Self-supplied Indigenous communities. Retrieved from https://www.water.wa.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0009/4113/88087.pdf

Hall, N. L., Mott, S., & Hoy, W. (2018, November 21). Getting clean drinking water into remote Indigenous communities means overcoming city thinking. The Conversation. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/getting-clean-drinking-water-into-remote-indigenous-communities-means-overcoming-city-thinking-106701

Higgins, I., Brennan, B., & Butcher, E.N. (2018, June 19). 'Our kids need proper water': Families plead for action over uranium in drinking water. ABC News. Retrieved from https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-06-19/families-plead-for-action-over-uranium-in-drinking-water/9879748

Joyner, T. (2018, August 27). Contaminated water is a problem in remote Australia, so a teenager decided to try to fix it. ABC News. Retrieved from https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-08-27/an-aboriginal-teen-decides-to-try-fix-contaminated-water/10133842

Office of the Auditor General Western Australia. (2015). Western Australian Auditor General’s Report: Delivering essential services to remote Aboriginal communities. Retrieved from https://audit.wa.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/report2015_08-AbServices.pdf

SWISH: Safe water for Indigenous Sustainable Homelands. (n.d.). Saving lives with safe water in remote communities. Retrieved from https://www.swishsafewater.org/

Wahlquist, C. (2018, October 3). WA Indigenous community tries to rid water supply of unsafe level of uranium. The Guardian.  Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2018/oct/03/wa-indigenous-community-tries-to-rid-water-supply-of-unsafe-level-of-uranium

Water Services Association of Australia. (2017). Global goals for local communities: Engaging remote Indigenous communities [Case study 9]. Retrieved from https://www.wsaa.asn.au/sites/default/files/publication/download/WSAA%20Global%20Goals%20for%20Local%20Communities_Engaging%20remote%20Indigenous%20communities_Power%20and%20Water%20Corporation.pdf

Water Services Association of Australia. (2019). Closing the gap: Water Services Association of Australia and Australian Water Association Policy Stream at Ozwater'18. Retrieved from https://www.wsaa.asn.au/news/closing-gap-wsaa-and-awa-policy-stream-ozwater18