Teacher background information


Year 6 Science Content Description

Science Understanding

Biological sciences

The growth and survival of living things are affected by physical conditions of their environment (ACSSU094 - Scootle )

  • investigating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ knowledge and understanding of the physical conditions necessary for the survival of certain plants and animals in the environment (OI.2, OI.3)

This elaboration enables students to study how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ knowledge and understanding of the complex ecosystems that exist across the Australian continent are reliant on physical conditions that exist within a defined geographical region. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ understanding of the requirement of specific physical conditions for the growth and survival of particular plant and animal species is evidenced through intricate seasonal calendars, land management practices and important cultural gatherings. Such knowledge is essential in maintaining or restoring particular environmental physical conditions that ensure the continued availability of resources and support the reproductive/migratory cycles of important organisms.

The Australian continent encompasses a vast diversity of environments and climatic conditions, including savannah, alpine, riverine, desert, montane and coastal environments. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples have a long and continuing occupation of the geographical region that encompasses their Nation and this connection to Country and Place is often highlighted by broad group identities, for example, ‘salt-water’, ‘desert’ and ‘rainforest’ people. This has resulted in each cultural group having a comprehensive, deep understanding of the complexities, interrelationships and resources available in each ecosystem. Traditionally, the plant- and animal-based resources within the geographical region of a particular Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander cultural group’s Country or Place provided the foods, medicines and materials required for the construction of tools, domestic implements and shelters. Many contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples continue to recognise that the growth and survival of plant and animal resources is intrinsically connected to the seasonal variation of physical conditions and use this knowledge for sustainable harvesting and management of their Country or Place.

Physical conditions that influence the growth and survival of plant and animal life in an ecosystem include such factors as salinity, nutrient availability, temperature and water availability. These physical factors work synergistically rather than in isolation, evident in the unique biodiversity of organisms seen in different geographic regions of Australia.

Salt is a natural component of soil in the coastal regions of Australia.  Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples understand the specific requirements of the organisms within such environments and have sustainably managed the ecosystems of Australia’s coastal areas, and the salt tolerant organisms that exist within these environments, for thousands of years. Pandanus spiralis is a coastal shrub common along the coast of northern Queensland including the Torres Strait Islands, the extreme north of Western Australia, and the Northern Territory. The growth and distribution of P. spiralis is restricted to the warm coastal regions of Australia in areas of saline soils and high seasonal rainfall. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples understand the physical requirements for the growth of P. spiralis and the plant is used for many purposes. It provides a source of food, the fibre is used for making resources and parts of the plant are used for medicinal purposes. The Bardi Peoples of the Kimberley region of Western Australia have long recognised that the season of king tides (Iralbu) is time to travel to the coastal regions, as the fruit of the Pandanus spp. will be ripe and ready to harvest. Prior to colonisation, the Bardi Peoples also used the leaves of Pandanus spp. to weave shoes and the palms to construct shelters. In contemporary times, Pandanus spp. remains a culturally significant plant group to the Bardi Peoples. On Murrunga Island off the coast of north-east Arnhem Land, Pandanus spp. also flourishes due to the physical conditions of the coastal environment. Here the Yan-nhaŋu, and other peoples of the wider Yolŋu Nation, used Pandanus spp. leaves to twine fibre for the construction of fish traps, and this process is still in use today.

Many native Australian plants are sensitive to salt and cannot grow in environments of high salt salinity. Bulrushes (Typha spp.), for example, are an aquatic plant that flourishes in Australia’s wetland environments. For the Peoples who inhabit these wetland areas, bulrushes are an important resource used in the manufacture of fibre for the construction of fishing and game nets. The Wirramayo Language speakers of Ngadjuri country in the mid-north of South Australia constructed nets up to 12 metres in length from the fibre of the bulrush to capture kangaroo and emu. In these freshwater environments Aboriginal Peoples, including the Ngarrindjeri of southern central Australia, also sustainably harvested bulrushes as a starchy food source.

The aquatic fern nardoo (Marsilea drummondii) is also sensitive to soil salinity, and it thrives only in areas of Australia that can provide the ephemeral freshwater it needs for germination. However, the spores of nardoo can remain viable in conditions of drought, or environments of limited water availability, such as the desert environment of Australia. In such ecosystems the spores remain dormant for extensive periods of time and germinate in times of rainfall or floods. The Yandruwanda Peoples of the lakes area in South Australia utilised this knowledge to cultivate and harvest large quantities of nardoo. The spores provide a nutritious food source when appropriately prepared, and ground spores can produce flour for baking.

On the Island of Saibai in the Torres Strait, community groups lived on, and continue to occupy, both the coastal areas and interior regions of the island. The differences in the physical conditions of these regions affect the type of resources that are available. The Traditional Owners of Saibai, the Koeybuway and Moegibuway Peoples, understand the physical conditions of their environments. The freshwater inland areas are cultivated to grow plants such as taro, while saltwater environments are carefully managed to ensure saltwater produce is maintained. Traditionally, freshwater produce, such as taro and ducks from the inland regions, was traded for saltwater produce, such as fish, dugong or crayfish harvested by coastal communities.

Seasonal changes that alter the physical conditions of an environment, such as temperature and water availability, also impact the species within these ecosystems. The intricate seasonal calendars of many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples demonstrate the availability of resources within a geographical region during the different seasons. The seasons inform the timing of the harvest and procurement of resources, and influence timing for gatherings and inter-cultural meetings. For example, the bogong moth demonstrates an annual pattern of summer migration from southern Queensland and northern New South Wales during the hot summer months when their food source becomes scarce due to the warmer temperatures. The moths navigate to the Australian Alps where they aestivate in cool caves. When the temperature drops and food supplies replenish in the north, they return to breed. This annual migration of bogong moths united families from different Language Groups who came together to roast the moths on hot rocks in areas including the lands of the Ngarigo Peoples in the Snowy Mountains region near Canberra. Families from different Language Groups also came together at Yarralumla (ACT) and gathered bogong moths from Birragai in the lands of the Ngunnawal People. Paths through Uriarra can still be seen where people travelled to this region.

The cultivation and sustainable acquisition of resources including food and fibres by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples demonstrates a complex understanding of how the physical conditions of an ecosystem affect the availability of animal and plant species in diverse regions. This long held and sophisticated knowledge is today being used to inform land management practices and restoration processes in areas where the impact of colonisation and introduced species have damaged environments. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples understand the fragility of their ecosystems and are acutely aware of the impact that alterations in physical conditions may have on these environments. For example, one of the most significant environmental issues of the Murray-Darling Basin wetlands, the traditional lands for more than 40 Aboriginal Nations, is the increased soil salinity that has resulted from land clearing and irrigation schemes. Traditional Owners of the area, represented by the Northern Basin Aboriginal Nations and the Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations organisations, are working with scientific and government organisations to restore the Murray-Darling Basin wetlands through water research, planning and management. This includes the reintroduction of salt tolerant native flora, such as saltbush, to improve the health and biodiversity of the ecosystem.

This elaboration provides the opportunity for students to understand how the growth and survival of plant and animal species are influenced by the physical conditions of the environment they inhabit. Students will gain an understanding of how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples used, and continue to use, this environmental knowledge to maintain balanced ecosystems and sustainably acquire resources. Students will be informed of long held, deep understandings about the unique physical requirements of species, and the critical role this knowledge plays in contemporary land management practices and land rehabilitation projects.

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.

Angas, G. F. (1847). Savage life and scenes in Australia and New Zealand: Vol. 1. Being an artist's impressions of countries and people at the Antipodes. London: Smith, Elder and Co. 

Australian Government, Department of the Environment. (2009). Working on Country: A retrospective 2007–2008. Retrieved from https://www.environment.gov.au/indigenous/publications/working-on-country.html

Australian Government, Bureau of Meteorology. (2016). Indigenous weather knowledge. Retrieved from http://www.bom.gov.au/iwk/

Australian Government, Murray Darling Basin Authority. (n.d.). Salinity. Retrieved from https://www.mdba.gov.au/managing-water/salinity

Australian Human Rights Commission. (2008). Climate change, water and Indigenous Knowledge. Retrieved from https://www.humanrights.gov.au/sites/default/files/content/social_justice/nt_report/ntreport08/pdf/Climate_Change_Community_Guide.pdf

Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies. (n.d.). A brief history of indigenous fishing. Retrieved from https://aiatsis.gov.au/exhibitions/brief-history-indigenous-fishing

Barbour, W., & Schlesinger, C. (2012). Who's the boss? Post-colonialism, ecological research and conservation management on Australian Indigenous lands. Ecological Management and Restoration, 13(1), 36-41. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1442-8903.2011.00632.x

Beveridge, P. (1883). Of the Aborigines inhabiting the Great Lacustrine and Riverine Depression of the Lower Murray, Lower Murrumbidgee, Lower Lachlan and Lower Darling. Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales, 17, 19-74.

Bowern, C. (2012). A grammar of Bardi. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.

Box, J. B., Duguid, A., Read, R. E., Kimber, R. G., Knapton, A., Davis, J., & Bowland, A. E. (2008). Central Australian waterbodies: The importance of permanence in a desert landscape. Journal of Arid Environments, 72, 1395-1413.

Brayshaw, H. (1986). Aborigines of the Hunter Valley: A study of colonial records. Scone, N.S.W.: Scone and Hunter Historical Society.

Brockwell, S., Gara, T., Colley, S., & Cane, S. (1989). The history and archaeology of Ooldea Soak and Mission. Australian Archaeology, 28, 55-77.

Brown, H. Y. L., Mueller, F. V., Freiherr, Tate, R., & Tietkens, W. H. (1891). Journal of the central Australian exploring expedition, 1889, under command of W.H. Tietkens, despatched by the Central Australian Exploring and Prospecting Association, Limited, under the auspices of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia, South Australian Branch. Adelaide: C. E Bristow, Government Printer. Retrieved from https://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/item/123122

Bunya Mountains Elders Council and Burnett Mary Regional Group for Natural Resource Management Incorporated. (2010). Bunya Mountains: Aboriginal aspirations and caring for Country plan: Bonye Bu'ru: Booburrgan Ngmmunge. Retrieved from http://www.bmrg.org.au/files/2313/7758/3382/Final-Bonye_Buru_Booburrgan_Ngmmunge-301010zzz.pdf

Clarke, P. A. (2011). Aboriginal People and their plants. Kenthurst, N.S.W.: Rosenberg Publishing.

Clarke, P. A. (2015). The Aboriginal ethnobotany of the south east of South Australia region. Part 1: Seasonal life and material culture. Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia, 139(2), 216-246. https://doi.org/10.1080/03721426.2015.1073415

Davis, J., Westgarth, W., McKinlay, J., & Brooks, V. (1863). Tracks of McKinlay and party across Australia. London: Sampson Low.

De Angelis, D. (2005). Aboriginal use of plants of the greater Melbourne area. Retrieved from https://www.latrobe.edu.au/wildlife/downloads/Aboriginal-plant-use-list.pdf

Dyson, L. E. (2006). Indigenous Australian cookery, past and present. Journal of Australian Studies, 87, 5-18.

Ens, E. J. J., Pert, P. A., Clarke, P. A., Budden, M., Clubb, L., Douras, C., … Packer, J. (2015). Indigenous biocultural knowledge in ecosystem science and management: Review and insight from Australia. Biological Conservation, 181, 133-149. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2014.11.008

Ens, E. J., Finlayson, M., Preuss, K., Jackson, S., & Holcombe, S. (2012). Australian approaches for managing ‘Country’ using Indigenous and non‐Indigenous knowledge. Ecological Management & Restoration, 13(1), 100-107. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1442-8903.2011.00634.x

Ens, E. J., Towler, G. M., & Daniels, C. (2012). Looking back to move forward: Collaborative ecological monitoring in remote Arnhem Land. Ecological Management and Restoration, 13(1), 26-35. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1442-8903.2011.00627.x

Ens, E., & McDonald, T. (2012). Caring for Country: Australian natural and cultural resource management. Ecological Management and Restoration, 13(1), 1-1. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1442-8903.2011.00633.x

Flood, J. (1973). The moth-hunters: Investigations towards a prehistory of the south-eastern highlands of Australia [Doctoral dissertation]. Retrieved from https://openresearch-repository.anu.edu.au/handle/1885/109557

Gaby, A., Yunkaporta, T. (2018, January 3). Explainer: The seasonal ‘calendars’ of Indigenous Australia. The Conversation. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/explainer-the-seasonal-calendars-of-indigenous-australia-88471

Gratani, M., Sutton, S. G., Butler, J. R. A., Bohensky, E. L., Foale, S., & Stevenson, M. (2016). Indigenous environmental values as human values. Cogent Social Sciences, 2(1), 1-17.

Greater Taree City Council. (2010). Indigenous plants of greater Taree. Retrieved from https://www.midcoast.nsw.gov.au/files/assets/public/document-resources/environment-docs/trees-amp-plants/indigenous-plants-of-greater-taree-version-3.pdf

Green, D., Billy, J., & Tapim, A. (2010). Indigenous Australians’ knowledge of weather and climate. Climatic Change, 100(2), 337-354. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-010-9803-z

Grice, A. C., Cassady, J., & Nicholas, D. M. (2012). Indigenous and non‐Indigenous knowledge and values combine to support management of Nywaigi lands in the Queensland coastal tropics. Ecological Management and Restoration, 13(1), 93-97. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1442-8903.2011.00621.x

Hoffmann, B. D., Roeger, S., Wise, P., Dermer, J., Yunupingu, B., Lacey, D., … Panton, B. (2012). Achieving highly successful multiple agency collaborations in a cross-cultural environment: Experiences and lessons from Dhimurru Aboriginal Corporation and partners. Ecological Management and Restoration, 13(1), 42-50. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1442-8903.2011.00630.x

Kimberley Land Council and Bardi Jawi Niimidiman Aboriginal Corporation Registered Native Title Body. (2013). Bardi Jawi Indigenous Protected Area Management Plan 2013-2023. Retrieved from  https://static1.squarespace.com/static/59fecece017db2ab70aa1874/t/5a7bdb8471c10b9941e9f4b9/1518066605569/bardi-jawi-healthy-country-plan.pdf

Levitt, D. (1981). Plants and People: Aboriginal uses of plants on Groote Eylandt. Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies.

Lim, T. K. (2012). Edible medicinal and non-medicinal plants: Vol. 4. Fruits. Dordrecht: Springer Science.

Maclean, K., Bark, R. H., Moggridge, B., Jackson, S., & Pollino, C. (2012). Ngemba water values and interests: Ngemba Old Mission Billabong and Brewarrina Aboriginal fish traps (Baiame’s Nguunhu). Australia: Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation. Retrieved from https://publications.csiro.au/rpr/download?pid=csiro:EP127320&dsid=DS1

McConnel, U. (1953). Native arts and industries on the Archer, Kendall and Holroyd Rivers, Cape York Peninsula, North Queensland. Adelaide: The Hassell Press.

Meggitt, M. J. (1957). Notes on the vegetable foods of the Walbiri of central Australia. Oceania, 28(2), 143-145. https://doi.org/10.1002/j.1834-4461.1957.tb00734.x

Orr, M. (2008). Landscape history at Bulbul: Gelam's homeland. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum, Cultural Heritage Series, 4(2), 457-468.

Pickering, A. (n.d.). Nature notes. Retrieved from https://nt.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0008/200024/pandanus.pdf

Preuss, K., & Dixon, M. (2012). ‘Looking after Country two‐ways’: Insights into Indigenous community‐based conservation from the Southern Tanami. Ecological Management and Restoration, 13(1), 2-15. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1442-8903.2011.00631.x

Prober, S. M., O'Connor, M. H., & Walsh, F. J. (2011). Australian Aboriginal Peoples’ seasonal knowledge: A potential basis for shared understanding in environmental management. Ecology and Society, 16(2). https://doi.org/10.5751/ES-04023-160212

Religious Tract Society. (1854). Australia: Its scenery, natural history, and resources, with a glance at its gold fields. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/2027/hvd.hn68xh

Rolls, E. (2006). A chant of lost water. Australian Humanities Review: Ecological Humanities (Issue 39-40). Retrieved from http://australianhumanitiesreview.org/2006/09/01/a-chant-of-lost-water/

Rowe, C. (2008). Holocene vegetation change on Mua. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum, Cultural Heritage Series, 4(2), 469-480.

Singe, J. (1979). The Torres Strait: People and history. St. Lucia, Australia: University of Queensland Press.

Smith, M., & Kalotas, A. C. (1985). Bardi plants: An annotated list of plants and their use by the Bardi Aborigines of Dampierland, in northwestern Australia. Records of the Western Australian Museum, 12(3); 317-359.

Spencer, B., & Gillen, F. J. (1899). The native tribes of central Australia. London: Macmillan.

State Library New South Wales. (2010). Mari Nawi Aboriginal odysseys 1790-1850. Retrieved from https://www2.sl.nsw.gov.au/archive/events/exhibitions/2010/mari_nawi/docs/marinawi_guide.pdf

Sturt, C. (1849). Narrative of an expedition into central Australia. London: T. and W. Boone.

Wallis, R., Wallis, A., & Picone, A. (2012). After 80 years absence, Wuthathi People plan for the return and management of ancestral homelands on Cape York Peninsula. Ecological Management and Restoration, 13(1), 81-84. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1442-8903.2011.00625.x

Walsh, F. (2008). To hunt and to hold: Martu Aboriginal People's uses and knowledge of their country, with implications for co-management in Karlamilyi (Rudall River) National Park and the Great Sandy Desert, Western Australia [Doctoral dissertation]. Retrieved from https://research-repository.uwa.edu.au/en/publications/to-hunt-and-to-hold-martu-aboriginal-peoples-uses-and-knowledge-o

Warrant, E., Frost, B., Green, K., Mouritsen, H., Dreyer, D., Adden, A., … Heinze, S. (2016). The Australian bogong moth Agrotis infusa: A long-distance nocturnal navigator. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, 10, 1-17. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnbeh.2016.00077

Wet Tropics Management Authority. (n.d.). Bush medicine. Retrieved from https://www.wettropics.gov.au/site/user-assets/docs/bushmedicine.pdf

Wightman, G. M., & Andrews, M. (1989). Mangroves of the Northern Territory. Palmerston, N.T: Conservation Commission of the Northern Territory.

Woodward, D. (1990). Diet in Tasmania over a thousand generations: A preliminary history. Bulletin of the Centre for Tasmanian Historical Studies, 3(1), 139-149. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1311241397/

Woodward, E., Jackson, S., Finn, M., & McTaggart, P. M. (2012). Utilising Indigenous seasonal knowledge to understand aquatic resource use and inform water resource management in northern Australia. Ecological Management and Restoration, 13(1), 58-64. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1442-8903.2011.00622.x