Teacher background information


Year 9 Science Content Description

Science Understanding

Biological sciences

Ecosystems consist of communities of interdependent organisms and abiotic components of the environment; matter and energy flow through these systems (ACSSU176 - Scootle )

  • investigating the interdependence of communities and the role of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in maintaining their environment (OI.2, OI.5)

This elaboration provides an opportunity for students to learn about First Nations peoples’ ecocentric perspectives. It allows students to investigate how this worldview, based on and encompassing an intimate knowledge of the complex inter-relationships that exist within ecosystems, aims to protect and sustain the natural environment and ensures sustainable harvesting practices. 

First Nations peoples of Australia possess some of the oldest and most in-depth traditional ecological knowledge in the world. This knowledge, having been amassed and refined over tens of thousands of years, is the culmination of the direct observation of the patterns and relationships that exist within individual ecosystems. First Nations Australians’ ecological perspective places humans as an integral part of an interdependent ecosystem, rather than being above or separate from it. This view incorporates a deep appreciation of, and respect for, the environment and embodies a responsibility for maintaining ecosystems and utilising them in a sustainable way; that is for Caring for Country. 

This perspective, which sees resource management as a two-way interaction between people and country, may be contrasted to the western notion of ‘managing land’, which has been perceived as a linear, one-way process in which people take specific actions to affect the environment. For example, since colonisation farmers have been clearing land, modifying soil structure and nutrients, and using ground water for irrigation to cultivate crop species that are not endemic to Australia. Often, these actions have resulted in significant damaging impacts to ecosystems. 

Caring for Country involves deep understandings of the local environment and the interdependence of its flora and fauna. It also relies on highly detailed knowledge of cyclic biological events and the seasonal movement of faunal species. This knowledge allows for the sustainable harvesting of plants and animals, ensuring the continuous availability of food and other resources, while simultaneously minimising negative impacts.  

A well-known example of this practice is the longstanding sustainable harvesting of turtles and dugongs. Archaeological evidence confirms that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have been consuming large quantities of dugongs and turtles for thousands of years. Only recently have the populations of these species declined considerably in many areas. Saltwater Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the north of Australia are, and have been, essential components within their marine ecosystems. As such, they are acutely aware of their interdependence and reliance upon the marine environment. Important food resources, such as dugong and turtle, are essential to these communities. To ensure their continued access to dugong and turtle, sophisticated and complex protocols regarding who, where and how they are hunted, including how the animal is killed, butchered and shared among the community have been developed. For example, young male dugongs are preferred whilst pregnant females and females with calf are avoided. 

There are many other examples of hunting and harvesting practices that do not disrupt the breeding cycles and reproductive events of essential inter-dependent flora and fauna. By investigating an ecosystem, possibly in collaboration and consultation with local Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people, students can gain an appreciation of the intricacies and complexities of the inter-relationships that exist between the biotic and abiotic factors within the ecosystem and the role Indigenous people have and are playing in maintaining the ecosystem. They will also have opportunities to learn how contemporary scientific research can be advanced by incorporating, with appropriate permissions, traditional ecological knowledge into project methodologies and land management and restoration practices.

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.

Baker, L., & Mutitjulu Community. (1992). Comparing two views of the landscape: Aboriginal traditional ecological knowledge and modern scientific knowledge. The Rangeland Journal, 14(2), 174-189. doi: https://doi.org/10.1071/RJ9920174

Brook, R. K., & McLachlan, S. M. (2008). Trends and prospects for local knowledge in ecological and conservation research and monitoring. Biodiversity and Conservation, 17(14), 3501-3512. doi:10.1007/s10531-008-9445-x

Davidson-Hunt, I. J., & Berkes, F. (2001). Changing resource management paradigms, traditional ecological knowledge, and non-timber forest products. In I. Davidson-Hunt, L. C. Duchesne, J. C. Zasada(Eds.), Forest communities in the third millennium: Linking research, business, and policy toward a sustainable non-timber forest product sector: Proceedings of the meeting of US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, North Central Research Station in 1999 (pp. 78-92). St. Paul, MN: US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, North Central Research Station.

Davis, S. (1989). Man of all seasons. Sydney: Angus & Robertson.

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 and Restoration, 13(1), 100-107. doi:10.1111/j.1442-8903.2011.00634.x

Gratani, M., Sutton, S. G., Butler, J. R., Bohensky, E. L., & Foale, S. (2016). Indigenous environmental values as human values. Cogent Social Sciences, 2(1), 1185811.

North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance. (2005). Dugong and Marine Turtle Knowledge Handbook. Darwin: North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance.

Queensland Studies Authority. (2008). Relationships to country: Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islander people. Brisbane: Queensland Government.

Rose, D. B. (1996). Nourishing terrains: Australian Aboriginal views of landscape and wilderness. Canberra: Australian Heritage Commission.

Thomson, D. F., & Peterson, N. (1983). Donald Thomson in Arnhem Land. South Yarra, Victoria: Currey O’Neil Ross Pty. Ltd.

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 & Restoration, 13(1), 58-64. doi:10.1111/j.1442-8903.2011.00622.x