The Indigenous Design Place hosted the Indigenous Design and Research Seminar pooling together academics, researchers and creatives to showcase their current projects that focus on Indigenous science and research.

Guest speakers for the seminar included, Alison Page, Professor Brad Sherman, PhD candidate Renee Rossini, Adjunct Assoc Professor Colin Saltmere and Professor Paul Memmott. Each topic highlighted the brilliance of traditional Indigenous inventions and resources; at the same time each topic was united through the identification of the struggle for intellectual ownership of Indigenous knowledge.

After an introduction from Professor Susan Schmidt, the seminar opened with the award-winning designer turned filmmaker Alison Page. Page began with a brief history into her career and achievements, sharing how design, art and inventing provided a pathway for her to explore her Indigenous heritage. Page’s latest project Clever Country is a three-part documentary which investigates the sophistication of science and technology in Indigenous cultural practices and knowledge. This series aims to educate on Indigenous culture, allowing design and technology to be a similar educational pathway to the greater Australian community, as it was for her.

…advances in patent law which have aided in the protection of Indigenous culture and knowledge.

Professor Brad Sherman continued the conversation sharing recent developments of intellectual property law in regards to Indigenous knowledge. Sherman shared events of exploitation of Indigenous culture across a national and international scale. One case in particular addressed the exploitation of Indigenous art. At the time of the case, Aboriginal paintings were not applicable to be protected under copyright law due to considerations that the art did not fit the definitions of the words private, public and original. This resulted in artworks being directly duplicated and printed on to clothing as well as Australian currency. Sherman spoke of the advances in patent law which have aided in the protection of Indigenous culture and knowledge. However for any piece of art, resource or knowledge to be protected it needed to be challenged. With younger Indigenous generations beginning to create, invent and research, it is crucial in the present time to further improve intellectual property laws that protect Indigenous culture and traditional knowledge.

This urgency is supported by the success of students involved in rural science workshops at Cunnamulla State School which was recounted by the following speaker Renee Rossini. On behalf of a multi-disciplinary team Rossini reflected on the achievements of an educational program that explores science both in the classroom and out in country. A major success over the last decade was the increase of student interest in science at a senior and tertiary level. Paralleling this achievement was and still is, the challenge of finding the required funding and the divide between urban and rural locations. Rossini praised the initial consultation with the community and its Indigenous leaders, pointing it out as a significant contributing factor to the success of the program. It is evident that the commitment and continuation of the workshops strengthened the relationship between school, community and university, resulting in enthusiasm and motivation from students to continue their education in science. It is this influence that will create more Indigenous scientists and provide the potential to further advance research in Australia through future collaborations between western science and traditional Indigenous knowledge.

… agreement was put in place to ensure the Indigenous community, its resources and traditional knowledge were not exploited through the result of commercialisation of spinifex.

Professor Paul Memmott and Adjunct Assoc Professor Colin Saltmere concluded the seminar with their collaborative findings on spinifex grass and the events during the development of the Spinifex Umbrella Research Agreement. Memmott described studies that discovered the beneficial qualities of the material including how the fibrils of the grass are the longest and thinnest in the world, allowing the material to be stronger than steel. These qualities provoked questions by researchers and academics on how the product could be utilised in contemporary technologies. The investigation led to the realisation of spinifex’s potential to be used for condoms, paper and packaging, concrete reinforcement, general rubber and more.

Saltmere continued the conversation by sharing the events that occurred through the developments of the Spinifex Umbrella Research Agreement between the Dugalunji Aboriginal Corporation and UniQuest. The agreement was put in place to ensure the Indigenous community, its resources and traditional knowledge were not exploited through the result of commercialisation of spinifex. Memmott and Colin believe a result of this agreement is the potential to turn social problems into jobs and improve well-being in areas were spinifex will be farmed. It is clear the Spinifex Umbrella Research Agreement will be a precedent for future cases that require collaboration between large organisations, the Indigenous community, Indigenous resources and traditional knowledge.

All speakers at the seminar identified through their own research and achievements how Indigenous cultural practices and traditional knowledge has contributed to the development of their own discipline, whether that be design, law, science or education. The Indigenous Design Place will host future Indigenous Research and Science seminars to which will showcase more exemplar achievements and developments of Indigenous design, science and research.

Photo credit:
Left to right: Professor Paul Memmott, Ms Alison Page, Adjunct Associate Professor Colin Saltmere, Ms Renee Rossini and Professor Brad Sherman
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