Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

Ngalak Koora Koora Djinang (Looking Back Together): A Nyoongar and Scientific Collaborative History of Ancient Nyoongar Boodja

Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

Ngalak Koora Koora Djinang (Looking Back Together): A Nyoongar and Scientific Collaborative History of Ancient Nyoongar Boodja

Article excerpt

Abstract: The Synergies of Meaning Research Project, based at Kurongkurl Katitjin, Edith Cowan University, constructs a working relationship between traditional Aboriginal knowledge and Western natural and social scientific knowledge. The aim is to find ways of going forward together. One recently completed focus, Nyoongar Boodja, required the development of a collaborated timeline of the formation of Nyoongar land. Cooperative inquiry and research of narrative methods were used. Eleven eras are identified, with the focus of the first eight being land from (1) The Nyetting (The cold, dark time = Permian ice ages 350 million years ago) to (8) Wardanaak boodja (The Holocene flood, 7000 years ago). Astonishing resonances between the knowledge sets were discovered. This coincidence of Nyoongar-inherited lore with Western scientific discoveries about the evolution of Nyoongar boodja highlights the value of walking together, cross-culturally, seeking synergies of meaning.


A convergence of accounts of natural phenomena, such as glaciations, meteorites and sea level rises, in Aboriginal culture and Western science is very recent (e.g. Nunn and Reid 2015). There are a number of contributing factors; first, a thorough understanding of natural phenomena has only emerged in Western science in the past century --for example, the theory of plate tectonics was accepted by the scientific community as recently as 1965 (Blacket et al. 1965). Second, Aboriginal people have perhaps only recently been able to trust that sacred cultural material such as creation stories will be respected. There was also a problem in that Western science understood that memories of people and events were no longer accurate after 500-800 years because they became buried in the embellishments of narrators (Nunn and Reid 2015). Nyoongar people of the west coast of Western Australia, for example, were laughed at when they spoke of a time when people used to walk out beyond what is now Rottnest Island (Stasiuk 2015). Aboriginal accounts of sea level rises associated with the Holocene warming were found to be accurate despite being 7000 years old (Nunn and Reid 2015).

The existing global literature on the topic is limited; convergence of accounts is explored for cosmogenic mega tsunami (Bryant et al. 2007), meteoric events (Hamacher 2011) and astronomy (Hamacher and Norris 2011). These convergent explorations come up with certain propositions on our general topic. Available evidence is insufficient in certain areas. We sought to fill key gaps in knowledge and test the hypothesis that there may be accounts of major events in the origin of country, due to the incisive natural history observations of first peoples, and the rigour in hypothesis testing emerging from the application of Western science to parallel curiosity about geomorphological and biological evolution.

The project described in this paper aimed to highlight the richness of Nyoongar knowledge about boodja (country) and compare insights from collaborative discussions in a documentary film (Synergies: walking together--belonging to Country 2015) between a senior Nyoongar Elder (Nannup) and a prominent Western scientist (Hopper). These discussions are amplified by a wider reading of the literature, and a new system of eras in the history of boodja is derived, giving equal prominence to concordant Nyoongar and Western science knowledge system narratives. This paper describes the eras and explores the interface between the two knowledge sets. The expression of convergent accounts enables the fullness of Aboriginal culture to be more accessible to all people, and is an innovative direction in communicating science.

Primary outputs of this collaboration include a documentary film (funded by Lotterywest), Djena koorliny danjoo boodjar-ang (Synergies: walking together--belonging to Country 2015). The film involved a walk along the Swan River from its source at Walyunga to its entrance at Fremantle. …

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