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By  Emily Lehmann 9 April 2024 2 min read

Key points

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples' knowledge, built over more than 60,000 years, can improve our understanding of the land, water and drought.
  • Max Fabila is co-designing new place-based and Indigenous-led research methods with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
  • This work is contributing to our Drought Resilience Mission's goal to reduce drought impacts by 2030.

As Australia's first scientists, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples can tell us much about water, the land and the impacts of dry conditions and drought.

For example, the timing of when local waterbirds arrive may be an indicator for dry conditions or drought. As a migratory species, these birds are connected to other locations and create a bigger picture view of a region.

Alternative research approaches are needed to bring cultural perspectives like this to mainstream science, and must be co-led with Traditional Owners to ensure mutual benefits.

That's the ethos behind new research that our Indigenous research officer, Max Fabila, is undertaking through our Drought Resilience Mission.

"I'm passionate about learning and understanding the knowledge and values that exist within things like stories, language, songlines, seasonal knowledge and knowledge of Sky Country," Max said.

"A lot of that knowledge of Country is found in our oral culture and is shared in the conversations our people have every day."

Max Fabila at Dharriwaa (Narran Lakes, New South Wales), which has been severely impacted by dry conditions.

Designing science with Indigenous knowledge

Max is a Jabirr Jabirr man connected to Country in the West Kimberley, Western Australia. He’s also very proud of his Papua New Guinean, Southeast Asian and Irish Heritage.  

"My family and 'fruit salad' heritage are a huge inspiration and motivation for my role as a researcher," Max said.

"They have given me a unique way of seeing the world, and the strength to be proud of where I come from."

Max previously worked with an Indigenous design agency where he developed Indigenous-driven identities for Australian art, design and architecture projects.

"I'm excited to apply my experience in co-design from the Indigenous creative industry to the big challenges we are trying to solve," Max said.

"Our culture has the power to reshape science and research in Australia, underpinned by 60,000-plus years of this continent's stories and knowledge."

Max fishing on his Country.

Indigenous led, co-designed research

Max and University of Canberra researchers are working with the Yuwaalaraay People in New South Wales and Fitzroy Catchment Traditional Owners in Queensland. They’re co-designing and testing research approaches to understand Indigenous perspectives on water and drought.

Traditional Owners are helping to define each step, from the research process and activities through to outputs, to ensure outcomes are relevant and mutually beneficial.

"Our next challenge is to work together to see how Indigenous knowledge relates to western knowledge and find ways to integrate and influence policies and strategies that build drought resilience," Max said.

Empowering Indigenous communities

Empowering Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to solve their own unique challenges is a key aim.

"Our mob are very knowledgeable, resourceful and creative people who know how problems on their lands, waters and in their community are caused, and what's needed to fix them," Max said.

"My job is to listen and learn from the Traditional Owners who are the experts of their Country and do my best to ensure they are getting outcomes during and after research projects. This knowledge can inform policy for land and water management, as well as food and health systems."

Max's work contributes to our Drought Resilience Mission's goal to reduce drought impacts this decade.

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