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By  Jessica Hildyard 29 June 2024 3 min read

Key points

  • Gullara McInnes is a student in Far North Australia who uses drone technology to preserve cultural heritage of the region.
  • Gullara recently won the Queensland Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander 7News Young Achiever Award.
  • She is passionate about helping young Indigenous people to navigate the intersection of technology and culture.

Gullara McInnes is a young Indigenous woman who uses drone technology in new ways for cultural and environment preservation, including mapping cultural heritage sites. As a member of the CSIRO Young Indigenous Women’s STEM Academy, and science and law student at James Cook University, Gullara works with Elders of the Wallara clan of the Koko-Muluridji people.

Gullara hopes to continue her development and move into 3D modelling. She was recently recognised for her achievements in STEM, winning the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Achievement Award at the 7News Young Achiever Awards in Meanjin/Brisbane.

This award follows Gullara’s rising profile as a young leader in STEM and acknowledges the importance of Indigenous inclusion and participation in the intersections of culture and technology. Gullara's interest in drones began at a She Maps camp in Cairns in 2016, before joining our STEM Academy in 2020.

Gullara and STEM Academy Executive Manager Kim Dyball at the Young Achiever awards 2024

Gullara’s family are affectionately known as ‘the original crocodile hunters’, having trained the world-famous Irwin family in croc tracking. Her father’s Elders trained Steve Irwin’s mentor in how to hunt the crocodiles safely.

"But if anyone knew how to hunt crocodiles, it was my grandmother," Gullara says.

"Once the croc laws were put in, we thought my dad was the last one to hand back his license. Until my grandma was found farming them in her backyard across the road from the high school – only fenced off with chicken wire!"

Gullara pictured here with her Northern Queensland family, all who are passionate about conserving culture and environment.

Gullara has a deep understanding of her local environments and how technology can support their conservation.

“We use drones to track and map crocodiles in our traditional waterways where they’re not meant to be. I’m going to get a drone with a thermal camera to try and make spotting them easier,” Gullara says.

This unintrusive method allows for the collection of crucial data. Unlike the Crocs in Space project in 2004, supported by the late Steve Irwin, where crocodiles were tracked after being fitted with satellite transmitters, this approach does not require invasive measures.

Using drones in science and operations

Our Chief Remote Pilot, Amanda Meys, recognises the importance of drones in science. She says there are currently 91 Remote Pilots within CSIRO, Australia's national science agency, using drone technology as part of their research.

"We’re only just beginning to scratch the surface of what drones can do to enhance scientific research. RPAS are a big industry and expanding rapidly, with developments increasing the capabilities of drones, and creating more exciting jobs within the industry," Amanda says.

"As CSIRO’s Chief Remote Pilot, I believe it is important to inspire the next generation to explore a career in STEM. This next generation can see opportunities for a successful career within a STEM profession.” 

She says drones are a great platform for engaging students in STEM education as they can provide a practical, and often hands-on, approach which can be related to real-world applications of STEM principles and technology.

“We use drones for a diverse range of applications. This includes aerial mapping and photography, agricultural spraying, bushfire research, ecosystem and environmental assessments, mineral exploration, precision agriculture, remote sensing, software development, surveying, and wildlife monitoring," Amanda says.

The future of drone use in science may include using aerial imagery or data for analysis and making models and accurate predictions in areas such as urban planning, precision agriculture, climate change and environmental conservation. 

Mentoring and leadership

At the World Indigenous People’s Conference on Education, Gullara shared her story as part of the CSIRO Young Indigenous Women’s STEM Academy’s presentation. Her story, 'The Importance of Indigenous STEM Mentors', shared the pivotal role mentors have played in her own life, while highlighting her transformation into a mentor herself.

She actively participates in initiatives aimed at empowering Indigenous youth, including her involvement with the National Indigenous Space Academy. At its launch, Gullara championed the voices of First Nations youth, engaging in discussions with key stakeholders at Australian Space Agency and NASA.

Gullara's leadership was also on display at the Aboriginal STEM Congress in South Australia. She facilitated workshops on drone technology, merging her love of drones with her passion for preserving Traditional Country. She also shared her knowledge to First Nations school students, equipping them with the skills to navigate the intersection of technology and culture.

Gullara’s aspirations and work to-date shows how technology can be harnessed to preserve and protect cultural heritage and the environment. Her work with drones not only showcases innovative applications, but also highlights the significance of Indigenous participation in STEM fields.

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