Teacher background information
Foundation Year Science Content Description
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples have long held understandings of the needs of living things, including the provision of vital resources such as food and water. For millennia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples have sensitively cared for the living things in their Country or Place and have implemented sustainable practices to maintain environmental balance. Country and Place have immense spiritual and cultural significance for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, and the plants and animals within the environment have long been tended to as part of Caring for Country responsibilities. This elaboration provides students with the opportunity to recognise that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples understand the basic needs of plants and animals and have long cared for the living things in their environment.
As the First Peoples of Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples have established and maintained a shared living culture with their environment since time immemorial. Across Australia there exists a diverse range of climate and environmental conditions that influence the living things that are present in a particular Country or Place. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ deep knowledges and understandings about the natural environment have been developed through astute observation over millennia, and environmental management practices ensure ecological balances are maintained. Intrinsic to this balance is an understanding of the basic needs and physical requirements of living things, including access to water and food that provides living things with vital nutrients.
Many plant and animal species are of crucial significance to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, and they are cared for and protected to ensure they continue to thrive. Across Australia, there are locations of cultural and spiritual significance where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities gather at certain times; such places are immensely important for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples connected with that Country. One such region is Booburrgan Ngmmunge, a traditional language name used by many Aboriginal Peoples to describe the Bunya Mountains region in southern Queensland. This place is of immeasurable cultural significance to the Wakka Wakka, Jarowair, Djaku-nde and Barrungam Peoples whose Country encompasses this area. Booburrgan Ngmmunge is also significant to many neighbouring Aboriginal Peoples from southern Queensland and northern New South Wales for whom the region holds important associations. The bonye (traditional Aboriginal name for the Bunya pine; Araucaria bidwillii) dominates the landscape in this region and is endemic to Queensland. The bonye is an example of a plant that has particular significance to the Aboriginal Peoples of Booburrgan Ngmmunge. The trees are treated with great respect, cared for and protected by customary and cultural protocols, to ensure that they continue to thrive. Some of the bonye trees belong to particular family or clan groups who have the responsibility to protect the resources and environment. The bonye produces large ovoid-shaped cones that can weigh up to ten kilograms; each cone contains 60 or more highly nutritious seeds, rich in oils and carbohydrates. The cones ripen in an annual seasonal cycle, with bumper crops occurring approximately every three years. In anticipation of the three-year cycle that brings an abundance of seeds, special envoys sent by the custodians of the bonye carry message sticks to neighbouring communities to invite particular groups to attend the seasonal gathering. This is timed for when the seeds ripen and are ready for harvest. Thousands of Aboriginal Peoples travel great distances to attend the Bunya Gathering, trade goods and knowledges, share stories, songs and dances, conduct business, attend to personal matters, and feast on the abundant bonye seeds.
Aboriginal Peoples have long intentionally transported and nurtured plants to propagate new areas and increase their range and abundance. The bonye is only found abundantly in one other geographical region in northern Queensland. It has been suggested that this population was purposefully propagated by the Atherton rainforest Peoples. Current research is endeavouring to determine, through genetic analysis, whether the boyne nuts were carefully transported and planted 1500 kilometres north. If proven, the successful establishment of the population in north Queensland would only have occurred through deep understanding of the basic growing requirements of the bonye. Over millennia, the cultural responsibility held by Traditional Custodians of the bonye has ensured that the trees and the surrounding environment are cared for and continue to thrive.
There are many animal species that are of significance to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. For many thousands of years, native animals such as dingoes, kangaroos, lizards, and emu and cassowary chicks have been tamed; their basic needs, including specific food requirements and living conditions, are well understood and provided for by the community. Dingoes have long been tamed and cared for by a community in a manner similar to dogs being kept as family pets today. Aboriginal Peoples acquired dingo pups from dens during whelping season and they were hand reared by the community. The Yankunytjatjara Peoples of north-west South Australia and the Ngukurr Peoples of south-eastern Arnhem Land bestow names on many of the tamed dingoes and incorporate the animals into kinship systems. Tamed animals are cared for by ensuring basic needs are met, such as the provision of food, water and shelter. It has been reported that dingoes were also kept by some Peoples of the Torres Strait Islands.
Tamed dingoes served many purposes for a community. The dingoes tamed by the Warlpiri Peoples of the Northern Territory accompanied hunting parties to aid in tracking and capturing animals. As territorial animals, dingoes also served as protectors for a community, patrolling the perimeter of a place of residence and alerting their owners of approaching visitors. Prior to colonisation, tamed dingoes also provided warmth to assist in maintaining body temperature in cool climates. For animals to provide warmth they were required to be raised from pups to ensure the absence of fear and aggression. Tamed dingoes were sometimes carried around a person’s neck for warmth and were described by early colonists as walking blankets or living shawls. The animals also often slept with their owners, sharing shelters or a place by a fire to provide warmth through body heat. The taming of dingoes for many purposes, paralleled in some ways by contemporary pet ownership, demonstrates Aboriginal Peoples’ deep care for living things and an understanding of the basic needs of animals, including food, water, shelter and warmth.
Many living things including particular plants and animals have immense cultural significance to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, and have been cared for over millennia. Living things have basic needs, such as food and water, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples have long ensured the basic needs of living things are met, for continuation of the organism. This elaboration provides students with the opportunity to recognise that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples have long cared for the living things in their environment, including culturally significant species such as the bonye (Bunya pine) and the dingo.
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.
Bunya Mountains Elders Council and Burnett Mary Regional Group. (2010). Bonye Buru Booburrgan Ngmmunge: Bunya Mountains Aboriginal Aspirations and Caring for Country Plan.
Evans, R. (2002). Against the grain. Colonialism and the demise of the Bunya Gatherings, 1839–1939. Queensland Review, 9(2), 47-64.
Haddon, A. C. (1912). Reports of the Cambridge anthropological expedition to Torres Straits: Vol. IV. Arts and crafts. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hamilton, A. (1972). Aboriginal man's best friend? The Australian Journal of Anthropology, 8(4), 287.
Hayes, H. (2017, 7 October). In the remote Aboriginal community of Yuendumu, dogs are not just pets. ABC News. Retrieved from https://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-10-08/dogs-not-just-pets-in-remote-aboriginal-community-of-yuendumu/8998016
Huth, J. (2002). Introducing the Bunya Pine: A noble denizen of the scrub. Queensland Review, 9(2), 7-20.
Jerome, P. (2002). Boobarran Ngummin: The Bunya Mountains. Queensland Review, 9(2), 1-5.
Philip, J. (2017, August 7). The cultural history of the dingo. Australian Geographic. Retrieved from https://www.australiangeographic.com.au/topics/wildlife/2017/08/cultural-history-of-the-dingo/
Jones, R. (1970). Tasmanian Aborigines and dogs. The Australian Journal of Anthropology, 7(4), 256.
Queensland Museum. (2019). Bunya Mountains gathering. Retrieved from https://www.qm.qld.gov.au/Find+out+about/Aboriginal+and+Torres+Strait+Islander+Cultures/Gatherings/Bunya+Mountains+Gathering#.XaL80DYzY2w
Senior, K., Chenhall, R., McRae-Williams, E., Daniels, D., & Rogers, K. (2006). Dogs and people in Aboriginal communities: Exploring the relationship within the context of the social determinants of health. Environmental Health, 6(4), 39.
Silcock, J. L. (2018). Aboriginal translocations: The intentional propagation and dispersal of plants in Aboriginal Australia. Journal of ethnobiology, 38(3), 390-406.
Smith, B. P., & Litchfield, C. A. (2009). A review of the relationship between Indigenous Australians, dingoes (Canis dingo) and domestic dogs (Canis familiaris). Anthrozoös, 22(2), 111-128.
Swan, D. (2017). Bunya Tukka tracks: Investigating traditional travelling routes of Eastern Australia [Doctoral dissertation]. Vic., Australia: Deakin University.